Adoptees, Adoption, adoptive parents, considering adoption, new fathers, new mothers, Parenting

Wellness Month: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles for Our Families Outdoors

After a year of being virtual, nature is calling. Why your family should answer the call.

Parks sealed off with caution tape. Virtual schooling and stay-at-home orders. Masks and hand sanitizer stations on display. “Stay Well” truly is the tagline of 2020.

As more and more people get vaccinated, our lives begin to reopen. Technology was an important tool to stay connected. For over a year, we bonded over Zoom calls and streaming the latest Netflix shows. Let the cool are of Autumn be a reminder to shut down the technology and head outdoors with your family.

Outdoor play is scientifically proven to be an essential factor in child development. There is so much to learn & explore in nature together.

The Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children

  1. Sunshine. Our body craves sunshine. While over-exposure to the sun can cause sunburn and sun cancer, our bodies need the sun for vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial for many body processes, from bone development to our immune system. 
  2. Exercise. Physical activity is known to reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better. Each day children should be active for at least an hour. Getting outside to play is one way to be sure kids get enough exercise. Although you can get exercise indoors, outdoor games like soccer encourage active play, which is beneficial for their body and brain functions.
  3. Executive function. Outside exposure and play promote key life skills. Many of these skills cannot be taught and must be learned from interacting with other kids during unstructured time. Skills like planning, prioritizing, troubleshooting, negotiating, and multitasking can all be learned during outdoor play.
  4. Builds Confidence. Outdoor play allows children to get creative and try new things away from the distraction of screens. As they acquire new skills or build on their existing skills, active play promotes your child’s confidence.
  5. Taking Risks. As parents, seeing our children take risks at any age makes us anxious. But children need to learn to be independent and take risks. This may mean the occasional scraped knee, but it allows them to learn from failure, develop bravery, and have the confidence to face life’s risks.
  6. Appreciation of Nature. There is so much to learn from nature. Everything in nature is in balance and relies on some other aspect. Experiencing a walk in the woods, seeing animals in their habitat, playing in a stream or the dirt all build a child’s perspective and admiration of nature. 
  7. Socialization. Encouraging our children to play outdoors allows them to meet new people. Interacting with other children teaches how to work together, make friends, share and cooperate, and treat others. If they only interact in very structured settings, they won’t have the opportunity to build social skills.

Outdoor recreation is even beneficial for adults! Parents will see benefited attention span, relaxation, decreased anxiety, reduced blood pressure, and decreased risk of depression. Laughing and participating in outdoor play helps foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others.

COVID Concerns? Stick to Your Child’s Social Pod

A key factor of wellness is social interaction. Social interaction allows children to learn new behaviors, inspires their curiosity and creativity, and gives them a chance to discover who they are. With the pandemic halting school, scouts, sports, and clubs, kids crave the social interaction they once had.

COVID is still a concern lingering in many of our minds. We are worried about returning to normal because we want to keep our children safe and healthy. One way to promote safe social interactions is by sticking to your child’s social pod.

A social pod refers to anyone your child sees every day, such as their classmates or teammates. Your child is already exposed to that social pod, so keep interactions within that defined pod. Hosting a playgroup or study group within that group does not increase exposure for your child. Since vaccines are not yet approved for children, you should still follow social distancing protocol in a public setting. Although children are not vulnerable to COVID, they can still get sick. Encourage mask-wearing when social distancing is not possible. Before eating and after playing, make sure to continue to wash hands or use hand sanitizer.

Fall Activities to Get Your Family Outside

The cooler fall air provides ample opportunity for outdoor adventures as a family. Getting outdoors assists with sensory development, motor skills and is good for the soul. Something as simple as gathering and jumping in leaves uses each of these benefits and creates lasting memories.

  • Observe when the leaves on the first tree change colors in your backyard. Learn the science behind why leaves change colors.
  • Take a hike or walk at a local park and look for wildlife. Squirrels, deer, groundhogs, and birds are all active and preparing for winter in the fall. Collect pinecones, leaves, and other plants along the way to make crafts when you get home.
  • Apple or pumpkin picking provides excellent exercise and memories. Visit local farms and learn about the steps to harvest. Use the produce to make fresh snacks like apple sauce or fruit leather!
  • Visit a local corn, sunflower, or hay maze. Take beautiful family portraits while getting some outdoor exercise for the day. Use leaves to make your own maze in your backyard.
  • Participate in a local football or soccer league. Or challenge your neighbors to a game of capture the flag. There are so many fun sports to try.
  • Geocaching is another wonderful way to experience the outdoors. Use handheld GPS devices (even your iPhone will work) to find hidden treasures nearby. Similarly, use apps like Pokémon Go to motivate your family to take a walk around the neighborhood.

Fall makes promoting educational and physical wellness among your family is a breeze. During fall, there are many sensory changes that help with child development, from the changing leaves to the shorter days. Challenge yourself this month to turn off your screens and experience outdoors together as a family.

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