My mum calls it the celebratory cup of tea. It’s the one you drink at the end of the day when the kids are in bed. Maybe for you, it’s a glass of wine or some ice-cream. But if you’re a parent, I’m pretty sure you know the moment.
The way the house is so quiet and calm, when they're finally asleep.
And yet the hours before bed can be anything but peaceful. It can feel like everyone is tired, but no one will go to bed.
It used to be like this in our house.
I’d put the kids into bed, but that was just the start.
My son wanted another story, a chat with Dad, a glass of water.
My daughter needed someone to lie with her, and at one stage, give her a foot massage as well.
It was exhausting.
It wasn’t uncommon for it to take an hour for my children to become calm enough to fall asleep.
And then something changed.
In May 2016, we made a decision. We decided for one year to take our children outside to play, every single day. And not long after they started doing something we’d never seen before—asking to go to bed.
My son would ask during dinner,
‘I’m tired. I’m ready for bed now.’ He’d say.
My daughter was only 18 months old, and one night, she fell asleep in her highchair, her hands still sticky with rice and vegetables.
Before Our Year Outdoors, they would play and muck around during story time. But after, they were different. They’d curl up beside me, quiet and calm. Once I’d tucked them into bed, I wouldn’t hear another peep.
It completely changed our evenings. I stopped dreading bedtime.
I could plan to do work or catch up with a friend at night, confident my kids would be asleep by seven.
If you'd asked me what changed, this is what I’d say. All the active outdoor play— the running, jumping and climbing made their bodies very tired. And tired bodies became heavy, like a weight which held my children down and kept them calm and quiet.
And research supports this connection, between what our children do in the day, and how they fall asleep at night.
In 2015 a small Australian study found that reducing screen time and increasing outdoor play could improve children’s sleep.
A study of adults from the University of Groningen found that exposure to light in the daytime contributed to both the quantity and quality of sleep.
Scientists think this is because of the way bright light helps establish our circadian rhythms, the internal messaging that tells our bodies when to sleep.
The truth is, most of us don't notice how much of the day we spend indoors. Or how we aren’t moving our bodies as much as we should. And that may be part of the reason our children struggle to go to sleep at night.
For our family, playing outside every day has made a huge difference.
Bedtime is no longer a battle.
Instead, for my children, it’s a natural rhythm—a peaceful end to our bright and beautiful days.