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May 12

We Need Outdoor Time More Than Ever. Here's How to Overcome the Barriers.

by Meghan Fitzgerald

The emotional rollercoaster of pandemic life left so many of us aware more than ever that our kids and we need the benefits of outdoor time. Research and experience tell us time outdoors is essential for kids’ well-being—and for ours, as well. When kids get outdoors, they’re more physically active and enjoy reduced anxiety, improved sleep and enhanced mood. The same goes for us adults. Outdoor settings also provide kids’ sensory systems with an ideal mix for learning, because the outdoors is both stimulating and calming at the same time.

“Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.” — Erin K. Kenny

At the same time, life doesn't always support us with large amounts of time to be outside with kids. There's work or other commitments, and not everyone can open the door and spill out into nature. Families have a wonderful range of habitats—from apartments in our biggest cities to remote mountaintop homesteads. And while some are more immediately conducive to outdoor play than others, it really is possible to work with what you’ve got. To do that, it helps to reconsider how we think about the term “outdoors.”

At Tinkergarten, we’ve developed our own, expansive definition of nature.

Nature /ˈnāCHər/ noun. 1. anywhere you can find earth, sky and other living things. 

This approach has allowed us to offer kids and families connection with outdoors in all kinds of spaces—not just pristine parks, but on rooftops, in city playgrounds and even, you guessed it, indoors. Nature is everywhere—even in the tiniest corners. It is there to be sensed, and it is there to inspire—especially for our kids. And when we have moved through this challenging and uncertain time, we can continue to encourage a more open definition of outdoors, increasing access to all families, regardless of location, environment or resources.

In the meantime, let’s not underestimate how exciting even the most subtle interactions with nature can be to kids. And let’s lean into that. Whether you move the craft table outside, turn on a recording of nature sounds during the day, or make a new habit of cuddling on the stoop each evening, just make it feel special, and kids will respond. 

No matter how big or small, the patch of space attached to home can become a nature wonderland. Here are some ways to make the most of it, whether it’s a city stoop, rooftop, sidewalk or fire escape or a full blown suburban yard.

Look closely and marvel. Behold all of the nature you’ve got right in front of you. It's marvelous to visit parks, but it’s easy to overlook the wonderland that is a flower bed or the world there is to discover in the small area surrounding the shrubs right next to your front door. We've enjoyed hours of discovery just by marking off a few square feet of the back yard with string and examining it really closely—you’ll be amazed at how many wonders a few square feet can hold!

Move indoor activities outdoors. As long as temperatures and clothing allow, your family can move the indoor fun outside. Got a game table? Move it to the roof, stoop, or yard and have the next family game session outdoors. Crafting at the kitchen table? Put your supplies in a laundry basket or box, take them outside, then flip the basket or box to make a table. Voila—crafts al fresco! Every little change is a lesson on how to adapt, too!

But I have to work! Yep, we hear you. So, if you can’t transport all of your kids’ activities outside, get creative about moving the outdoors in by letting in fresh air and natural light, playing nature sounds, or making nature treasures available for play. And, try to schedule in  pre- and post-work outdoor time for the whole family—it’ll help grownups stay calm and focused if they can  get out and play, too! 

Honestly, I just don’t feel comfortable going outside right now. While the benefits of outdoor time can go a long way in helping us weather this emotional storm, we also want to acknowledge that for some folks, it still doesn’t feel doable. If that’s the case for your family, we’d encourage you to do all you can to keep those benefits in your lives with our tips on bringing nature into your indoor experiences.

For more inspiration, sign up for Tinkergarten at Home at tinkergarten.com/athome to get weekly DIY activities that are inspired by nature but doable anywhere. Or join us on Facebook or Instagram for updates on how to experience Tinkergarten this summer.

Photo: Shaiza Zahid

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Meghan Fitzgerald

Founder

After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, Meghan has her dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including hers, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, Meghan worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. She earned a BA with majors in English and Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. When she is with her kids, Meghan is that unapologetic mom who plays along with them in mud, dances in the pouring rain, and builds a darn good snow igloo with her bare hands.

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