I’m supposed to be writing about problem-solving skills today. That was what I told myself when I made my list for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. However, when I sat down to write this morning, all I could think of was watching my sons play outside this past weekend. So, today, I’m pushing the pause button and thinking instead about the value of unstructured play (which has a lot to do with improving problem-solving skills, too).
See, here in Michigan, spring *finally* arrived. After a winter and early spring of temps not getting above 40 degrees (F), the sun came out this weekend and the red in the thermometer shot above 70. We were like people who have been trapped in a dark, wet cave as we walked outside, shielding our eyes from the intense sun we haven’t seen in months. It was glorious!
My husband and I spent the weekend doing yard work—you know, the spring clean-up tasks that seem never-ending this time of year. My sons helped for a short time, but they they got bored (see my earlier post on Imagination for why I find this such a great moment). They went out to their play area, a wooden structure my dad built them surrounded by sand and woods. In a few minutes, they were digging holes (We’re making a mine, Mom!”) and leaning tree branches against a big oak (”Our fort!”). My oldest grabbed a rake to make the front yard of his fort tidy and then called excitedly to show me. Before the weekend was over, they’d played just about every backyard sport they could come up with (anyone for a game of badminton-softball-into a soccer goal?) and replanted some lovely flowers (weeds) into pots to decorate their fort.
At the end of both Saturday and Sunday nights, my sons were filthy, hungry, exhausted—and HAPPY. What more could a parent ask for? I didn’t entertain them or set up fancy games they could play. And neither one once asked to go inside to play with their electronics. They were having too much fun outside playing. They were solving problems with creative solutions.
The benefits of outdoor play have been well documented. This list comes from Head Start Body Start:
- Become fitter and leaner
- Develop stronger immune systems
- Have more active imaginations
- Have lower stress levels
- Play more creatively
- Have greater respect for themselves and others
If you’re into lengthy academic articles (sorry, my kind of thing!), I highly encourage these two articles on the value of outdoor play:
- Fjørtoft: Landscape as Playscape: The Effects of Natural Environments on Children’s Play and Motor Development
- Burdette and Whittaker: Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation, and Affect
How will you get outside to play today? (And yes, adults need to get outside and play sometimes, too!)
I honestly miss those days, when my boys were smaller and wanted to invent games. They were never able to entertain themselves for more than an hour or so, but watching them in that hour was bliss.
I can always tell when the imaginations are fully fueled because they play with each other without fighting. Those moments are so rare!