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On Parenting
Posted at 02:51 PM ET, 04/11/2012

Opening the door to outdoor play

This past week while on vacation, my newly-minted 3-year-old pedaled her tricycle along a mile stretch of boardwalk in one direction and then the other, twice. She later ran it, front to back, also twice. She “played” soccer and t-ball with her older sister and friend for hours.

The day before we left, her little legs motored non-stop, on the boardwalk, through a dandelion field, around a tennis court, to and away from cold ocean waves approximately 287 times.


(ELAINE THOMPSON)

By evening, I assumed she would collapse into bed, but she showed no signs of flagging. She stayed up past dark, running after softballs her father bunted to her again and again and again. Her 5-year-old sister finally cried uncle, coming inside to declare she needed to go to bed.

I write this not to reveal that what was supposed to be our relaxing spring break trip to the beach turned into a boot camp for my daughters, but because just as my preschooler was stunning me with her well of physical energy a study was released that confirmed what we’ve all suspected: many preschoolers are not getting enough outdoor playtime.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found that half of the almost 9,000 children studied were not taken outside by a parent on a daily basis.

Only 44 percent of mothers and 24 percent of fathers to the children, ages 1 to 4, reported taking a child out to play or for a walk daily. Girls were taken out to play even less than boys.

This is the sort of news that we’re used to now. Kids aren’t running around enough; they’re too addicted to media; we’re not working hard enough to get them to exercise. Tsk tsk.

I’m a big proponent of outdoor play and would much rather be outside with my daughters than just about anyplace else. That said, I also succumb to the obstacles.

It is more difficult to provide kids with unfettered, adequately-supervised play now than it was a generation or two ago. There’s more time pressure on parents, more perceived and real safety concerns, fewer giant fields of dandelions.

I sometimes find myself herding my younger daughter inside because it’s easier for me — if she’s in the playroom or, gasp, watching a video, I can more easily take care of my own work and chores.

My daughter was only able to exercise her boundless energy because we were on a vacation with few of the bounds that everyday life forces upon her and her parents.

We’re back from spring break. Reality has returned. (My lala persona of the last week turned back into stressed-out and prickly by 8 a.m. yesterday morning — just ask my husband.)

The past week, though, brought some new insight for me.

What surprised me wasn’t that my daughter enjoyed the outdoor play, but that she devoured it without much participation or guidance from me. That her movement and her exploration had so little to do with “parenting.”

She followed her own instincts without a slew of scheduled activities and play dates and with very few toys.

Maybe I will serve her, and her energy, better if I stopped working so hard to come up with outdoor activities and to be “present” for her. Maybe, I’d be better stationing myself within earshot and leave open the door.

Maybe I should get out of her way.

If I needed encouragement on this front, I got it yesterday morning when I opened our front door for our walk to school.

The 3-year-old sprinted to the corner, more coordinated and faster than I’d ever seen. She ran the whole way and for the first time beat her sister to school. I had to run to keep up with both of them — not that either of them noticed.

Do your kids get outside every day? What prevents their outdoor play? What promotes it?

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Parents are the biggest obstacle to letting kids play, says study in Pediatrics

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By  |  02:51 PM ET, 04/11/2012

Tags:  Childhood Development

 
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