I was sitting in the bank waiting for the teller to call my number. We’d been there at least five minutes, and my two-year-old was bored. So I took out my phone and handed him Peppa Pig.
The man sitting beside me smiled, ’We didn’t have those when my boys were little,’ he said.
It wasn’t a criticism, just a friendly comment.
But I took it as a reminder. There are other ways to keep a child entertained.
And while there are reasons we often reach for the device first (we usually always have one, we know they work) they may not be the best choice for our children.
And here’s why:
Screens don’t provide an opportunity for language development. They are one-sided. They talk to the child, but they don’t give the child a chance to talk back.
Cartoon pigs also keep children perfectly still, which is the opposite of what they need for healthy development.
Finally, screens distract our children from the business of play. Part of the reason a toddler gets in trouble in the bank is they want to play with everything. They want to climb under the chairs and draw with the pens for writing cheques. And that play, which engages a child imagination and thinking is good for their brains.
When we give a child a screen, we shut off that process of learning.
But if not a screen then what? What can we pack to keep our children quiet and calm in the bank, at the cafe or in the doctors waiting room?
1. A Picture Book
Unlike a device, a book offers two-way communication. It encourages the child and parent to have a conversation. A high-quality picture book can facilitate hours of discussion. And books are like magic—they keep even the loudest children quiet.
2. A Ball
Who said you had to sit in a waiting room? If it’s not busy, there’s no reason you can’t find a corner and roll a ball together. Or maybe there’s a little patch of grass outside Dad’s work and those five minutes waiting for him to come out can become time for catching practice.
3. Coloured Pencils and Paper
Children love to draw and make marks on paper, and this activity helps them develop the skills they need to learn to read and write. Toddlers tend to do better with thicker crayons and pencils, but if you have a few in your bag, you’ll always have something for them to do.
4. A Soft Toy and a Muslin Wrap
Most of us have too many of these items at home. But one of each is a great thing to pack in the nappy bag. Children love wrapping and carrying their ‘baby’, a lovely quiet game that helps to develop a child’s language and empathy.
5. A Small Car (or Three)
A little collection of cars in a canvas bag provides hours of fun. Every place you visit is a new place to explore. There are patterns on the carpet and chairs to drive underneath. And another child might join in with this play, which will make it even more fun.
5. A Hat
Once you notice it, there is nature everywhere. There are grassy hills to roll down, fountains with water to splash in and trees dropping colourful leaves. If you have some simple sun protection, there is never a reason not to stop for a few minutes and play outside.
And sometimes a ten minute run around outside will help give your child exactly what they need to handle the wait in the bank.
I wish I could find that Dad and thank him for his comment. It’s changed the way I parent.
I now view those moments of boredom as opportunities—little snippets in our day for play, fun and connection.
Not worth giving up.
For more tips, check out these posts here.
In many parts of the world, summer is synonymous with holidays and hours of uninterrupted outdoor play. We read about summer time in books and watch movies where children spend all day riding bikes and swimming in clear lakes. But in Australia summer is different. Australia is a country of extremes. And it’s rarely more extreme than in the summer months when temperatures in parts of the country push 45 degrees celsius.
So if you’re a parent with young children and you want your child to have an active, outdoor life, what can you do? How can you survive the heat with kids?
Before we answer the question, we need to change our mindset. While summer might be the best time for outdoor play in places like North America and Scandinavia, in Australia it is our most tricky season. We’re not likely to be kept inside by snow days or blizzards, but there will be times when hot weather, dangerous conditions and high UV levels force our kids inside, and that’s ok.
Actually winter, when the sun is shining, and the UV is low is the perfect time for all-day outdoor adventures. Even overcast Australian days tend to be mild, so committing to getting outside through out the rest of the year, whatever the weather, and not relying on summer as a golden time for outdoor play, is the important first step.
But what do you actually do in summer when temperatures start rising?
First, you need to establish a new summer rhythm. In our family, we get up early to play but stay inside between 10 am and 2 pm, to avoid the worst of the heat. If you do that, there are then two modes of summer, the indoor summer and the outdoor summer, and within those modes, we can make some choices that will help us make the most of those hot days.
Here are my tips.
1. Get out early and stay out late.
If you can organise rest time and naps around the middle of the day then you can make the most of the cool mornings and evenings.
