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Playing outdoors is crucial in the physical and mental development of children. In its simplest form, playing outside is a good way for children to get their daily exercise. With one out of three children overweight or obese, being active is critically important for the health of children. Lack of outdoor play has been linked to such problems as childhood obesity, increased reliance on behavior regulating medications, low self-esteem, and lower academic performance. Improving a child’s health and well-being might be as simple as sending him or her outside to play!
Outdoor play and exploration can promote learning across all developmental domains and help ensure overall health, fitness, respect for the environment, positive social relationships, and readiness in academic subjects including science, math, language arts, and more! According to the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play, playing outside improves children’s gross motor skills, which increases their ability to process and remember new information. Furthermore, interacting with nature and other kids outside helps to stimulate the curiosity and creativity of children, and also boosts their confidence as they learn new things.
A generation ago, playing outdoors in nature was a given. Times have changed. TV and computer use, unsafe neighborhoods, busy and tired parents, and elimination of school recess are just a few reasons children are spending less time outdoors. Many modern American children are likely to find themselves in the “highly scheduled” category, where life is a constant shuffle between school, sports, church, camps, lessons, or various other activities. This daily shuffle can be overwhelming and more often than not, playing outside is the last thing they want to do. So, what can you do to increase outdoor play for children in your care?
Try some of these tips to increase outdoor play:
June is now known as “National Safety Month“. What better time to practice and recognize different ways to keep safe than during the summer? With the frequent outdoor visits, high temps, easy access to swimming pools/water, it’s very important to know how to be safe at all times, and what to do in an emergency situation. Here are some very helpful parent tips to keep your family safe this summer:
1) Never leave your child alone in a hot car, even if just for a few minutes
It can happen to the best of parents. We get busy and forget our sleeping little ones are just behind us, nestled comfortably in their car seat. The thought is enough to keep you up at night. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the temperature inside an average car or truck can increase 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. A child’s body can heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s, causing heatstroke, brain damage and even death. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. That’s why it’s so important to never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. There are so many tips to help you not forget your child in the car. You can place all of your belongings (purse, briefcase, phone) beside your child’s seat so that you’re forced to check the back seat. A stuffed animal placed in their car seat when they’re not in it can be removed and placed on your lap while driving with baby-in-tow. A large object like that can serve as a reminder that there’s someone in the backseat.
You don’t need to hide from the sun completely or wrap up like a mummy to protect yourself. But you should take these two steps:
- Always wear sunscreen.
- Take frequent breaks from the sun by going indoors or moving into the shade.
These steps are especially important between 10:00 in the morning and 4:00 in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are strongest. Use a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Put on sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun. The letters SPF stand for sun protection factor, and the number rating tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. But this isn’t always true, so reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, just to be safe. Do this more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating a lot — even if the sunscreen is waterproof. And remember that you can get sunburned more quickly when you’re swimming or boating because the reflection from the water intensifies the sun’s rays.
3) Keep your car locked and your keys out of reach from your children
Children copy what they see. Perfect example, my two year old son will take my keys and go around the house trying to unlock all of the door knobs, even if they don’t have a key hole. This can actually be quite dangerous if the child has access to your car on a hot day. If unsupervised, they can unlock the car very easily and hop inside. However, they may not be able to get out as easily. Be sure to always lock your car, even if it’s parked in your garage, and place your keys in an area away from your child’s reach.
Incorporate a water sprinkler, pool or child-safe water table during outdoor playtime. A water sprinkler creates a fun source of exercise for your little ones, allowing them to stretch their limbs and run around, while staying cool at the same time. Using a water table also allows the child to explore different water toys, learning to discriminate against what does and does not float, or transfering water; a great work in concentration and hand-eye coordination.
5) Swimming Lessons
Swimming lessons are extremely essential in teaching your child how to swim properly, or to prevent drowning. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend beginning formal swimming lessons until kids are at least 4 years old because that is the age that children are thought to be ‘developmentally ready’ for swim lessons. However, it certainly would not hurt to introduce your child to the water at whatever age you are most comfortable with! Personally, the earlier they dip their toes in the water, the better as this will help them become better acclimated to the guidelines of a swimming pool at an earlier age. Make sure they are wearing age-appropriate safety equipment. Proper adult supervision should be present at all times, of course.
Most importantly, remember to hydrate, wear sunscreen and maintain appropriate clothing coverage while spending time outdoors this summer. Remember to have fun and stay safe!