Category Archives: Interesting Research

Supervision. Barrier to Kids Playing Outside?

Awhile back The Heritage Council published the results of a survey that examines the differences in playing outdoors between generations. Parents were asked where they played when they were children and where their children (ages 7-11) now play. Although playing at home, in a friend’s home indoors, the garden and the school playground are still the most popular locations for playing across the generations, it’s no surprise that there were decreases in the number of kids who played in fields, wild spaces and the woods.

I was however a little surprised at first when “supervision” emerged as the number one barrier to children playing and experiencing the outdoors.

This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit in relation to how I was raised compared to how I’m raising my own kids. I feel like I ran wild (to which I will be forever grateful to my Mother), and although I want my kids to have the same experiences I did, I’m just not sure I’ll be comfortable with the same level of supervision my Mom was.

To make my point let me dissect the first paragraph in my About Me page.

  • I grew up in Southern Utah.
    My kids were, until recently, growing up in a gated community, in the biggest little city in the world, Reno Nevada. (more…)

What do your children think you value?

I heard about a study awhile back that crosses my mind on almost a daily basis. Maybe it’s just my lifestyle, but I really do think about it quite a bit.

This study involved two groups of moms. Group one never opened a book all day long. They just went about their motherly business while their kids were at home. Group two at a minimum had a book open on their laps whenever possible. If they weren’t actually reading, they at least gave the pretense of it. The study found that the kids whose moms were in group two were significantly more likely to become readers than the kids who grew up in the homes of group one.

To tell you the truth I can’t find that study anywhere to provide you with the link. Don’t remember where I heard it, or whether I heard it or read it. Maybe I dreamed the whole thing, I don’t know (if so, props to me for dreaming about scientific studies!). But I guess that’s also not really the point for me.

The findings are not shocking by any means, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that our kids watch us. Our actions speak far louder than our words. They do what we do. They learn to value what we value.

After reading (or dreaming) about the study, I started to mentally mull over my day. I imagined what it was that I was showing my kids about what I valued. Exercise? Computer? Work? Outdoors? Phone? Service? Them? Cooking? Health? Art? TV? Reading? Funny how what you think you value isn’t always reflected in how you choose to spend your time every day. I also thought a lot about what I wanted my kids to know that I value, and subsequently what I want them to value.

I made a few changes in my weekly routine. (more…)

Outdoor teaching mistakes we make with our kids

A few weeks ago I attended a GreenTeacher webinar by Brad Daniel, Professor of Outdoor Education and Environmental Studies at Montreat College. The webinar was entitled Outdoor Teaching Mistakes. The aim was to help participants become better outdoor educators by presenting and discussing a variety of mistakes made by those who teach in the outdoors.

It was a good refresher for me as an educator… and yet I couldn’t help but start to apply this to me as a parent. What mistakes do I make while trying to ‘teach’ my kids in the outdoors? And by ‘teaching’ I mostly mean ‘being’ in the outdoors, and trying not to miss those teachable moments.

Note: Not all of these suggestions for fixing common mistakes have to be incorporated in every outdoor outing, but they are certainly things we should consider in varying degrees as we try to teach our kids the importance of being outside.

1. Silence your cell phone
It’s hard to resist the urge to answer every call or text, even when outside. But each one you respond to represents time in which you pull yourself in and away from the outdoor world–each one represents time missed in the outdoors with your kids; time that would be perfect for showing them the wonders that exist without the use of technology. When I see a status update declaring “out for a hike with my kids”, it makes me wonder… If you’re on your smart phone, what are you showing your kids that you value? How many teachable moments are you missing? (more…)

Is just being outside good enough?

Back in May Lindsey and I happened to find ourselves killing time before a movie in some suburban area of Las Vegas. We weren’t sure where to go to since neither of us live there, but when we saw a bit of green with a playground and a baseball diamond, we figured we could sit on that grass quite happily for as long as we needed. We ended up strolling past a skate park. An acre of concrete molded into ramps, half-pipes, and pools, with hand rails sprouting here and there from the hard cement.

Fifteen kids, aged ten to twenty maneuvered though the obstacles. Some were clearly experienced: they gave the sense of a deep understanding of the dynamics created by that shaped concrete, combining graceful forays down curves with abrupt stops on ledges, where they’d balance on wheel posts, as frozen as the cement, for a split second. Others were just beginning. Three boys on bikes almost too big for them navigated a half pipe, braving the steepest most dreadful moment when they had to first drop in. One timid boy did the entire half-pipe straddling the bar of his bike, foregoing pedals for the security of keeping his heels on the pavement. We smiled while watching these same three boys figure out how to get out of the half-pipe too. “You have to go fast!” one braver boy encouraged the timid one.