2. Stay safe.
Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. So being sun safe is extremely important. Invest in good sun protection—hats, long sleeve shirts, a sunscreen you love, sunglasses and a beach umbrella or shelter. Store these items by the front door or in the car, so they’re always ready when you're heading out.
And don’t leave them at home on overcast days. UV levels can be high even when it doesn’t feel hot and sunny. The Cancer Council’s SunSmart app provides an hour by hour forecast of UV and gives advice as to when sun protection is needed.
3. Find some shade.
When choosing a place to play outside, prioritise shade. Parks and playgrounds differ greatly when it comes to how many trees and shady areas they have. This is the time of year to travel a little further so you can find one with the right amount.
Keep in mind that natural shade, provided by trees and vegetation, is far better than shade cloths, because plants transpire, and this can cool the air by as much as ten degrees. The playground surfaces also have an effect on the overall temperature of a space, manmade surfaces like soft fall and concrete are much hotter than mulch and grass.
4. Play with water.
There’s a reason most preschools have water trays or tables. All that running, jumping, lifting, tipping and splashing children do when playing with water is developing their gross and fine motor skills.
A beach or river is the best place for water play. But if you don’t have access to those natural spaces (and your council doesn’t have water restrictions), then water play can easily be replicated in a backyard or on a balcony. A tub of water, a couple of buckets or cups and a small watering can provides hours of fun.
Simple activities like running under the sprinkler or watering the garden are great ways to keep kids cool. And you can switch up the evening bath routine by using a tub in the backyard.
5. Pack a picnic.
Snacks that have a high water content--like watermelon, cucumber and berries--are great for kids in summer. Flasks can hold ice and will keep drinking water cold even on the hottest days. And here’s a tip, if you add some ice bricks to your picnic then wrap the whole thing in an old woollen jumper or blanket (100% wool works best) it will keep things ice cold. Wool is much more effective than plastic cooler bags. With this trick, I’ve even been able to take homemade ice cream to the beach and keep it frozen.
We often think of picnics being a lunchtime activity, but in summer, breakfast and dinner picnics are better. And remember you don’t always have to cook—sandwiches and smoothies are a perfect summer midweek meal.
Even with all those useful tips, in Australia, a significant chunk of our kid’s summer will still be spent indoors. But don’t lose heart, indoor time can still be active and fun.
6. Limit screen time.
While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of screen time every now and then, if we’re turning the TV on every afternoon when the weather forces our kids indoors, they are missing out on other experiences that are better for them.
Colouring, painting, playing with blocks, building things out of boxes, play dough and dress ups all provide better opportunities for learning and development. Inviting friends over to play is the simplest way to make indoor play more fun and exciting.
When it’s really hot, after children have been outside to play, they will need a rest. Nothing beats curling up under a fan and reading, but children’s podcasts and audiobooks are also a great substitute for television, and many are available for free through the ABC Kid’s Listen App or your local library.
8. Use someone else's air-conditioning.
We’ve all done it, a really hot day has sent us running to the local air-conditioned cinema or shopping centre. But remember libraries, art galleries and museums are also air-conditioned and many provide classes and activities for children throughout the year.
9. More water play.
Indoor swimming pools are a great option on a hot day because kids can stay active and cool at the same time. For older kids, indoor ice-rinks and rock climbing centres are a healthier choice than the movies, and can be a great option when the budget allows it.
Finally, in all this, it helps to remember that summer is a season. And it will pass. Go easy on yourself and don’t let the hot weather dampen your attempts to give your kids an active, outdoor childhood.
If you're looking for more inspiration check out this post about how one family plays outside throughout the year in Darwin, NT, where average monthly temperatures sit at around 30 degrees celsius.
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Rainy days don't mean you need to stay inside with young children. There are lots of fun things to do outside when it’s wet and as long as you have gumboots and a raincoat (or you don't mind getting a little wet) there is no reason to miss out.
1. Jump in puddles.
It’s still my kid's favourite thing to do in the rain.
2. Play in the mud.
Take some buckets, shovels and spades into a muddy section of your yard and get digging. Sand toys make great rain toys when it’s wet and cars and trucks can get muddy too. If you don't have a backyard, you can still dig in the mud at your local park, you will most likely have the whole place to yourselves.
