Two years ago I sat on the balcony of my parents holiday house with a notepad in hand. I had just made a decision that would change our lives forever.
Here’s what I had written on the notepad,
Take my children outside for three hours every day for a year.
My son was three and my daughter was one that day and were riding a scooter on the balcony beside me. All of us were watching the kookaburras swoop down from the scribbly gums trees.
I was nervous about setting out on such a big project when my children were so young.
I was worried about adding more to our already busy lives.
Today I wish I could send a message to that mother on the balcony. I would tell her not to worry.
Because I now know, when you shift your focus, when you make playing outside a priority for your kids, then magic happens.
And here is some of the magic, some of the benefits of shifting things around to make more time to go outside.
1. Happier Children
What young children want to do most is play. And when we let them, when we give them time to run wild, without interruption, they are happier.
2. Healthy Kids
My kids get sick less and bounce back quicker when they do. And playing outside also ensures they stay in a healthy weight range and develop the skills they need to succeed.
My kids run easily and have no trouble holding a pencil. They are strong and have a level of fitness that allows them to keep going, which has increased their perseverance and confidence.
3. Calmer Evenings
When my children are outside for hours, they use up all their excess energy, and our evenings are calmer. They will sit and play quietly, or colour at the kitchen table and the house feels peaceful and cosy.
4. Kids who eat their dinner
Most children snack less outside—they are too busy. And ‘hunger is the best seasoning,’ says author Karen Le Billon. Which is true.
When my kids come to the table hungry they are more willing to try new foods and more likely to eat everything put in front of them.
5. Less sibling rivalry and more beautiful play
Children argue less outdoors. A lot less.
Instead, they have incredible, sustained, imaginary play. And after a day of that kind of play they come inside beaming, and the best of friends.
6. Children who go to bed early
Children who ask to go to bed before their bed time—it seems like a work of fiction, but it’s not.
When children move for hours, when they don't sit immobile in front of screens, sleep comes naturally. And they don’t fight it.
7. A house that stays tidy
Outside my children spend hours transporting sand and water, mixing mud with sticks, and moving branches to build cubbies.
If we stay inside, they play in much the same way. They transport items from the drawers to the floor, they mix lego with crayons and build forts out of all the pillows in the house.
The kind of play that is ok outside, is chaos inside.
Walking into a tidy house at the end of a day of play is still my favourite thing about getting my kids outside.
8. More time together
Unplugging, walking away from the to-do list and going outside together has only added to our lives.
It’s meant more time sitting by a fire, and walking by the sea and afternoons in the garden as the sun sets. It’s meant more connection and less distraction.
9. A brighter life
Back on that very first morning when I decided to go outside for my kids. I had no idea the benefits would be for me too.
I had no idea about the way nature calms you. I didn't know my worries could get lost in the sky.
Now I make tea and drink it on the balcony, I go out to pick herbs for dinner and take a moment to stare up at the star-studded sky.
And I do it for myself. Because I know an outdoor life is a happier, healthier and more fulfilling one.
For my children and me.
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