I was at the park with my kids one afternoon, when I heard a mom freaking out about her son’s dirty shoes. In the background, I caught sight of my own kids looking like a bunch of scalawags compared to the neat little boy who was being protected from mud at all costs. They were making soupy sand with a water hose and tossing sand bombs. Disheveled hair, sweaty bodies, and muddy feet and legs made for quite a sight as they and their cousins took over the sandbox.
I don’t mind dirt. Kids need dirt once in a while. As long as they don’t eat it and as long as they take baths after they are done rolling around in it, then that’s quite alright with me.
My parents were the same way with my siblings and I growing up. They let us run around barefoot in the yard, climb trees, dig traps, slip and slid down the grass, play house and make actual fires for cooking our “food.” We could explore any part of the house, even the roof, and we spent a whole lot of time with our stinky pets (I had a native monkey). My siblings displayed mud balls on the bathroom counter like little trophies and we almost always had black feet when we came back into the house. I don’t remember wearing much either. We were always half-naked or so it seemed (until we hit puberty, of course).
Those were fun years.
It’s harder to replicate that kind of childhood for our kids because we are urbanites. Living in the heart of the city doesn’t give them much opportunity for mud adventures. I miss that kind of outdoorsy lifestyle which has been replaced by computer games, tv, Internet, IPods, IPads, etc.
I did some research on outdoor play and discovered that playing outside has many benefits that we don’t always think about. It helps improve eyesight, it encourages an appreciation for God’s creation, it exposes children to many opportunities to enhance their gross motor skills. They also invent games when they are outdoors. Running around, leaping, jumping, swinging, climbing are all great for burning calories, and these activities keep kids less susceptible to developing obesity and heart disease. Exposure to vitamin D from the sun (during less intense times of the day) also keeps them healthier. Furthermore, being surrounded by nature engages all of their senses. The National Wildlife Federation even claims that kids who get outside “need less medication and are less prone to depression.”
Edric and I have to be creative as city people homeschooling our kids. The fact that our kids’ default mode is to play inside is not their fault, but ours. Edric and I may go running on some mornings but the kids don’t join us because it is way too early. And we spend most of our day inside. So our kids do the same and will continue to do so unless we are more purposeful about their daily activities.
I remember how intentional my parents were with us. They had daily morning walks with us. We would swim in the nearby club together. They built a simple, outdoor playground, and a mini basketball court in the backyard. We had a rope that hung from a tree so we could swing on it. And they got us all kinds of pets.
Edric and I may not be able to do exactly the same for our kids because of space constraints, but recently, we have been trying harder to instill a love for the outdoors in them. Even if we live in the city, there are many things that we can do for free or inexpensively. A condo lifestyle shouldn’t be a hindrance or an excuse.
One of the things we have done is enroll our older boys in a Football (soccer) club – Azkals Global Football. We pay 300 pesos/child for every 2.5 hours of soccer training. The group we joined is an all homeschoolers group of kids, which is great. The coaches are more exacting of the kids, too (which we prefer.) They toughen up the boys. Our little kids accompany them and play beside the field. During the rest of the week, we try to take the kids to a nearby park or go to High Street. Sometimes, we take walks with the kids, too.
The good news is our kids are starting to really like playing outside, but it is still a pitiful amount of time compared to what we had growing up. We really hope to condition them to prefer the outdoors as their play area of choice. But Edric and I can’t just hope that our children will prefer to play outside, we have to go outside with them. So we are doing that whenever we can.
Today, our playgroup was at a park. The kids ran around with their friends and they invented all sorts of games. I loved hearing them laugh and shout out game rules. They would come panting back to where the moms were gathered to ask for a drink or a snack every now and then. I looked at all their sweaty faces and dirtied clothes and I thought, this is what kids should be doing in the afternoons…getting sweaty, dirty, and stinky while playing outside. That’s the stuff that childhood memories are made of!