Summer ~ Time to Revel in Outdoor Play
BY JUDITH VAN HORNE
Summertime has always been a great time for outdoor play. This year, with most seniors vaccinated and the summer sun beckoning, playing outdoors with our grandchildren is more important than ever. Pediatricians and gerontologists emphasize that outdoor play is essential for children and elders. How fortunate when grandparents and grandchildren can play together!
PHYSICALLY ACTIVE OUTDOOR PLAY
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children have at least 60 minutes per day of strenuous or moderate physical activity. Aerobic activities promote children’s endurance by increasing their heart and breathing rates. Their muscles become stronger as they play on jungle gyms and ride trikes. Their bones are strengthened as they walk, run, and gallop.
Don’t these recommendations sound familiar? Grandparents know that physical activities are essential for our own health. Additionally, as we age, avoiding falls requires maintaining our kinesthetic awareness.
We can feel the health benefits of the active time we spend outdoors. Playing outdoors provides all of us – grandparents as well as grandchildren – the necessary aerobic, muscle and bone strengthening, and kinesthetic activities of a great workout.
OUTDOOR PLAY: A WINDOW INTO GRANDCHILDREN’S WORLDS
I spoke with Jane Perry, internationally known for her study of children’s outdoor play. Jane emphasizes playing outside is just plain fun. It’s a special time for grandparents to share with their grandkids.
Active outdoor play can give grandparents a wider window into their grandchildren’s experiences. Outdoor play has social, cognitive, and artistic as well as physical dimensions – and important challenges for children.
It’s a chance to watch and think about how grandchildren play by themselves and with their playmates, how they use materials, and what they try to do. Wood chips become money. An acorn cap becomes a fairy cup. Sand and water can be mixed together into whatever a grandchild’s imagination calls forth.
OUTDOOR NATURE PLAY
Childhood is a critical time to develop a deep relationship with the natural world. Grandparents help by encouraging children to follow their natural curiosities.
For young children, this means starting outside their front door to explore the nearby environment. A child may watch a plant change throughout its life cycle or learn to gently hold a worm and examine it, then return it to its habitat. As grandchildren and grandparents roam together, they find beauty in the color of local flowers, the call of neighborhood birds, the curl of the tiniest new leaf, and the majesty of an old tree.
OUTDOOR PLAY CREATES LOVING MEMORIES
Recently, I’ve asked teenagers to tell me what they remember doing with their grandparents when they were little. Strikingly, most memories involved outdoor experiences, like being carried on shoulders, strolling around the neighborhood, playing at nearby parks, gardening, swimming, or hiking. Being outdoors, it appears, is not only fascinating at the moment but also has staying power, the power to create loving and lasting memories.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Judith Van Hoorn is the author of the 2021 book, The Gift of Play: How Grandparents Enhance the Lives of Young Children which links her personal passion with her professional expertise. For description and photos, see her author’s website: judithvanhoorn.com. The Gift of Play is available wherever books are sold.