Children have a lot of reasons to be indoors nowadays. There’s TV. Okay, there’s always been TV, but now there’s lots more of it, targeted with microscopic accuracy at just about every age. Then there are video games. These, again, have been around for a while, but the hardware has changed in recent years with phones and tablets becoming increasingly sophisticated and prolific. Children, with their open and inquisitive minds, can pick up a tablet and be lost for hours to the detriment of just about everything else in the world.
Getting about in all weathers
Parents want to encourage their children outside, for their life to be a little about the great outdoors, as well as the lesser indoors. The temptation, however – and it’s an understandable one – is to bring this particular issue up only in favourable weather, ‘The sun is shining, go and play outside.’ ‘Don’t waste good weather.’ And it can feel like that, particularly in the middle of a wet, miserable winter. But the outdoors is not just for warm, dry days.
The experience of the great outdoors
For growing children, life is all about experiences. These experiences do a lot to inform their view of the world. A child taught that the outdoors is only for sunny days, a temporary diversion from indoor play, may well carry that assumption forward with them. In the UK, we are guilty of this sort of attitude, especially when compared to much of the rest of Europe. In countries like Germany, and Sweden in particular – where winters are cold and often extremely wet – children are encouraged to be outside in all weathers, it’s… normal.
There are some great reasons for children to play outside at all times of the year. Firstly, it helps them become used to different climates and temperatures. We spend so much of our lives in buildings with heating and air conditioning, where these mechanisms do their best to keep us at an even temperature all year round. If children play outside, they become more used to – and, therefore, tolerant of – different temperatures and conditions. Provided they are adequately protected – be it against the cold or the sunshine – then this can only serve to make them more resilient in the long run.
Secondly – and kind of thirdly – being outside enables children to gain an understanding and appreciation of nature. Given the chance, almost any child will find joy and wonder in natural things, particularly the animals abundant in most outside spaces, be they mammals, birds, insects or whatever. Tied into this, is an awareness of the cycle of the year, of the changing seasons and how they look and feel.
Finally, being outside is almost always active, especially for children with so much excess energy which needs to be gotten rid of. Not too much needs to be said about this, as we are all made regularly aware by the media of the issues surrounding childhood obesity and the way this impacts on later life. As already mentioned, life’s habits tend to form early on, so learning to be outside is also learning to be active.
Have the preparation skills of a Boy Scout
The real key to being outside whatever the weather is being prepared. Clothing is possibly the most important thing. Obvious, but there you go. If we dress our children appropriately, clothes that are warm enough, windproof and, of course, waterproof, then being outside becomes easy for them (and us.) Footwear should be similarly waterproof and suitable for the mud and muck children inevitably find when playing outside.
There is a worry that children outside in freezing weather will ‘catch their death of cold’, and a child’s individual health situation must always be taken into account, but like most creatures on this planet we were made to be outside, and it benefits us to be so.
We must protect our children in hot weather, too, make sure adequate sunscreen is applied and that they drink enough, but with these simple measures in place, our children can make the most of all of the world they live in – inside and out.