THIS ARTICLE IS A READER FAVORITE AND WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JUNE 2013.
I have this vision of meeting my sons’ guardian angels in heaven. I’ll know which ones they are. There will be four of them, huddled together, exhaustion lining their angelic faces. They’ll probably be catching a well-deserved nap.
Because watching out for my boys had to have been an exhausting feat.
From homemade bike ramps fashioned for racing on the sidewalk to platforms perched in tall trees — they scrounged and built, and even defied gravity at times.
I can’t tell you how many times I paused at a shriek or howl to wonder, “Is that a hurt yell or just a boy yell? Do I go racing around the corner, ready to call 911 or not?”
There were falls and bumps and bruises and casts…but there was a huge amount of fun and learning going on out there. Notice I said, “OUT there.” Yes, outside — in the midst of the heat and sun (and my boys are all redheaded), they played and played and played.
And today, if you ask any of them what they remember of childhood, it’s likely times spent outside with their brothers.
Why is outside time so important?
It’s usually boy-initiated.
And that lays a foundation for so much—it develops language skills, helps them learn how to interact with their peers, and teaches them to recognize and solve problems. Basically, boy-initiated play helps our boys figure out their place in the world and what to do about it.
It provides hands-on experience with real-life materials.
Abstract science and math concepts are discovered and reinforced when boys actually interact with the physical world around them. They’ll learn what to do when a stick is too long to fit in between those boards and how to calculate the length of rope needed for their next obstacle course. The first guys to discover scientific concepts went out and observed the natural world and our boys can learn the same way.
It develops imagination and creative problem-solving.
Anyone can memorize and recite facts, but the boy who can look at a problem imaginatively and come up with a new solution sets himself apart from the rest.
It increases opportunity for cooperation, empathy, and even impulse control.
Mom can say a thousand times, “We don’t do that,” but if a boy gets corrected by another boy, that sticks in his memory. Our boys see the real life value of some of the parameters we’ve already tried to set.
how DO WE encourage outside play?
Eliminate or curtail screen time. Get them outside!
Step away from adult-organized activities and over-scheduling. Boys need time for self-initiated play.
Provide simple toys and natural materials. Boxes (the best!), wood, sand, clay, mud, sticks, water, and rocks are the stuff of imagination and fun.
Encourage some outdoor play every day. Get out the swim trunks and let them go out in a summer rain shower. Hoses, buckets, water bottles, and plenty of sunscreen will help them fight the sun and high temperatures, and still have fun.
Do some outdoor work together — washing the car, lawn care, and even gardening are great activities to help them get involved. Let them begin by helping you, but don’t be surprised (or annoyed) if it evolves into play.
In today’s over-screened, over-scheduled, success-driven culture, our boys need some time to play. Show them the value of imagination and trust them with their own play time.