How To Combat Stress With Outdoor Time With Your Kids
Permission to Ditch the Schedule and Head Outside
Dr. Leisha Andersen, Pediatrician and Content Specialist, Bright by Text
Mid-March found me papering my living room walls with enormous pieces of poster board. I was determined to respond to the shelter-at-home orders by taking control. Using colorful markers, I artistically recorded our stay-at-home schedule. I unveiled the poster to my children and asked, “Are you in?” My question was met with blank stares.
“The best thing you can give children, next to good habits, are good memories.” – Sydney J Harris
Two weeks later, our stress levels were rising. My hour-to-hour plan had been ambushed by reality. Worse yet, my children were darting out of sight to avoid me and each other. We were sheltering together, but feeling very much apart and alone. As a mother, I wanted to rise up during this crisis. But without the help of grandparents, teachers, and friends, I realized I was failing to do it right and do it well. How could I keep my family balanced and healthy while marking 2020 as a year when our family developed good habits AND good memories? Time for a fresh start.
I called my children into the living room, this time pretending I needed a quick favor. Reluctantly, they joined me. I asked them to destroy the poster. “Are you in?”
Sounds of shredding paper answered my question.
While we gleefully littered the living room floor, I threw out a new idea. “What if we spend 30 minutes a day playing outdoors as a family?”
With a bit of uncertainty, my children agreed to the new plan. We headed outside for a family dog walk—which led to a week’s worth of outdoor family activities.
DAY 1: Family walk with the dogs.
We noticed people out on bikes and scooters. We returned home to pump tires and dust off helmets.
DAY 2: Family ride.
We zoomed past neighbor’s chalk art and decided to create a “chalkwork” project of our own.
DAY 3: Family “chalkwork” creation.
Covering our eyes, we each reached into the chalk box. Clutching our unique piece of chalk, we covered the driveway with drawings and created a beautiful mosaic.
DAY 4: Family “chalkwork” destruction.
Each armed with a ball on the edge of our “chalkwork”, we bounced the balls to each other. The art was transformed with ball prints and footsteps. A ball rolled into the grass, and a tiny green plant was spotted.
DAY 5: Family hike.
We searched for other signs of plant life. If plants could sprout, was it time for our summer garden?
DAY 6: Family garden prep.
As we churned the garden soil with our shovels and hands, we wondered if seeds would grow if planted in April. A quick online search answered our question, and we added “seeds” to our shopping list.
DAY 7: Family planting.
Dropping seeds into the soil, we watched the worms slither. What other outdoor creatures had wintered in our neighborhood? Maybe we could find out…
What started as a mundane dog-walk became a series of active, creative, and fun outdoor adventures. We were forming healthy habits. Plus, we were having fun as a family.
Confession time: I’m a mom, but I’m also a pediatrician. So I have to leave you with a couple of safety reminders:
- Helmets prevent head injuries. Accidents can happen anywhere—so teach your child to wear a helmet every time they ride bikes, skateboards, scooters, skates, or any object with wheels.
- Supervise. There’s no good time for an ER visit, especially now. Watch your children carefully to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.
- Screen from sun damage. Especially between 10am and 4pm, use sunscreen and lightweight clothing to shield skin from ultraviolet rays. Keep babies (6 months or younger) out of the sun.