3. Take a walk.
In an article about taking her young nephew outside, Rachel Carson, wrote ‘Nature reserves some of her choice rewards for days when her mood may appear to be sombre.’ I often think about this quote when we go out in the rain. Raindrops sparkle on leaves, mist clings to the trees, the air tastes cool and fresh. A walk in the rain is something special, for children and adults alike
4. Ride a bike or trike in the rain.
Don’t ask me why but kids seem to love this one. Just make sure you don't forget to pop their helmet under their raincoat hood.
5. Visit a beach or river.
It might not be a great day for swimming but it can still be fun to visit the water on a wet day. The sand is different when it’s been rained on and it’s even better for making sandcastles.
6. Plant something.
Seedlings love nothing more than a good drink to get them going in the ground. And the garden is a lovely place to be in the rain
7. Make leaf boats.
Or if you are younger than three, just throw leaves and sticks into puddles—hours of fun.
8. Have an outdoor bath.
Find that toddler pool that you usually only use in summer, or a deep tub and fill it with warm water. Add a few flower petals if you have some and let your kids have a soak in the rain. It’s the perfect way to finish a busy day of mud play
9. Choose your own adventure.
These are just some of the things we have done in the rain, but honestly, I rarely plan things to do outside. The trick is just getting out there. If we put our coats and boots on and get out the door, the kids rarely need ideas of things to do. They make their own fun. And the best part? Your house will feel so lovely and cosy, when you come back inside after a few hours out in the rain. Hot chocolate anyone?
Want more tips on getting outside with your kids? Have a look HERE.
When you live in the city it can feel hard to get outside with your kids. And if you feel like you aren’t getting enough green time—you are not alone. Surveys show that city kids really do spend less time outdoors than those who live in the country. But regardless of where you live, all children benefit from time outdoors. And you don’t have to miss out on all the benefits of outdoor play just because you live in town. Here are my tips:
1. Go to the green
Most cities have green spaces. Australian cities have lots. Find your local park, reserve, botanic gardens or beach and go enjoy them. Pack a picnic, call a friend, anything to get outside together. In the city there are lots of great playgrounds you can visit. But don’t be afraid to leave the playground and explore the green spaces around them. You might just find the perfect tree to climb or grassy hill to roll down.
2. Find your garden
Just because you live in an apartment and don’t have a garden, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun of growing your own. You can get your hands in the dirt at your local community garden. Even if you aren’t ready to sign up, most community gardens are open to the public and members are happy for you to stroll through and have a look. They are great places to spot a bee, beetle, or butterfly.
3. Borrow a backyard
You might not have a backyard but I bet you know someone who does. Make a phone call then go and visit them for a play. Tell Grandma and Pa that instead of another toy for your tiny apartment, you’d like them to buy a kid’s wheelbarrow and some shovels—for their place. Who knows, they might even let you turn that back corner into a digging pit or mud kitchen.
4. Swap your shop
One of the best changes we made when we spent a year outdoors was to stop buying groceries at the supermarket and start shopping at our local farmers market. The kids loved playing at the markets and splashing in the puddles when it was raining. And getting out of the house first thing Saturday morning was a great way to start the weekend.
5. Use your feet
One of the best things about living in town is that you drive less. So go out and enjoy the beautiful walking tracks your city has to offer. Buy your kids a scooter or balance bike—you can find them second hand, for almost nothing—and hit the path. It will do you and your kids, the world of good.
6. Get out of town
Cities are great places to live, full of vibrant communities, bustling markets, and parks with acres of lawn that you never have to mow. But sometimes it’s nice to escape. So book a holiday by the sea or spend a weekend camping in the bush. Even if you only have time for a day trip, getting out of town and playing in nature is good for the whole family.
You might also like these articles: 10 tips to help you get outdoors with your kids more often and Is a outdoor childhood still an option?
What are the fondest memories of your childhood?
For many of us we have many memories of climbing trees and playing for hours in the sun, creating our own games and running wild without too much input from our parents.
But life is different for children today. All around the world children are spending less time playing outdoors and more time inside. In Australia most children are not playing outdoors everyday and 1 in 10 children play outside less than once per week.
