Scott and I have been really frustrated lately with how difficult it's been to get our kids outside in the yard to play. We have lots of land both in the front of and behind our house. In fact, one of the reasons we fell in love with our home three years ago when we saw it listed for sale, was that it had outdoor space that reminded us of our own childhood yards. We thought about the things we would have loved as kids: a meandering brick-lined path in the front of the house, a side yard bordered on all sides by mysterious bushes, and a backyard with its own little creek running through it. We saw the potential for tree-climbing, and dam-building, and all sorts of adventures.
To be fair to my kids, they have done all of that, and more. And to be fair to T., she loves to play outside. But she's a social kid, and likes to play with other kids, not so much by herself. L. used to be happy for hours roaming around the backyard at our old house, lost in his thoughts, and playing his own games. T., however, likes to set up a storyline for her games, complete with character, setting, and conflict. Lately she likes to play elaborate American Girl games, which is all well and good, but she needs a cast of characters. When her friend from school who lives around the corner comes over T. is happy as a clam playing outside with her, but otherwise, I'm all too often recruited to play the part of Ruthie, Kit Kittredge's best friend. My visions of the kids roaming around happily in our back yard while I cook dinner and watch from the kitchen window have vanished.
Sometimes I don't want to be Ruthie, I really don't. I'll begin a game with T. and then scurry off after a few minutes to pop a load into the washer, or wipe down the counters, or tap out a quick e-mail.
"RUUUUUUUTHIEEEEE" T. will call to me, in the falsetto voice she uses when she's playing Kit's mom, Mrs. Kittredge.
"COMING!" I'll answer, to buy myself time, but then it's back to the game again. Kit and Ruthie set up a lemonade stand. Kit and Ruthie ride their scooters to sell eggs to the neighbors. Kit and Ruthie go to a sleepover camp together.
Lately, the refrain around our house on the weekends has been "we've got to get the kids out!" often wailed in despair after all efforts to coax and cajole and order L. outside end in frustration. Our efforts to get L. outside often take on a desperate tone because it's so critical for him to get enough outside time each day, even though he fights it tooth and nail. We've learned over the years that if he gets outdoor exercise he's calmer, more flexible in his attitude, and less rigid about his day-to-day schedule.
This weekend, though, couldn't have been more perfect, and closer to my dream weekend. On Saturday, after much planning and strategizing, we pried L. off the computer and loaded up both kids and the dog and headed to the nearby nature park for a loon, brisk hike. After we'd cleared up the plates from Sunday pancakes, we declared the next few hours "Family Yard Work Day". Scott and L. tackled the shrubbery by our creek, and T. and I pulled piles of ivy and raked bags of leaves away from the front shrubbery and rock work.
We're hoping to keep up with the momentum from this week and work on getting both kids outside for some good yard time each day. If your family is like mine, healthy habits like playing outside regularly took a beating over this long, snowy winter. It's time to break out the crocs, the shorts, the soccer balls, hang up the swings again, and get those kids out!
Have you hear of Green Hour? It's part of the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There campaign to get kids and families outdoors for better balanced play. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to make sure their kids get one "green hour" a day--outside in the yard, or in a garden or park or playground. Both my kids only get 25 minutes for recess every day at school--which is pretty terrible considering they spend six plus hours engaged in structured learning activities each day at school. Kids need outside time because it's so unstructured; because they're using their minds and bodies together, and they're achieving the type of balance that's so critical for mental and physical well-being.
Starting this week we're implementing Green Hour with a vengeance around here--I'll keep you posted on our progress!