There was no green grass, no dirt, no sticks or leaves, no living thing but the boys on their bikes. Here, in this environment as barren as any indoor space, these kids were learning courage, creativity, and confidence. They practiced social skills, encouraged each other, looked out for each other, challenged each other. They learned to focus on the task at hand, and to get up and try again when they fell down; to push themselves (“you have to go fast!“) in order to accomplish. They learned balance, body-eye coordination, and how to assess outcomes quickly, as conditions changed.  And they burned off lunch and that after-school snack to boot.

We were stymied.  Thrown off our game.  These kids were outside, but they weren’t in nature.  And yet what we saw seemed perfectly good and healthy.  And we got to thinking, was just plain being outside, away from electric plug-ins, good enough? (more…)

How do you “structure” unstructured play?

If you haven’t noticed, unstructured play is pretty en vogue these days.  Articles touting its importance, experts saying kids need more, that it’s becoming a lost art form, that without it your child may become a criminal—articles leaving you awake at night wondering a) what the heck unstructured play is and b) if you’re a terrible person because you haven’t scheduled it in to tomorrow’s agenda.  Ugh.

Never fear.  Unstructured play is just a new phrase for something very old.  Something that animals do, and that kids naturally tend towards in every activity.  For example, remember when they were two, and could be entertained with an empty Kleenex box and a gum wrapper?  When they used shoes as telephones?  Remember the last time you set them down to chutes and ladders and came back to find them using the board, upside down, as a slide and the pieces as a marching band?  That, my friends, is unstructured play—activities that are steeped in imagination and creation; activities that downplay agendas and end-goals.  Unstructured play is when no one is looking towards the finish line.  It is the zen-moment of free time.  And what’s more, all it requires are the natural gift every child has:  an imagination.

Why is unstructured play so great? Because it promotes exploration, creativity and independent thinking.  What’s more, it gives you, the over-burdened parent, a little break.  Leave them be and let them figure out what to do with a half an hour.

Easy. Right? Ummm… no.  At least not for me and my brood.  There are so many other factors that go in to getting a child to conjure up an interesting and attention-capturing activity all by themselves.  Assuming that I’m not the only one with issues in this realm, I hereby dedicate the rest of this post to how to achieve those unstructured moments.

How do you de-structure your kids playtime?  You fight the urge to entertain.  You turn off the t.v., the playstation, the wii, and the ipod.  You leave them with materials and let them create their own fun.  They’ll be bored to start with, but out of desperation, they’ll figure it out–this is especially true if you’ve got several children of the right age–they’ll feed off each other.

Here are, in my experience, the most common obstacles for children left to their own devices, and the methods that I have dreamed up for dealing with them.  I very much look forward to hearing from readers who have also tried to incorporate undirected playtime into their child’s daily routine! (more…)

How to encourage creativity: Embrace chaos

I love TED talks.  They are varied, fascinating, and stimulating.  They make me think of things that it never occurred to me to think about. Here is one that I watched not too long ago. It has been viewed over 5 million times, and has been extremely well-received.

At first I was inspired: the idea that we can be ‘educated out of our creative capacities’ hit a chord with me, the girl who has spent the last 29 years being educated and is currently feeling rather water-cracker bland.

Then it hit me what he seemed to be implying and I felt slightly indignant. (more…)

Teach Anticipation and Foresight. Plan a Hike.

I just read this fascinating article in Psychology Today that talked about what skills the current generation will need in order to be successful by the time they’re old enough to hold down a job.  The author points out that the model for our current education system was invented over a hundred years ago—when telephones were just being invented, refrigerators were blocks of ice, and television was pure science fiction.  In other words, during a time that today’s children absolutely cannot comprehend.  More importantly, the goals of education differed significantly a hundred years ago.  Today (as the author says):

“The best jobs will go to applicants who have the skillsets to analyze information as it becomes available, the flexibility to adapt when what were believed to be facts are revised, and to collaborate with other experts on a global playing field requiring tolerance, willingness to consider alternative perspectives, and articulately communicate one’s ideas successfully.”

How do we prepare our children for this future?  The author suggests encouraging activities that teach “predicting, planning, revising, and accountability”.

Here’s an idea: let your child plan the next hike. (more…)

How Sunlight Affects Health

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When the days grow shorter and darker, do you find yourself feeling blue? You’re not alone – and there are scientific reasons for that negative frame of mind. Studies show exposure to natural daylight can positively affect your mood, your alertness, and your overall health

This is from a great article by the National Wildlife Federation. We’ve all been there right? What I like most about the article is that it actually presents solutions to beating the winter blues! Check it out.


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

    I don't blog alone! Meet outsidemom contributer Olivia