From Melissa: Do YOUR Kids Play with Neighborhood Friends?

summer play

Melissa shares her thoughts on the importance of outside play for kids:

“Some of my fondest childhood memories are of lazy, carefree summer days spent playing outside with neighborhood friends. No one in my neighborhood had a nanny. Sending the kids outside to play was Mom’s FREE babysitter — and the only way she could “get things done” without us pestering her.

As long as it wasn’t actually storming, she’d shoo us out the door the minute our breakfast plates were cleared. And other than a 10-minute interruption for a midday sandwich-gobble, she wouldn’t expect us back inside until dinner was on the table. This charge from Mom to make our own fun is what enabled her to accomplish her daily chores and keep our family functioning.

Our play group of kids was a microcosm of the world, a melting pot of all colors, sizes, abilities, and personalities. As long as you lived in the neighborhood or were a friend of someone there, you were welcome. We had boys and girls, ranging from as young as 4 to as old as 15. We played, competed, argued, and conflict-resolved like siblings, and in doing so developed bonds that still exist to this day.

But these days, many children don’t seem to have free time to play outside and bond with neighborhood friends. Most of their activities are scheduled with a distinct purpose: this camp, that class, this lesson, that “summer intensive.” The only sunlight and fresh air some kids get is while walking from the car into a building for organized instruction in a steady stream of professionally coached, structured activities.

The endless summer days our neighborhood crew spent running around outside were FUN, and they were the furthest thing from STRUCTURED — Every activity we did was freeform, invented right on the spot, depending on how many kids were there that moment. A game of tag, hide-and-seek, or kickball morphed hourly into infinite variations, based on the number of players in attendance and new ideas and rules we injected to spice up those games.

And when we weren’t playing games, we built forts, climbed trees, went on hikes, swam in streams, raced bicycles, slept in tents, star-gazed, and told ghost stories. We collected bugs and rocks in old jars, caught fish with homemade poles, made wildflower bouquets, whistled through blades of grass, and searched to find that elusive four-leaf clover.

We craved the outdoors like a flower craves sunlight.

Looking back, it’s easy to see the developmental benefits we all gained: The time spent outdoors was not only good for our bodies, but for our minds. We built up our muscles, endurance, and gross motor skills. In exploring nature, we developed our curiosity, a sense of wonder, and a connection to the earth. And by inventing games and continually problem solving to keep our group functioning effectively and happily, we broadened our creativity and worldviews and we honed our leadership, communication, and conflict-management skills.

So when you hear the birds chirping in the morning air this summer, shoo your kids right out the door and tell them “Go play!” It could be the biggest favor you do for your children — and give them a lifetime of rewards.”

For more tips and ideas to slow down the pace of your summer, we invite you to read about:

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summer fun calendarWe believe in the importance of slowing kids down periodically to refuel their developing minds and bodies. So while our Summer Calendar has activities and ideas for Family Fun this summer, don’t forget to let your children — and yourself — stop to smell the roses some days, too.

Thanks for reading!