I know, right? Me? The mom who blogs about the importance of taking your kids outside? Yep. My kids are young (3 years old and baby), and I know that it won’t always be like this. In a couple years I’ll open the door and say “go play,” and they’ll be running around in the neighborhood until dinner time. But for now, pretty much all outdoor time requires hands on parenting and supervision. The preschooler wants someone to play with, but the baby just wants to eat the grass. It’s hot, and I can’t draw another stick figure on the sidewalk. Sometimes playing inside is tempting because it’s… well… easier. There I said it. But yet I know outdoor time is important, I love the outdoors myself, and I don’t want to discourage their desire to be outside. So what to do? Read on.
THE OUTDOOR TIME SCOUTING REPORT
Please don’t see the following as complaining — my goal here is purely to explain what stresses me out to show that even “outdoorsy” moms, have challenges and sometimes struggle with this stuff. Are there bigger problems in the world? Of course. But if we can help each other, let’s do so! Without further ado, here are the three main things that I struggle with taking my kids out.
The Heat Hassle
It’s hot. The high today in Salt Lake City today was 102. Last year we hit 100 degrees in Salt Lake nearly every day for eight weeks. Most days there is not a cloud in the sky. And while I am certainly not complaining about sunny summer days, it’s hot. Any journey outdoors after 10am requires hats, copious amounts of sunscreen that the kids don’t want applied, and very careful monitoring of their temperature and hydration, especially the baby. And in that heat, they’re not exactly eager to run and play. Sometimes 20 minutes is too long, even for me.
Obviously any activity with water is a win, but if my husband is at work, taking both small kids to the pool by myself can feel like WAY more work than it’s worth. Play dates to the pool or splash pad help (more on play dates later). We also just started doing our outdoor time early in the morning. My kids are usually up before six, so getting out the door for a bike ride and a go in the sandbox by 7 is not unreasonable. Today we spent TWO hours enjoying glorious 70 degree weather. No sunscreen or hats or lethargy. And now whatever we get up to the rest of the day, I don’t feel guilty. Dinner outside is another good option, though that alone might be on the short side. Evening outdoor play is good too if it cools down before bedtime.
My next struggle. What do we do outside? I know that may sound silly — do anything! Walk, bike, run, play games, whatever. Go for a hike! Yep. I’m there. I love all of those things, to include more adventurous outdoor activities like stand-up paddle boarding, trail running, etc. Did I mention I have a preschooler and baby? Other than a stroller walk while my son rides his bike, and putting them both in the sandbox, it’s pretty much impossible to find an activity that is satisfying for the preschooler and interesting for the baby. She wants to crawl and eat EVERYTHING. Any restraint, to include the baby carrier, are agonizing for her right now. He wants someone to play with, and she’s still too young.
I don’t have a good answer. Play dates, even informal ones in the neighbor’s yard, are great. The kids play and the moms supervise the babies. Play dates have gotten a bad rap recently, but seriously, why? They keep stay-at-home moms in particular sane, and the kids enjoy them. So why not? Having a specific activity planned is great too. But I don’t think we should schedule out every morning and afternoon of our kids’ (or our own) lives. Unstructured play is important too. This is one where I’m hoping it will resolve itself as they get a little older, especially when the baby is old enough to play with her brother.
I’m a Type A person, but I try relatively hard not to be too OCD with my kids. I don’t usually freak out about germs unless someone has Ebola, and I let my son climb and do things others might not (within reason) so that he can learn about risk and making decisions. My mom almost freaked when he was at the top of a playground climbing wall as a two-year-old and I was standing casually nearby encouraging him. Baby girl will get the same freedom. But one thing freaks me out, and it’s poison. So I don’t do well with my kids near things like mushrooms (which are all over our yard) or poison hemlock (which, as the name implies, is extremely poisonous and was covering the trail we hiked this past weekend).
Not sure exactly how to handle this one. Fungicide? I don’t really care for dousing my lawn (or anything else) in chemicals — those are poisonous too! And sure we can avoid the hemlock, (death camus, also common in Utah, is a bit harder to spot) but did I mention the baby eats EVERYTHING?
So What To Do?
I like the idea of doing the best you can. But I’m a mom, so I also want to give my kids the best. And while I know I need to not feel guilty if we sometimes don’t get out as much as we would have liked, I also know that outdoor time is SO important. So, I like to do the more complex outdoor activities, such as the pool or hiking, when my husband is home. It’s more fun for everyone, and it means I worry less if we spend a little more time inside that I would otherwise care to when he’s at work.
And sometimes I need to be okay with taking what we can get. My son has a habit of crawling into the stroller when I say “let’s go outside.” Okay, it’s not terrible, but I want him to run and play — have physical activity. But if it’s super hot, or he’s tired (nap transitions, anyone?), I need to force myself to acknowledge that it’s better than nothing (fresh air!). I can always make sure he’s getting plenty of activity in another way, even if some of it is inside. This applies to baby as well. She is crawling around ALL DAY LONG. So while I do want her to explore outside, strapping her into a stroller or carrier — if she’ll let me — so that my son has more freedom also isn’t the end of the world. But that’s all I have. I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts! Please comment!