by Belinda J. Mooney

As April turns the corner into May, the weather for outdoor playtime is just right. Playing, of course, can mean anything from building forts on the porch or deck or in the yard, to playing baseball at the corner lot or swinging on the old tire swing for hours on end. That may sound like a typical afternoon for most kids – but it’s not. According to an “active play survey” conducted by representatives with Wisk laundry detergent, kids playing outside is on the decline. Seventy percent of moms interviewed for the survey said that when they were children,  they played more outside than they did inside. Compare that to just 26 percent of today’s children.
But outside play remains as important as ever. Children’s development suffers when they only discover their world through TV, computers and books. Romping around outdoors allows a child’s their creativity to flow. Children can put on play clothes, get dirty, be noisy and relieve stress. Exploring the world of nature opens up their eyes to the world around them.. Outdoor play allows them to use all of their senses – not only seeing and hearing.
Moms agreed that when their kids played outside more often, grades improved, self-esteem went up and creativity flowed. Another benefit: kids seem to sleep better when they’ve had ample outdoor activity. Playing outside is also one giant step toward preventing obesity in children. Too much TV and video games and not enough exercise adds to the trend in childhood weight gain. Getting your kids moving outdoors helps prevent this.
“Being outside provides a sense of freedom enabling children to discover their environment, “ says Rhonda L. Clements, president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.

Let your kids have some say in their outdoor play. Allow them to choose between riding their bike for a while or going for a walk with you. Only allow TV time after they have played outside for a certain amount of time. Encourage their imaginations and just let them play and be kids. Dedicate time each week to going outside with your kids.
You shouldn’t have to push this on them too much. Before you know it, your gang will be off exploring on their own. There are so many wonderful things to do out of doors: plant a garden, grill and eat supper, pitch a tent in the yard, hold a scavenger hunt, gather debris from nature to help create a table centerpiece. Allow your kids draw in the dirt, make mud pies and splash through puddles. See an open field? Let them run across it. Find a grassy hill and let them try to roll down it.  Parents should also try to make time for a daily walk with their kids, even if it’s brief.
Nothing brings out the imagination and reasoning skills like natural play. Making something out of nothing but a few sticks and rocks can be a warm experience.
“Children have wonderful imaginations,” Clements adds. Giving them the gentle nudge to gooutdoors, plus the OK to get dirty, allows them to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

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