We have a rule in my house – if the sun is out, it’s time to go out and play. This backfires at times because my kids eagerly mistake a cloud for impending rain and determine that is when they’re allowed to watch TV or play a game on the iPad. “Not a chance” I tell them. Cue the whinging.
Although there are many times I know it would be easier sometimes to opt for TV as entertainment, I truly believe that being outside is the best way to play and the best place for my kids to spend their time.
Like most kids though, mine want to be where I am. And I’m not that often outdoors. I love to watch them play for a bit, but all too often I have a list of things that need crossing off that require me not sit on my butt out in the yard. And so as much as I urge them into the great outdoors, unless I’m actually out there doing it too, they are somewhat reluctant to play outside.
Nowadays, there are so many things demanding our time. Many of us are working full time out of the home and we are also filling our little ones lives with as much activity as they can fit into their waking hours. Is it necessary though?
When I was a kid, I remember doing athletics for a while and Brownies, but that was pretty much it in terms of the extra curricular activities. I more vividly recall spending the hours between the school bell at 3pm and dinner time at approximately 6pm, riding around the neighbourhood on my bike, playing at friends places and creating adventures wherever we ended up. It was simple. And it was good. Granted it was a different time, there weren’t as many things to worry about in terms of our kids safety and I lived in Christchurch where times were slower and life was simpler, but the fact remains, we were free to roam and we didn’t have the pull of devices at home to keep us plonked on the couch for hours on end.
I have my (older two) kids enrolled in three activities this term – the most ever and I’m feeling all kinds of exhausted running them around town. Probably half the problem is that they are on three consecutive evenings, but still… it’s too much for me and mine. Swimming on Monday, Soccer on Tuesday, Athletics on Wednesday. Lucky we have the rest of the week to relax!
So, those other days of the week, I encourage Real Play. When my littles ask if they can ‘Please watch something on the iPad?’, I say no. When they tell me that they’re bored, I suggest heading out to the trampoline, playing in the play house, playing on their ‘musical’ swing (which is so named because it’s squeaky but they won’t let me apply a little CRC, poor neighbours!), or kicking the ball around outside. Failing that and if you really don’t want to be outside I tell them, you are welcome to colour, read a book, lay on your bed, write a story or play Lego. I try to save iPad and TV for bribery or special occasions.
Scarily, but not surprisingly so, The AUT Human Potential Centre has found that increasingly the ‘new norm’ for Kiwi kids has become a lifestyle that involves less movement, more screen time, and less time spent exploring and enjoying our beautiful backyards. I don’t know how you feel about that, but it troubles me. It troubles me greatly.
Recently Persil, with the help of AUT, launched the nationwide ‘State of Play‘ survey, asking 2,000 Kiwi parents to complete a questionnaire on how they are currently playing. The resulting stats were alarming. For example, over 80% of Kiwi children are spending more than two hours a day in front of a screen during the week, with even more doing the same on the weekend.
And you know the crazy thing – Real Play is easy, usually free and really rewarding for our kids. Learning to use their imaginations, exploring their physical capabilities by climbing trees or exploring in the backyard are things they will rarely learn if they don’t try it at home. Many schools have shut down that form of freedom in the playground and those of us living in city environments also aren’t able to offer our kids that same opportunity if we’re not dwelling near or visiting the great outdoors.
Because I don’t spend as much time outside myself as I possibly should (gulp), we make a point of weekends being outdoorsy – we go for family walks or bike rides, we spend time in the garden together, we play soccer all together in the front year and we spend Summer at the beach, allowing our kids to explore the beach and get familiar and confident in the water.
Being prepared with a just a few things at the ready makes it easier than ever to encourage Real Play for your kids. Water bottles at the ready, snacks available to nibble on when they’ve expended too much energy, sunscreen applied and lastly a hat on, you too can gear up for a Summer of Real Play. Check out what Persil suggest as ways to get your kids re-enthused about being outdoors – and find great tips for stain removal while you’re at it! All that outdoor adventuring will of course result in dirtier clothes, but I welcome that for the sake of my child’s wellbeing and general development.
Tell me, what is your favourite way to engage in Real Play with your children?
* This post was made possible by Persil, however as always, all opinions are my own.