Tag Archives: unstructured play

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…)

Natures Soccer Field

We left home today without much of a plan. Just a van full of random stuff we might need. Those always turn out to be the best kind of adventures. Good day.

This post is part of our (somewhat neglected) photo series on unstructured play. For more photos in this series click here.

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…)

10 ways to get down a hill

In honor of Every Day is a Play Day Week (Nov 14-19) we bring you this post. Thanks go to Active Kids Club and Polarn O. Pyret for sponsoring such an important endeavor. For more ideas on making every day a play day check out these get outside ideas.


It’s snowing here in New Mexico.  For the third time in two weeks.  The leaves are gone, and the poor naked trees look cold and glum.  In an effort to cheer myself up before the impending short and shivery days, I’ve been thinking about winter activities and snowy-fun.  What’s the best part about winter?  How easy it is to get downhill.

Downhill Bliss

Forget the legos.  The building blocks.  The Star Wars figurines and plastic food items.  All a kid really needs to have a good time is a hill.  (And, okay, let’s be honest–all I really need to have a good time…)  Without further ado, I present 10  ways to get down a hill. For those of you who have yet to experience the chill associated with the coming winter, I’ve included several non-snowy options.  I look forward to your own additions in the comments. (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…)

Lia: Starting Outdoor Playgroups

I don’t know Lia personally, but I wish I did. I first met her when she interviewed me on her blog. Her blog is actually more like a website she uses to keep parents up-to-date and informed about “Skedaddle“, the outdoor playgroup she’s created. A playgroup that meets every week no matter what the weather.. in Alaska! I can’t believe she actually had 20 people show up for a playgroup when it was -20°! She must be doing something right.

One of these days I WILL make it to her playgroup… Thanks for doing the interview Lia, for sharing your outdoor playgroup wisdom and for being a truly inspirational OutsideMom!


The All-Weather Kiddie Pool

When we made our move from Utah to Nevada last year we had a few problems fitting all our belongings in the moving truck. Our house just kept exuding STUFF. A lot of that stuff got left behind…

The plastic swimming pool was absolutely not one of those things that got left behind. Heaven forbid. I know, I know, I’m sure we broke all sorts of safety standards with our packing job, but I think any safety inspector would have understood once he heard why we had to keep the kiddie pool.

We moved in the fall and there was no way we were going to find a plastic pool replacement that time of year. Why does this matter? Because around here the kiddie pool is not just used in the hot summer months. It is a year round imagination device disguised as an ankle-wetter. Do you realize how perfect these things are for: (more…)

Play Date @ Tahoe. Sand vs Cement.

I finally got to see Lake Tahoe yesterday on pretty much the coolest play date ever. With only a 1:2.5 child to parent ratio the day really could have gone either way; but we ended up having a blast. In fact the two youngest even took naps in the beach tent! I have a feeling Tahoe will be seeing a lot of us this summer. Although next time we’ll have to bring the crawdad catcher Joe and Ari have been working on, and some paddle boards…

In the course of the past week my kids have also enjoyed two other water play dates. One at a swimming pool, the other at a water park. While fun in their own right, at both of those places my kids lasted about an hour or two. They lasted all day at Tahoe. There’s something about the presence of sand, and the absence of cement (and crazy kids everywhere) that puts us all at ease. Anyone else noticed that?


    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