It can be difficult to push out our desire to be productive in order to just be. Thoughts about our to-do lists constantly rush through our minds. We have important work to do… no time to waste! Our cultural drive for “success” might sometimes have you thinking of all the things you need to accomplish rather than allowing you to really be present when you are outdoors with your children.
MINDSET AND VALUES
The trick to being present when you’re with your children outdoors is simple: just change your mindset.
You must believe that time spent together in nature is important time being spent on important work. You must have the mindset that values the time you spend with your child at nature play as much as you value the other things on your list—or maybe even more so. If you can change your mindset, you won’t feel guilty about being outside rather than ticking off your to-do list. That’s because playing outside with your child will be on your list, possibly at the top of it.
There’s good reason to place such value on the outdoor time you spend with your children. Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method of schooling, famously said, “Play is the work of the child.” To see outdoor play time as valuable, first you need to see children’s play as important work that is critical to their healthy development.
BENEFITS OF NATURE PLAY
In the book Balanced and Barefoot, pediatric occupational therapist and author Angela Hanscom writes about how unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong, confident, and capable children. This type of outdoor play helps children self-regulate and risk assess, improve their sensory integration including balance, and teaches problem-solving and collaboration.
Climbing a tree isn’t just an adventure, it’s developing coordination and assessing the risk of which branches can hold weight. Walking across a fallen log isn’t just a game of follow-the-leader, it’s developing balance through sensory integration and spatial awareness. Picking up sticks and imagining them as swords, canes, gondola oars, and barbells is laying the foundation for your child’s future innovative ideas. Observing a line of ants as they work to store food naturally piques a child's curiosity about biology. Picking teams and organizing games develops leadership skills and social problem-solving. Play is really important work.
In addition to individual physical, social, and cognitive development, we need our children to learn that they are part of nature and not a part from it. They need to care about the Earth enough to become its stewards and to protect it. Where does caring about something originate? From spending time with it and developing positive feelings. A child who spends time enjoying and playing in nature is more likely to grow up to care about the environment.
If you look at children’s outdoor play as vital to both their own healthy growth and to the future health of our planet, then yes, their nature play is very, very important work.
THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR PRESENCE
For very young children, such as babies and toddlers like Wike Baby, we need to be present and dedicated to taking them outdoors, even when it’s not convenient for us or when we have 100 other things on our to-do lists. For young children, our guiding presence teaches them how to interact with the outdoors—how to explore, wonder, and experiment. And for older children, while they will benefit most from free and unstructured outdoor play, knowing we are encouraging them as they assess risks, make ethical decisions, and act on creative ideas will help them grow into confident young people.
With a simple change in mindset, you can feel productive when outdoors with your children. You’ll start putting this special time at the top of your to-do list when you realize that you are supporting your children’s very important work of developing into healthy, happy, resilient children who care for others and our Earth.
What helps you stay present when engaging in nature play with your children?