OOPS, I Forgot How to Play Outside!
Mysterious Memory-Loss Affects Millions!
Be on high alert, there's an epidemic sweeping the country. Unfortunate victims of this malady have been spotted coast to coast exhibiting the same strange set of behaviors: stepping out of their front doors, looking around dazedly and returning inside. Vigilantly search for warning signs in your friends and family, an early intervention is crucial to arresting the course of this worrisome condition. Symptoms of Omitting Outdoor Play Syndrome (OOPS) include frequent sitting, increased potato chip consumption, dangerously high levels of video game, television, and social media usage, loneliness, boredom, and increased likelihood of wearing sweatpants. Sufferers are notable for being pale, lethargic, and, well, kind of dull.
And the worst part is, you or your kids may already be infected.
Humor aside, you won't find OOPS in a medical textbook anytime soon, but forgetting how to play outside is an issue worth addressing. While just two decades ago, American kids and their families routinely spent daily time in unstructured play outdoors, modern children spend only minutes per day doing so, increasing their risk for mental and physical health problems such as anxiety, attention issues, obesity, and vision problems. Kids of that not-so-distant yesteryear spent their afternoons wading in streams, climbing trees, and having snowball fights. In contrast, children today stay indoors wading into the uncharted waters of social media, climbing the steep ladder of academic success and fighting their siblings for the remote.
It's a different time. Parents are busier, and kids' schedules are packed with homework, sports, and activities. And when families do find a moment to grab some fresh air, they might not know what to do with it once they get it. The truth is, spending time outside with your kids is quite literally "doing what comes naturally," so don't over-think it. Knowing how to play outside comes right back to you, like riding a bike-- or anything else you did outdoors as a child.
OOPS is highly treatable. Here are some real prescriptions for treating our tongue-in-cheek disorder:
Prescription for Retro Fun
Vintage clothing and vintage furniture are the height of hip... why not vintage play? Teach your kids to play outside the old-fashioned way. With some inexpensive supplies you can transport yourself back to a simpler time.
Hopscotch: Pick up some colored chalk and let your kids search for stones in the yard. Draw the hopscotch board and get hopping. You can use the leftover chalk for drawings on the sidewalk or driveway.
Jumprope: You don't have to buy a fancy rope, any long rope will do the trick. Let kids jump one at a time or try your hand at Double Dutch. Share your favorite rope-jumping tunes from "A my name is..."
Red Rover, Freeze Tag, and Capture the Flag: Some games really stand the test of time. Fill your kids in on the ins and outs of these oldies, but goodies.
Side effects may include a twinkle in your eye, giggles in the air, and warm feelings of nostalgia.
Let Necessity (Not You!) Be the Mother of Invention
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your kids is let them do for themselves. Unstructured play outdoors helps kids develop positive social bonds and strengthens team building and problem solving skills. So why not get out of their way? Kids today have an overload of scheduling and structure and not a lot of time to be--gasp--bored. But that moment of boredom is when imagination kicks in and that's where the best outdoor memories are born.
Step one: Bring your kids into the backyard or local park
Step two: Take a juicy novel out of your bag or backpack.
Step three: Let your children look around, explore, hangout, and just "be" outside.
Step four: Continue reading your novel and help yourself to a bon-bon (do not feel compared to share your candy).
Step five: Ignore the temptation to step in and organize their play. Have another bon-bon.
Step six: Look up a few minutes later and enjoy the view--your kids are very likely engaged in an imaginative game of their own making!
Side effects may include the urge to jump for joy.
Trust the Experts
Lastly, take advantage of the great resources out there to help you enjoy meaningful, fun, outdoor moments with your kids. Go to Be Out There's homepage to find amazing ideas for outdoor play.
Side effects may include healthier, happier kids.
Alyson Weinberg (Mom, writer) is a Washington DC-based writer specializing in issues concerning children and families. She is an award-winning speech writer, feature writer and communications strategist and the former editor of Spirit, the magazine of the Special Olympics movement. Alyson's articles and editorials have appeared in national print media, textbooks, and on the web. She and her husband Josh live with their two daughters, Josie, 10, and Raina, 6, in Potomac, MD.
Get Outdoors with Your Family