Playing Outside

I recently read an article about Scandinavian preschools on one of my favorite blogs, www.LittleScandinavian.com. In Scandinavian preschools, the children spend lots of time playing outside in every season, whatever the weather. Instead of being academically focused like American preschools, they take kids outside to experience nature. They’re not so concerned about learning letters and numbers, but more with learning social skills, like cooperation and tandem play. They don’t have a ton of toys, like cheap plastic playhouses; instead, the kids play with rocks and twigs and flowers and grass like children have done for thousands of years. There’s something very appealing to me about this approach.

I can’t help but wonder how different American children would be if they played outside more and had less pressure to perform, whether it be at academics or sports. I know this opinion is unpopular, but I think a lot of American kids are over-scheduled. They have sports, lessons, school, tutoring, church, Girl/Boy Scouts, and the list goes on. There’s not much time left to just be a kid and hang out.

Maybe I feel this way because I had a very mellow, unscheduled childhood. I grew up on an island off the coast of North Carolina, and we played outside from sun up to sun down whenever the weather permitted and we weren’t at school. We rode bikes, built forts, waded through marsh mud, climbed trees and played in creeks. My hometown was very safe, and that was why all of this was possible. There was virtually no crime and our parents were comfortable letting us roam around on our own.

My children are growing up in the suburbs and the kind of freedom I had simply isn’t possible for them. First of all, the world isn’t as safe for children as it used to be. Second, the wide open beaches and woods I grew up with aren’t part of our suburban landscape. We have a fenced in yard with some trees, but nothing like what I experienced as a kid.

Still, I take my kids outside all the time. They don’t have to be “doing” anything; they just play. They pick up sticks and find bugs and run around and breathe fresh air. Today was the first day it’s been cold enough to wear a jacket in Atlanta and it was wonderful to go outside and bask in the cool temperatures. (Our summers are brutally hot and so when fall comes, we Southerners are happy as clams.) It’s easy to stay inside and watch TV, but I make a point to get my kids outside. I think it’s very cleansing and restorative for all of us.

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