I can remember when I was a kid – admittedly a few decades ago – and the amount of time my sisters and I spent outdoors. We had horses, and would saddle them up and go out riding all day. We’d ride alongside the highway, down to the “little store” and get an Icee. That’s the HIGHWAY, people! Three girls under the age of 13, one riding bareback and double on the other horse, and we would ride along a highway. Mum didn’t worry once.
It’s not like that, any more. We’re afraid to let our kids play in their own front yard! Couple that with the pervasive presence of electronics in the home, and kids hardly seem to ever go outside. If they do, we have to slather them in sunscreen, which they hate, and send them out so that bugs and dirt stick to the slimy stuff we’ve just coated them in. The message to kids: The outdoors is dangerous and yucky. It’s more fun indoors.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Kids can play outdoors, and discover a whole host of imaginative worlds, with just a little guidance and preparation.
You can actually avoid the whole sun-screen problem with appropriate shade in your backyard. We built a sandbox in our back yard. You have to use the high quality sand – like beach sand – so the kids can make castles and moats, or other structures. You get them the toys they would usually use on the beach – such as buckets, sifters, and shovels – and turn them loose. My kids built Jurassic Park with their toy dinosaurs. That sand box was an “ocean” where they took their toy ship and sank it over and over again, a ranch where plastic horses galloped and ran free, and forests for their zoo animals and Lego trees. And besides the toys and sand, what made this play possible? Shade over the sandbox made it all possible.
Now, I’m not against sunscreen, mind you. If the kids are swimming or rollerblading, they wear sunscreen, and plenty of it. Get to know your neighbors, too, not necessarily to be “neighborly”, but to know if they’re safe. Even a generation ago, we were not allowed to go into a neighbor’s house unless Mum had been in there first. That’s a logical boundary to set for your children. Finally, don’t be shy about attaching a GPS device to your child’s back pocket. Ally with your responsible neighbors, and watch ALL the kids in the neighborhood. Kids tend to follow each other, and it’s just common sense to keep the pack safe.