Organize The Legos and Hang with Cool Parents: Part 4 of Practical Tips for Getting Your Kids Outside

Hi Readers! I just visited a school with a Let Grow Play Club today and it was SO DARN GREAT to see kids JUST HAVING FUN. They were drawing with chalk, playing with giant dice (math skills alert!), and swinging as high as could be. About 15 boys were playing soccer, with ZERO adult direction, assistance, coaching, intervention — anything.

KIDS KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN…once they get a chance. And for the most part kids LOVE THE OUTDOORS…once they get out there and have something to do. So herewith, Let Grow presents yet MORE TIPS from READERS on REAL WORLD WAYS TO GET KIDS OUTSIDE!

Including advice from a cognitive sciences professor!

NOTE: These were all inspired by dad William Fugate’s question about what he should be doing/reading/getting to encourage his daughter’s independence and curiosity. Here are our previous posts with advice: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Organize the Legos.

Kristine Jubeck suggests:

1. Activities for the yard: I will describe my backyard, which has served my 9-year-old son and his friends pretty well: There is a sandbox with related shovels, scoops, animal figurines, etc.;  a single swing hanging from a tree, flower and vegetable gardens in different iterations over the years, and a pile of rocks in the back from past landscaping efforts.

…..Buy real shovels.

Next to that is a teepee that my son and husband made with cuttings left from when our tree was trimmed. We have a couple of short shovels (don’t bother with shovels marketed for kids, they will break almost immediately) and there are designated parts of the yard where the kids are allowed to dig. Kids also really like trowels for digging.

2. Things to play with inside: jigsaw puzzles, Legos, board games, a variety of art supplies: colored pencils, markers, crayons, tempera paint sticks. On Legos: I have found that keeping them organized by size and shape in some way is key for any kind of creative building beyond the directions that come with the kits. Otherwise, we get too frustrated trying to look for the pieces we need and give up.

…..Learn the time limit features on your electronics.

3. Tablet games: My son loves Sneaky Sasquatch, the Survivalists, and Minecraft. He also played a game called Caveman a lot when he was younger. He didn’t really get into using his tablet regularly until about 2 years ago. Definitely use the Youtube Kids app if you want to let your kids use YouTube. Impossible to talk about tablet use without touching on moderation … learn how to use all of the time limiting features on your tablet/game system. It relieves you of some of the day to day mental and emotional burden of teaching them screentime moderation. We had a period during the pandemic where screen use got out of control. Dialing it back was not easy but our son admits that the limits are good for him as he has friends who do not have any limits on screentime and he sees the negative effects. Still, he prefers earning extra screen time over money when there is some big project we have him help with.

I do not let my son use my own phone. If he is out of screen time, or didn’t bring his tablet while we are out and about, he gets to use his resources to figure out another way to be entertained. 😉

4. Discipline methods: This really comes down to your family’s values. We have found that techniques from Hand in Hand parenting and Amy McCready are most aligned with the way we want to parent.

Get a pet.

Mark Headley writes:

I can’t imagine my emotional development without friendly doggies, kitties. I was supposed to be primarily responsible for their care and was — insofar as tenable. Dogs need to be walked, so why not task her with this?

There are also plenty of games to play with some pets. I practiced dribbling soccer with my soulmate doggie Luke. I’d try to dribble past him. Usually, it didn’t take him long to dispossess me, or tie me up. Much fun honing our skills.

I also loved playing cards and board games (Hearts, later Bridge, chess, checkers, Scrabble) with family and friends. Even when I’d most always lose.

Finally, she also might be very interested in your work. Traveling some day(s) with you. Seeing your workplace. Meeting your friends, colleagues. I wish you luck with all of it!

Make a patch of land magical.

Mom of 5 Brynne Ruiz has this advice:

In response to the request for book recommendations: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett gets my vote for the most inspiring, get-outdoors-explore-and-create book for families to read together. (Read the original book, none of the movies do the story justice.)

When we first read The Secret Garden to our then 6 and 4-year-olds, we lived in a small basement apartment. Our children found a tiny, hidden patch of grass at our apartment complex and with their imaginations turned it into their own secret garden. They spent many happy hours there picnicking and playing with friends, all on their own.

If any book teaches children they can accomplish way more than adults (or they) think they can, it’s this one!

Don’t bother with “educational” shows.

James V. has this to say:

I sympathize with Mr. Fugate’s question–it’s something I’ve struggled with myself!

I think one important thing is to allow your child to enjoy entertaining media–meaning NOT “educational” media. Don’t get me wrong, education is a wonderful thing. But play requires imagination, and most so-called educational media–TV shows, games, toys, and the like–simply don’t inspire.

Stories told for pure entertainment do. In fact, that’s their goal. I’ve observed, in myself, my siblings, and our children, that if you give kids a good story to listen to or watch, they’ll act it out, and slowly start adding their own elements to it, until what started out as acting out scenes from a TV show becomes something so wildly different the connection becomes invisible.

…..Let kids enjoy even bad stories.

If you want an intellectual heavyweight weighing in on this, check out G. K. Chesterton’s “In Defense of Penny Dreadfuls.” This issue has been debated for a hundred years, and the conclusion is the same: Let kids enjoy stories, even bad ones. As they grow up, they’ll enjoy better stories…

For playing inside, Legos and K’Nex are my go-to recommendation. Let the kid build whatever they want, and tell the stories they want. Minecraft is the videogame equivalent. I would advise against specific sets of these toys–just get the big box of random stuff and let the kid have at it.

Regarding playsets, I think they’re worth the investment. The climbing tower we had served as a ship, a castle, a clubhouse, a dungeon (had a sandbox under it), and all sorts of other things when I was playing by myself.

Hopefully these recommendations help!

Get out of the way.

Barbara Sarnecka writes:

Dear Will,

Congratulations on figuring out what kind of parent you want to be, and welcome to the Free-Range/Let Grow club! I have some great news for you: Your kid is ALREADY curious and motivated to learn and explore the world—all you have to do is get out of the way.

I’m sure you’re right that previous generations of parents did what was easiest for them. That meant pretty much letting kids do whatever they wanted with their free time (within reason, of course). And luckily, the human brain has evolved to make kids WANT to do exactly what their brain NEEDS to do in order to grow, which is to explore their environment and learn about everything in it. (This seems to me just like common sense. But if credentials matter to you, I do have a PhD in developmental psychology and am a Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, where I teach development.)

…..Hang out with the parents as your kids hang out without you.

If this sounds too easy, it’s only because there’s a whole section of the advice-giving industry devoted to making money off of parents. Some books will tell you to do X, others Y, but they all agree that (1) there IS a right way to do it, and (2) the right way is NOT whatever seems easiest and most natural to you, because then you wouldn’t need their book.

Don’t believe them. Let your kid do whatever she’s interested in. She’ll try a bunch of things and gradually figure out who she is and what she likes. That’s the whole joy of exploration and growth. 

In answer to your question of what you should buy her to play with, you could provide her with loose parts as per the adventure playgrounds movement. But what she really probably wants to play with is other kids. So maybe start reaching out to like-minded parents in the neighborhood and figure out how to get the kids outside and interacting with each other, without adults breathing down their necks the whole time. I know Let Grow will have some good suggestions to get you started.