Into the great wide open: 5 fun things to do with your children outdoors
There's no doubt that our lifestyles have changed drastically in the last couple of decades, and the impact of that shift is being faced by our children.
When was the last time your child climbed a tree? Or sailed a paper boat in a puddle of rain water? Parent's today are quick to dismiss the benefits of these seemingly silly activities, but time and again researchers have found that playing is critical to the healthy growth and development of children.
In toddlers, play develops fine and gross motor skills in addition to helping them socialise with other children and adults. As children grow older, there's a tendency to ignore play time, but unstructured down time is crucial at this stage too. Playing teaches problem solving, nurtures creativity, fosters a sense of independence and gives them a much needed break from academics.
Even though the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as a right of every child, today we have to cajole and coax our children to go out and play. This generation of children have distractions in the form of screens that fit in the palm of their hand to wall-mounted, plasma ones.
Children aged two to four spend an average of two hours a day just watching TV. That doesn't include other screen time like tablets and mobile phones. While apps, television shows and games can be educational, improve hand-eye co-ordination and generally give mom and dad a break, there's nothing that can beat the benefits of playing outdoors for kids.
Read on to find out what you and your kids can be doing on weekends to get those creative juices flowing.
Go for a trek
The physical and psychological benefits of being in tune with the great outdoors are numerous. Treks are a great way for the family to spend time together and get fit. Wear lights cotton clothes that let your skin breathe, comfortable shoes and a cap. Make sure your backpack is well stocked with water, biscuits and insect repellent. A pair of binoculars is handy for bird watching, and if you can find one, try and get a small nature guidebook too.
Artist Amrita Tandon shares similar views, "We took our 6 year old daughter for a trek up to a bird sanctuary during the monsoons. She struggled at times, but didn't give up. And the sense of achievement she felt when she finished was tremendous."
Spend the night in a tent
It's the stuff of childhood fantasy! Well, it is if you were a child before the 90s hit us. The idea of surviving in the outdoors with nothing but a tent, compass, pocket knife and a can of baked beans may seem romantic to some and torturous to others. There are plenty of options across the country- from the back to basics kind all the way to luxury camping. The brass tacks kind is great for kids and has lots of team building exercises and adventure sports thrown in. If bonfires, marshmallow toasting and campfire songs sound like your kind of thing, then a weekend in a tent is a great way to introduce the outdoor life to you and your kids in small doses.
Grow a green thumb at a farmers market
"Where do tomatoes grow?" "In the supermarket!" This was a brief exchange between a friend and her four year old recently. There's precious little awareness amongst kids today about where their food comes from.
Gone are the days when mothers used to sift through mounds of mud covered spinach before choosing the right one. Today our greens are picked up in convenient AC hypermarts or ordered online. But across the country there's an organic movement growing stronger every day, and farmers markets are popping up in many cities on weekends. These are great places to pick up certified organic fruit and veg to stock your kitchen with and give your kids a fun lesson on how things grow.
Sailakshmi Deepak, mother of two boys was a regular at the Farmer's Market in Mumbai before they shifted to Dubai.
"It's a great half day out with the kids. It's an experience that's a treat for all the senses! And my boys would always come back buzzing with new found information and questions. And it makes a great change to the mall any day!"
Cycle in the early morning
If you can manage to rouse yourself out of bed early on a weekend morning, then why not helmet and knee pad up, stow those cycles and scooters in the trunk of your car and head to the closest promenade or park with the kids. Your reward? Hot coffee and a calorie laden breakfast of course!
Play a sport
So every other kid is the next Federer or Pallikal. But why not give the structured sessions with the coach a miss every now and then and play with your kids yourself? Studies show that children who play a sport actually do better academically (busting the dumb jock myth) and there's nothing more inspiring for your kids to see Mom or Dad play badminton, do 50 laps in the pool or run on the track. Instead of following the do as I say route, why not try do as I do?
So there you have it, great outdoor things to do with the kids! What are you going to try this weekend?
Note: Rutu Mody-Kamdar is an independent strategy consultant and trainer based in Mumbai. A PhD in children's consumer behaviour, Rutu has worked extensively with children in the course of her research and consulting work.