If you're tired of hearing "I'm bored," it's time for your children to unplug and go outside and play! We know that fresh air and exercise are beneficial for kids, but according to a report from the National Wildlife Federation, letting kids get dirty is actually good for their health in other ways. The authors of "The Dirt on Dirt: How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids" found that children who spend the better part of their free time in the company of their sterile hi-tech gadgets rather than playing outside are more vulnerable to obesity, ADHD, vitamin D deficiency, and depression.
Time outside can provide time for exploration and plenty of unstructured, open-ended play. Here are 8 suggestions for creative outdoor play for kids.
Be an Artist
- Give your child a stick and a muddy surface to draw on. Made a mistake? No problem! Smooth it over and start again.
- Mud balls can become out-of-season snowmen, abstract sculptures, or adobe bricks for building structures like the ones that my children are currently making in our backyard. If your children's creations aren't sticking together, just add more water or dirt until you find a consistency that works for their creations.
Be a Builder
- Children can make buildings of all shapes and sizes if they use sticks to create a frame and pack mud onto it. They can build a castle with a moat, a house for their dolls, or a stable to put toy horses in. The possibilities are endless!
- If they also like the idea of large-scale public works, have them construct a river by digging a trench in the mud or dirt. Then, add water as needed to make a dam and talk about why dams are helpful to the environment and surrounding ecosystem.
Be a Biologist
- When it rains, take a walk through your neighborhood to see which animals go underground and who comes out in wet weather. You and your kids may witness birds swooping down to take baths in nearby puddles.
- Since worms can also be found lying on sidewalks and paved areas after a rain, talk about how worms surface to breathe when their burrows fill with water. Help preserve the worm population that helps create rich soil for all things that grow in the dirt and challenge your child to pick up a squirmy critter and move it back to the dirt.
Be a Chef
- Mud is great for all kinds of outdoor play adventures. Make some mud pies using old cake or pie tins. If you don't want to dirty your cookware, shallow plastic containers work just fine, too. Once the pies are "baked," it's time to make them beautiful. Encourage your children to scour the yard for pebbles, petals from nearby flowers, and leaves that will make perfect decorations on top.
- Collect dirt, grass, leaves, twigs and acorns in a large container for a bountiful nature salad. Add some water and it's mud stew!