My sister and my 2 1/2-year-old niece are visiting from San Francisco this week. On her first morning here, my neice couldn't wait to get outside. My sister and I were still both a little sleepy and didn't really want to go outside then.
But she kept saying, "I want to go outside."
So I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my cup of coffee and trailed her out into the yard. She didn't even wait long enough to put on her shoes- she just went right out into the autumn morning in her bare feet.
I had forgotten how much my children used to ask to go outside when they were her age. I think the main difference with my children now is that they're older so they don't need me to go outside.
They might say, "Mom I'm going out," or "I'm going to ride my bike," and then they head out the door. But my niece isn't old enough to be running around the yard by herself. Especially since she doesn't know my yard and we live on a busy street.
My niece spent maybe 10 minutes outside. She ran in the grass, dug in the sandbox, and played on the climber. Then she decided she was hungry and went back inside. That little outside stint was enough to satisfy her. Later, once my kids were home from school (her "big cousins") she chased them around the yard and jumped in our monster leaf pile with them.
The outside fun with her cousins continued yesterday with an investigation of what's left of our garden. When my sister went out to check on them, they were huddled around a rosemary plant picking and eating the leaves. They also tasted some alpine strawberries, fennel seeds, and garlic chives. Later, over dinner, my niece said, "You have a nice garden."
So today, I have no particular suggestions... Just a reminder that kids need unstructured outside time. If you have a yard, just let your kids go explore. If not, try to take them to an outdoor a space like a public park. Have no agenda. Let them wander aimlessly, watch the clouds go by, or explore as they wish.
When did your kids last enjoy unstructured time in nature? How can you provide more opportunities for them?
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Richard Louv in New Bedford, MA