Written by Suzanne Johnson, July 2019
What’s the best way to get kids ready for back to school? Let them get bored and send them outside.
As we round the corner on July, the whole back-to-school thing starts creeping in, and families feel the pressure to prepare for the start of the school year.
There’s shopping to do, for pencils and notebooks and shoes. And that summer reading list is only half-finished. Maybe we need to brush up on math skills, to get ready for the next grade’s challenges. All of those things should happen, but (here comes the good part…) one of the best ways to help kids make the most of summer and get ready for back-to-school is to do…nothing at all.
Studies are reinforcing the value of unstructured, outdoor play for children. Just spending time in nature improves kids’ moods, lowers anxiety, and increases their ability to pay attention and remember new concepts—all things that are critical for success in school.
With space to run, climb, and play games without a coach directing them, kids can flex their creative muscles as well as their legs and lungs. Yet unstructured time doesn’t need to be a workout – a child might simply watch the clouds go by, or focus on a tiny, beautiful beetle in the dirt. These can be incredible sensory experiences: Looking at every color, hearing the birds, feeling the prickle of grass, and smelling the juniper, instilling a sense of wonder that translates to a life-long curiosity about nature and science.
It’s old-school parenting, letting kids manage their own boredom. Now we have a better understanding of how it builds confidence, healthy habits, and problem-solving skills along the way. Ready to reclaim nature as part of your child’s life? Here are four ways to help make that happen.
- Unplug the screens, at least for a while. The virtual world of games and gadgets has become nature’s greatest competitor. In fact, the average American inmate spends more time outside than the average American child. Set a goal to make outdoor playtime be greater than online screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers helpful suggestions here.
- Time in nature is not just for kids—adults get the same rewards! A simple walk in the park or a picnic is a great place to start, and shows your child that you enjoy being outside too. Central Oregon has plenty of outdoor opportunities for families. Check the Children’s Forest calendar for family hikes or other family events.
- Let kids get dirty! Microbiologist Jack Gilbert, author of Dirt is Good, advises parents to let their kids experience the world, and not worry about the germs. Dirt strengthens immune systems and reduce allergies and asthma.
- Stock up on supplies that encourage creativity outdoors: bug nets and jars, magnifying lenses, small shovels, paints and brushes, tubs and access to water. Find instructions on making a DIY bug net here!