Growing up, I remember countless hours spent outside, playing with a sand box, a swing set, or biking, swimming, walking the dog, climbing trees, jumping on a trampoline, riding a scooter, etc. I currently live in an apartment complex with a well maintained pool. I take Monkey Man to go swimming once or twice a day for an hour, we take walks in a grassy field behind our building a few times per day, and we go to my mother’s house and wander around the backyard picking leaves and flowers, playing with the dog, and wading in the inflatable pool once a week. But that still leaves so much time indoors.
My apartment complex has plenty of children – I see them walk from their homes to their cars – but I never see them playing outside, except I might see one or two once a week at the pool. What is responsible for the decrease in time children spend outdoors? Is it a generational difference? Parenting differences? Cultural difference? Too much time spent watching TV, playing video games, surfing the net?
It is no wonder so many kids are being diagnosed with mental illnesses these days. Exercise, especially in a nature-like setting with grass, trees, and a creek or pond, helps elevate the mood by giving a “shot” of dopamine and serotonin, the same chemicals antidepressants help elevate.
It is also summertime! The time which, theoretically, I should see the most outdoor activity from children – no school to attend, no homework to do, plenty of time for play, and nice weather to boot!
Where did all the children go? When I was a child, playing outside in my neighborhood was how I met all my friends. My childhood best friend of five years was met while I was walking the family beagle, and she was riding her bike up and down her street.
Being outdoors engages all the senses. There are birds, cicadas, frogs, and even traffic to listen to. There are blades of grass, decaying tree leaves, sticks, rocks, and dirt to pick, throw, or feel beneath your feet. Some of those leaves even make it into Monkey Man’s mouth. There are flowers, water, and decaying plant matter to smell. There are sunsets, sunrises, beautiful landscapes, hopping grasshoppers, and marching ants to watch.
Monkey man, and I, sleep much better and longer if we have spent a few hours outside on a given day. No wonder so many Americans have trouble sleeping.
Do a service to yourself and your children tomorrow – go play outside in the rich, sweet, enticing summertime grass, or a cool, refreshing lake or pool. Your children will one day thank you. And you will thank yourself for the ease in which they, and you, sleep tomorrow night.