Three Hours? Are You Kidding Me?
My kids are not the type who stay outdoors all day.
Nope. Mine are more of the stay-inside-for-hours-reading-a-book-on-the-couch kind of kids.
Both certainly have their merits. But in an age of increased concern over childhood obesity and study after study linking exercise and time spent out doors with such things as increased cognitive ability, stronger confidence, heightened empathetic awareness, and better decision-making skills, I feel keenly aware of how much of my kids' day is spent outside.
In an article shared by Hoot of Loot from the Huffington Post, pediatric occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom, author of the book Balanced and Barefoot, recommends kids get - are you ready for this? - a whopping three hours of unstructured play a day. To clarify, organized soccer, gymnastics class, and karate camp don't count.
It's no shock that the scant 15 or 20 minutes of recess time kids get at school just doesn't cut it, but many of us well-meaning parents though 60 minutes a day was the magic number.
Hanscom site numerous reasons why child should be active from infancy onward. She advocates that parents give their kids some kind of autonomy in their activities as early as age eight or nine. And she notes that it's important for kids to play with other kids only. Actually, I have to confess I liked getting a free pass on that one.
So my kids...my grass-averse, book-loving kids...What do you do when asking your kids to play outside for 20 minutes sparks the same reaction as asking them to part with half of the 79 stuffed animals crowding their beds? You get my drift, right?
Well I'll tell you what we did tonight, and it worked like a charm. We took a walk as a family. Sounds simple, right? Not even close. The oldest made this high-pitched whimpering sound while the younger one rolled off the couch and lay face-down flat on the floor, not moving.
Using our serious parenting skills ("Get up and out the door or you're not coming on vacation tomorrow."), we all embarked on a walk around the block. I say "around the block" because we figured that was all the further our kids would go.
But we tricked them.
We gave them a choice.
At every intersection we came to, we let one of them choose which direction we would head. Of course we took turns so everyone got an equal chance at being the boss. We ventured into new neighborhoods, ambled through alleyways, and eventually wound up in familiar territory.
To our utter surprise, our kids had an awesome time. We walked for almost an hour. They thought it was hilarious to choose a direction we didn't know or one that led us further away from home. At times, they paused to really consider which direction to choose. My hubs and I didn't say a word - not when we took a route to a dead end, and not when it started to get dark and we turned even farther from our destination: home.
But we had a great time. We talked about our upcoming vacation. We told corny jokes. We held hands.
I'm not sure if I can manage three hours a day. I'm not even sure that we can manage this kind of outing more than once a week. But I'm glad we made the effort tonight, and I know we'll certainly be making more of an effort in the future.