The Power of Green Time: 10 Ways to Play Outside

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Watch kids play outside with no rules or coaches to govern their behavior and you will see the magical unfolding of bodies swinging, stooping, throwing, racing, twirling in space. A study by the American Journal of Public Health of 452 parents of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity order found that one hour of unchecked movement outdoors calms and focuses kids. The researchers call this play ‘green time’. The researchers asked parents to rate how various activities affected their child’s behavior and found that overall the activities in natural settings—a park, playground, a backyard—seemed to have a calming affect and increased the ability to focus, more than any other indoor place. images6It works for all people. Numerous other studies have shown that when adults are attention fatigued from close concentration on a task indoors, if they take a break and go outside, fatigue eases and they grow more alert. Some scientists speculate that it is a residual after-effect from our hunter-gatherer forebears, where one had to be instantly alert outdoors in order to survive. In the end we shouldn’t need reasons and research for our kids to have unstructured playtime. The answer is there in the flushed cheeks, the breathless telling of discoveries, and the sweet fatigue at the end of the day in our child. Now science proves it is good medicine.

10 Green Time Ideas:

Wheelbarrows: a real child sized wheelbarrow is sturdy enough for heavy loads or a passenger. Teaches the concepts of balance and displacement.

Wagon: Radio Flyers have never lost their appeal for a reason: they are
wonderful tools for fun! Your child can launch a parade with the neighbor kids by decorating it and creating a float. A wagon will move dirt, pull a friend, or give a thrill down an incline with the handle pulled back and held. Kids can imagine a wagon into a pioneer’s covered wagon, a racecar, or a truck. The possibilities are endless.
Tractor size inner tube: available inexpensively at tire supply stores. Inner tubes are fun to sit on, fun to roll, and they can be used as a sled pulled across snow. A used tractor tire makes a great sandbox (also available at tire supply stores–usually for free). Enlarge the opening by cutting off the rim, and then fill with sand.
Cardboard appliance box: These outsize boxes are often given away free at appliance stores, grocery stores also have watermelon boxes with lids that work beautifully. Cut windows and a door in the box to make a fort. Have your child ‘paint’ the fort with buckets of water and sponge paint brushes, or use real paints and felt tip pens. Your child can tape cut out pictures from magazines or old family photographs to the walls. Put an old sleeping bag inside for a delightfully different place to nap.
Ladders: a short 2’ or 4’ A-frame step ladder works dandy as step up to trees or as a support for a tarp tent. A taller rung ladder can be used as an obstacle course run when it is laid flat (think football drills), or consider a short rung ladder (5’) with hooks on the end to hook over a fence or monkey bars. Remove the lower rungs to make it safe for toddlers (who should NOT be given ladders).
Tarps: make a tent, a water slide, a drag sled for leaves, a curtain for puppet shows, walls for a fort.
PVC pipe play: put together chunks of 1/2” PVC pipe and assorted joiners (T-joint, 3 way, elbows, etc). Buy the pipe at hardware stores or home building centers and have your child saw the pipe into manageable chunks with a hacksaw (a hacksaw is a great saw to learn on–demonstrate the proper technique wearing eye protection of course!). Suggest a route of pipe around the yard using the joints for turns. On warm days use the hose to fill the new water system with water.
Scrap lumber: most building supply stores have a bin of scrap lumber that they give away for free. Make regular stops to check out the new supplies. Provide a lightweight hammer and nails. If your child needs a few ideas suggest a birdhouse, a dollhouse, or a bird feeder. Then turn her loose and do not offer any advice or feedback unless you are asked! Remember–the most awkward and homely birdhouse made entirely by the child herself has more merit and power than a kit or an adult supervised project!
Paint the town with water: Provide a bucket of water and paintbrushes. Have your pre-schooler ‘paint’ pictures, shapes, or simply ask for her to paint the railings of a fence or the deck.
Wild pile: washed construction sand, or pea gravel can be ordered very inexpensively by the yard from a gravel supply company. There are a variety of ways you can present the sand or gravel. It can be as simple as a pile in a remote corner of the yard (the best option!), to a ground level built-in box on the deck (easy clean up! Simply sweep the sand back into the box!). You can also use a child’s plastic swimming pool as a sand box (punch drain holes with a large nail in the bottom of the pool before placing the sand). No matter how you place the sand, your child will spend many content hours playing in it. Provide any or all of the following: toy trucks, cars, funnels, old pots and pans, plastic cups, sieves or colanders, trowels, and hand rakes. Don’t forget that the sandy bodies and shoes and tracked sand around the yard are all welcome evidence of an imaginative mind at work! No one ever has happy childhood memories of a clean body and house.

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