Whenever I hear the wind rustling the leaves on trees, whenever I feel the warmth of the sun on my face, whenever I smell freshly cut grass, it brings me back. It stirs up memories of carefree days spent outside.
Days spent exploring, pretending, reading. Days I long for. Days I wish I still had.
What brings you back?
Try to remember.
Maybe the earthy scent after a thunderstorm.
Perhaps the sound of a creek bubbling over the rocks. Maybe even the bite of a brisk breeze on a fall day.
Being outside in nature is such a peaceful experience. It is so good for our souls that it is commonly recommended to those struggling with depression or anxiety to spend at least half an hour outside every day.
But did you know that being outside has a ton more benefits for your children?
Some that you probably haven’t even realized. Since there are so many benefits, let’s just focus on the physical ones.
Obviously this had to make the list.
We all know how we, as a nation and probably as a society in general, are getting larger, dare I even say morbidly obese.
Through my many years of experience in the hospital, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of people admitted are there because of their weight or unhealthy lifestyles. It’s sad but true.
And even sadder is the fact that our children are also getting obese. Maybe it’s the food. Maybe it’s the electronics. Maybe it’s the deterioration of the family. But whatever it is, we know that exercise can help combat it.
But how can we make kids exercise more? Could you imagine walking into the gym and seeing a 10 year old running on the treadmill? That would be insanity!
The only sure fire way I can get my kids to exercise for real (like break a sweat) without forcing them (i.e. playing organized sports…) is to send them outside.
And trust me, all that climbing, jumping, running, rolling, digging, etc. will give them the exercise they need (and give them a good night’s sleep too- bonus!).
I mean, let’s be honest, I need to go out there and exercise with them more for my own figure.
2. Vitamin D
Again, seems pretty obvious.
And there’s not a ton more I can add to this except that sunshine when it hits the skin produces Vitamin D.
Our body uses the Vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption which in turn helps keep our bones strong.
Suffice it to say that Vitamin D is important – especially in the winter – and it naturally comes from the sun (no where else). So yay for nature! And the sun!
3. Gross Motor Skills
Did you know that it takes a ton of coordination as a toddler to walk across a grassy field?
I didn’t until I had my first son.
Like most moms, I really only took my son outside before his first birthday in a stroller or car seat or carrier. It was rare that I let him explore by crawling or teetering along.
(Plus, I didn’t want him eating rocks… so I wasn’t too bad of a mom).
But now I realize how important exploring the outside is for them, especially before their first birthday. Kids are just naturally curious. They want to touch everything, tear everything down, put things in their mouths, everything.
Harness that curiosity and get them outside toddling to that orange leaf and running after that grasshopper. Before you know it, they will be jumping with the toads and climbing those trees and leaving you way behind.
For all my medical background and nursing education, I did not realize until recently that being outside without sunglasses is actually good for your eyes. It’s basically exercise for your eyes- constantly adjusting to varying degrees of light, focusing on things near and far.
Let’s just say I was amazed by this. I have no idea why it never occurred to me ( I mean, I knew that reading in low light was good for your eyes so it would seem like an obvious deduction…).
But obviously, I just didn’t connect the dots. Eyesight, who knew?
There is this school of thought out there that basically believes that the relatively new phenomena of allergies and asthma is due to our limited exposure to germs and the outdoors (think dirt).
I do not know if I believe this wholeheartedly, but the coincidence is a little uncanny.
But regardless of all that, being outside exposes kids to a lot more germs which in turn totally makes their little immune systems kick it up a notch and build up immunity to it. There is also something to be said about fresh air.
Let’s get those kids healthier!
But to be honest, as a suburban mom, I struggled with making sure my kids played outside enough, especially when they were younger.
It just seemed like one more thing on my to do list.
I would have to sit out there and watch my toddler like a hawk outside. It was exhausting and boring and cutting into time I could have spent cleaning (which I really need help with) or reading books or whatever.
But I did it, because I knew that theoretically, it was good for all of us.
So I struggled through it. And I struggled through it when I had a newborn and a toddler, and just wrapped the little peanut in a carrier while we went for our walk. And I struggled through it as I pushed two kids on the swings for what seemed like forever.
And then I had 3 kids and put the newborn in a pack and play outside so I can help the older ones with riding a bike and climbing trees.
But now, life is good.
The youngest is 3, and I just send them outside by themselves.
They play for hours. They track down all types of lizards and insects.
They have dedicated a jar to ants and watching them build their mound inside.
They play baseball. They play all sorts of made up games.
It’s great. I can even go out there now and just read. Can you believe that? I thought that day would never come!
So let’s all just remember what our childhood was like, what made it so special and wonderful. Being outside was definitely part of it. Let’s give the gift of nature, the wonder of childhood, to our children.
“Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.” – Walt Whitman