Getting Out There: RDI in the Summertime

Originally published on RDI Connect.
Those of us raising children in Canada are keenly aware of and attuned to the seasons and their impact on the flow of our daily lives. There is nothing like living through a harsh, bitterly cold winter, then being able to throw off our winter boots and mitts on the first warm, sweet spring day. When the temperatures are finally warm enough, we see a traditional migration of families to outdoor activities:  whether it involves playing sports, sharing meals on the deck, or spending time at “the lake”.

But researchers are now telling us that this migration to the outdoors is in jeopardy; today, only a quarter of North American children play outside daily as compared to nearly three quarters a generation ago. It really seems as though there has been a shift from children experiencing “green time” to increasing amounts of “screen time”. The average school aged child today spends more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.

The benefits of exposure to nature are becoming well documented. Some obvious benefits include increased fitness levels in children who play outside, and decreased incidence of obesity. The Center for Disease Control now recommends “one hour a day of physical activity for kids. The real benefit of outdoor play is that children are doing what comes naturally, having fun, and don’t see it as exercising”.

Other benefits of outdoor play for children range from strengthened immune systems and wound healing , to improved distance vision and improved feelings of well being. One recent study documents that children who get exposure to outdoor light in the morning actually set their body clock for a better night’s sleep.

Parents who raise their children as mindful apprentices are at a real advantage to reverse the trend and to bring their children to the outdoors. No matter where you live, or what the season, you can establish new traditions for your family that involve fresh air and sunshine. It can be as simple as going for a walk every day after dinner, or kicking a ball around in the park. It can be as elaborate as planning and growing a garden, or learning the rules of a team sport a little bit at a time.

Taking your family time and your RDI objectives outdoors with your children presents you with an amazing opportunity to extend and expand your child’s competencies, bringing them out of the lab and into the “real world”. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that your child has become such a good coordinator, that he is now keen to walk to the mailbox with you, or to help you water the flowers. Or maybe you will discover that he is now able to collaborate with you to make the craziest hopscotch game ever invented.

One of the main advantages of being outdoors with your child is that it allows him to experience decision making in a whole new way. The outdoors environment is never quite the same from one day to the next, and this can set your child up to take in new information, to update his knowledge and hopefully to make some great new decisions. We may have had a lot of fun jumping in the puddles yesterday, but they’re gone today, ah, I know, let’s get the hose out…. And, oh boy, it’s raining today, let’s go watch the rain make new puddles!

If you still feel stuck for activities to try with your child outdoors, you can find lots of great ideas to start with on the National Wildlife Federation website http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There.aspx .

So here’s to being outdoors with our kids this summer, and discovering a whole new dynamic world!

More ideas  for outdoor play and interaction can be found in our previously published article, Summer Planning.

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