The big outdoors is a wonderful treasure trove waiting to be explored by children of all ages. Kids need to be given freedom to develop the skills that will make them feel confident in nature – to go into woods, climb trees, get mucky, and take the odd risk. Today, many parents are afraid to let their kids just be kids by leaving them to make their own fun.
We all know that kids today tend to have a less active lifestyle than previous generations. We also know that an active childhood is vital for their physical, mental, and emotional development.
Playing outdoors would also instill in them a love of nature and their environment; it’s important to do this before they’re too old to be excited by it all. For reasons of safety – the fear of kids getting hurt or other people hurting them – parents today turn towards “safer” structured play.
Beijing is full of soft play centers and venues for organized sports and activities. The climate extremes and frequent poor air quality mean families need these kinds of facilities. Beijing also has many wonderful parks, and whilst these offer a rich and cultural experience for our kids, they’re not quite the wild and wonderful outdoors that we crave.This is why I make it my mission every summer during our trips back to the UK to ensure my kids experience as much of the big outdoors as possible. As a family, we have a bucket list of activities that we want our kids to experience, and we’re well on our way to ticking off everything on that list:
- Roll down a big grassy hill, resulting in dirty clothes, grubby hands, and a dizzy, giggling child.
- Build sandcastles to experience a sense of challenge – sometimes the water/sand ratio just isn’t right, but then it finally it works and they’ve made the best sand castle ever. Then the tide comes and washes it away. Burying a grownup love in the sand is also something kids love to do.
- Run around in the rain without an umbrella, or an appropriate jacket or shoes, and splashing in puddles. You could also do this in Beijing, but the rain showers tend to be heavier and accompanied by thunder and lightning.
- Feed animals, especially farm animals. Use the opportunity to explain to the kids which animals make which meat, so they can learn from an early age where their food comes from.
- Jump into water cold enough it almost takes their breath away because let’s face it, when you get too old it’s never going to happen.
- Eat an apple straight from a tree without washing or peeling it. Yes, it may have a tiny worm in it, but that’s nature for you.
- Make daisy chains by threading together the prettiest of wild flowers to wear in as a crown, bracelet, or necklace. Better than any loom band.
- Look at bugs through a magnifying glass, requiring kids to root around under logs and debris and find little critters to magnify.
- Collect something in a forest like flowers or leaves, a stick or a feather, maybe even a bug. Just because you can.
So enjoy the big outdoors; if you do, your kids will too – and a love of the outdoors is such a wonderful gift to have.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos courtesy of Sally Wilson