It is an alarming trend. However we have the power to change this reality for our own children or the children in our lives. If we can work to fit more outdoor time in, even just a little bit, then our children stand to benefit in many ways. Heading outdoors regularly can have a wide range of positive effects on our children's health and wellbeing. So, having taken my own children out everyday for the past two months, here are my top 10 tips for getting outdoors more often...
At the beginning of the week, when you sit down to write on your calendar, make an appointment with nature. Putting it in the diary is a great way to ensure you have at least one great outdoor experience every week.
2. Don't let the weather stop you.
In Scandinavian countries where a large percentage of children attend forest kindergartens, they have a saying, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’ As parents we perhaps don’t always feel like getting cold and wet or washing all those muddy clothes, but children feel differently.
3. Kick the kids out.
Mud play is no fun when it includes mud trudged through a clean house. Or when you give over a corner of your backyard to create a kind of mud wonderland and after ten minutes the kids say they are bored and want to go back inside. So take snacks and water out and then explain that you aren’t going back inside for a certain block of time. Often my kids will ask to go back inside within the first half an hour. I simply tell them that we have to stay outside for a whole hour. Then they will start some creative play and after two or three hours I will be the one telling them to come back inside.
4. Take inside activities outside.
Instead of eating sandwiches and fruit at the table, wrap them up in a tea towel and have a picnic outside. Little babies love to have their tummy time on a rug outdoors. Older children might like taking their pencils outside and finding inspiration in the flowers, birds or trees. Even dress ups, dolls and doctors kits can be taken outside for an afternoon. Pretend play is much more fun with a bit of green grass to romp around on.
5. Meet your friends outdoors.
Children love being in nature with others, so call up your friends and head outdoors together. A grassy hill, a pile of sticks or a patch of dirt is transformed when there is a friend there to play with.
6. Use outdoor time as downtime.
When children are tired, especially after school, we can fall into the trap of thinking that screens are a good way to give them a rest. However occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom, explains that sitting still in front of a moving screen can actually be stressful for children. While watching a screen, children's brains are being stimulated but they are not experiencing movement, the normal reaction to that stimulation. She explains that this is why children sometimes become grumpy after watching too much television. Since starting our project we have stopped turning the television on for our three year old after preschool. Instead he heads into the backyard and rides his bike. Or we take him to the park around the corner for an hour. At first it felt counter intuitive to send him outdoors to be active when I could see how tired he was from his day, however it works to relax him more than the television ever did.
7. Prepare your kit.
I keep raincoats, all our gumboots and our picnic rug in a box by the door. In the back of my car lives our bucket and spades, a few towels and some spare clothes. This way we are always ready to stop and play outdoors if we ever have a free moment. If you live in the city and don’t have a backyard, carrying a little kit (maybe a rug, a ball or a small bucket and spade) means you can make the most of your local green space whenever you head out.
8. Set a family goal.
Setting yourself a goal helps you to take the kids outdoors even when you may be inclined to do otherwise. Last week, for example, it was wet and cold and the sun was quickly setting, but because of our project we decided to put on our coats and go for a walk. The kids loved squelching in the wet grass, saying goodnight to the birds and watching the darkening sky. It was a lovely moment of family bonding, that we would have missed had we stayed indoors.
Swap some of your driving trips for walking and enjoy the time to be outdoors together. If you have school age children and are in the habit of driving them to school try, even just once a week, to walk. Recent studies have shown that it will help them to concentrate better once they are in class.
10. Do less inside activities.
,Is your week already filled with music classes, playgroups, swimming lessons or trips to indoor play centres? Sometimes you just have to say no and do less. Save your money and take them outdoors instead.
And as an extra tip... just try and slow down a little bit.
Children love being outdoors. Young children especially, are instantly drawn to the experiences and materials that they find in nature. This means our children will find a place to climb anywhere we go, they will want to jump in every puddle and stop to admire every other stick. As a parent it is sometimes easy to see this behaviour as frustrating and as slowing us down.
However when we look at these moments in the bigger picture we can see that for our children they are significant. In these moments children are investigating, they are learning about the world they live in and also about themselves. They are testing and refining their physical skills and engaging their creative minds to dream and imagine. And they are forming a connection to the natural world, a connection that will go with them throughout their lives. Fostering that connection is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
'For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.'
Want more tips on getting outside with your kids? Have a look HERE.