Hooray for Open Play! 5 Ways to Help Kids Go Wild.
We believe outside is better than inside and that every minute interacting with nature is time well-spent. Especially for kids. It’s where they truly come alive and thrive.
So we were sad to see a recent report from the Child Mind Institute that indicates that the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.
Let’s flip those numbers by encouraging kids to engage in “open play” instead: 100% wild, open-ended play. Right in the backyard or whenever you’re out and about. The great thing about open play outside is that kids can engage in it anytime, anywhere.
Open play is spontaneous. It’s finding driftwood and turning it into a fort. Or following raccoon tracks in the mud.
The benefits of all that outside play on growing bodies and minds are as wide as kids' eyes. Outside time has been shown to improve sleep and distance vision, raise Vitamin D levels and fitness, enhance creativity, and reduce ADHD symptoms.
If open play by nature is unstructured, untethered, and self-directed, how do we as parents help set it in motion? Here are a few tips from our own KEEN parents.
“Plan for the unplanned.”
Open play is spontaneous. It’s finding driftwood and turning it into a fort. Or following raccoon tracks in the mud. But oftentimes a little forethought can help spark it.
For example, bringing along reusable containers for collections, binoculars for spotting birds and other wildlife, a magnifying glass for taking a closer look at nature, supplies for crafts, a butterfly net, or an app for identifying animal tracks. In fact, sometimes you can spark outside time with just a “let’s see if we can spot any critter tracks” and then see where the moment takes you.
KEENer Christina brings binoculars on her walks with Charlie in case there are critters he wants to check out.
“Outside means outside, in all weather.”
The more kids are exposed to all kinds of weather, the less of an issue a rainy day becomes. Besides, the elements just add an extra element to the fun. Snow makes it easier to track animals, and rain can make a simple game of hopscotch much splashier.
“We take Charlie to the dog park and let him jump in all the puddles. He gets a rain suit on and his KEEN boots and sees how wet he can get.“ – KEEN mom Christina
KEENer Jay gets his kiddos geared up for any terrain they encounter.
“Gear up for getting out.”
KEEN mom Kristy keeps an ever-evolving bin of materials and random toys on her front porch. Her son Lucas makes a beeline for it to see what treasures he’ll find out there to spark outside activities. Giving recyclable containers another life for crafting, gardening, or making up a new sidewalk game is a great idea for kicking off hours of fun.
Having shoes that are easy for kids to get on themselves and get outside is also a big help. KEEN kids' sandals, shoes, and boots are designed with easy on/off in mind. Plus, our kids' hybrid sandals are machine washable, so you can let them get dirty. No worries ... everything's washable.
A piece of paper can easily be turned into a boat, as KEENer Kristy and her son Lucas discovered on a camping trip.
“Create space for open play.”
Open play is open, but you can help create spaces to encourage it. Like giving kids a garden box of their own or free rein to turn overgrown shrubs into a fort. If you’re out on a hike, taking a break gives kids time to explore the area on their terms. Sometimes space is space, sometimes it’s time. When it comes to letting kids lead, both are equally important.
“When we were on vacation in Hawaii, our kids were fascinated by the snails that were out in the early morning. Instead of pulling them away to do the typical Hawaii vacation activities on our agenda, we just let them be for a while. Which in turn did exactly what a vacation is supposed to do: slow things down.” - KEEN mom Ginny
When kids are exploring where their curiosity takes them, we can be there to support them. ;)
“Teach them to be responsible for their own risk.”
KEEN dad Jay has three boys, ages 7,6, and 5, and encourages pushing boundaries, because “it gives them confidence, provides them greater agency in their lives, and instills a healthy sense of adventure.”
To do that, he makes sure they understand the consequences of the activities they’re engaging in (like skiing, climbing, and biking) and how they can keep themselves safe by knowing their limitations and paying attention to their surroundings. He starts every adventure by asking questions to make sure they understand.
Kids are naturally very good at open play. It doesn’t take a lot to spark their curiosity, creativity, and imagination. As parents, it’s pretty awesome that we can be that spark.
We hope these tips help launch your kids into loads of open playing outside this spring and summer. And we’d love to hear your tips and tricks! Please share them with us by tagging @KEEN.Kids on Instagram.