Getting Outside When School’s In

Most kids are back in school now, spending the majority of their day inside a classroom, filling their brains with math and science and reading and history and so on.  In many ways, we view the process of education and learning as a very good thing for our kids to experience.  However, one area that is often left out when discussing “back to school” is how much less time our kids get outside.  The fact that kids aren’t outside running and playing most of the day has an impact on their health and is something we need to counteract.

Not only are kids in school most of the day, but many then go to after school care programs which are often indoor-based (at least most of the time) and then come home late and have to do homework and get ready for bed.  This leaves very little time for kids to be getting enough exercise and fresh air for their mental and physical well-being.  So how can we fix this if we can’t fix the system that they find themselves in?

Walk or Bike to/from School if Possible

One of the easiest ways to get some exercise is for kids to be active on their way to and from school.  If your child lives close enough, having them walk or take their bike is a good way to get even just 10-20 minutes of fresh air each day.  This exposure will also help them start school with a clear head and give them time to clear their head after a busy day at school.  If your child is younger, you will likely have to go with them, but this is a great way for you to start your day as well if it’s at all possible.  As kids get older, this also allows them to learn age-appropriate independence and safety skills.

Go for a Family Walk Every Evening

It’s hard to work in family time each day, especially with people’s hectic work and school schedules.  Often we feel that we’re just barely getting by doing all that needs to be done that the idea of adding in something else can feel overwhelming.  However, family time is important and not just the kind where you’re harping at each other over what needs to get done, but actually spending time talking and enjoying each other.  What better way to do this than to go for a walk after dinner as a family?  Walks don’t need to be long, even 15-20 minutes will do you well (though if you can do 30+ minutes that’s great).  The fresh air at night will help everyone sleep better, the walk will help your digestion, and the time talking and walking will help bring you closer as a family.

Plan a Larger Outdoor Activity for Weekends

Depending on where you live and what you have available, it may be as simple as a hike in the woods with a picnic, biking around your town or city, time at a beach or on a boat, or simply going to a local park and being outside for a large chunk of the day.  The point is to find something – rain, snow, or shine – that the family will enjoy doing outside and that gets everyone out into nature of some type (and isn’t just running an errand, though if you can work in your errands to the activity, good for you).  If you want to be creative, you can turn this into a scavenger hunt for the kids (or adults too) and get them moving around your entire neighbourhood or city… just no car!

… And More!

Have your child take on a dog-walking service that earns them money, teaches them how to care for animals, and gets them outside either daily or every week (depending on what kind of service they want to take on).  Have your child pick an after-school activity that’s entirely outdoor based, like a nature club or skiing or whatever is available in your area.  Eat meals outside whenever possible.  Start up some home-based projects, like tracking weather or growing winter plants, that require your child to be outside each day monitoring or taking care of their project.

There is so much you can do to make sure your child is outside so long as you make it a priority, and with kids spending most of their time indoors these long school-days, it really ought to be a priority.  Soon you’ll find it’s easier than you thought as it becomes habit and you’ll find yourself spending more and more time outside, benefitting the entire family.

By Tracy Cassels

September 21, 2015