Parenting Matters: Play matters

  • Wednesday, November 8, 2017 1:30am
  • Life

It is exciting for children to go outside on a sunny day and play. Hooking up the sprinkler adds another dimension to the fun. Squirting an inflatable ball to keep it up in the air adds even more.

This kind of play — and, for that matter, most kinds of play — are fun for children. It is an essential ingredient in growing up.

So what happens when the sun goes down, or doesn’t even come up, on a winter’s day? You need to be the one to encourage your child to play.

Playing in the winter can be just as exhilarating. Just look outside after a winter’s snow; you can imagine the fun of sliding down a hill or lying down and making the mark of an angel. Snowball fights are wonderful because no one gets hurt. Making snowmen is fun, creative and even educational.

Any time of the year you can encourage your child to play. This kind of outside play encourages even more. It helps your child learn more about nature. When you raise a child who loves the outdoors, you also have laid the foundation for your child to love the earth.

You do not need to head for the hills to find the pleasure of the wild. You can do it in your own backyard. Some children will find interest in watching the wildlife. Wildlife includes ants, wasps, geckos, caterpillars and anything else that moves. Send your child out with a magnifying glass so they can take a bug’s-eye view. When they go inside, perhaps they can read about what they have just seen.

You can play games with them by making bingo cards with pictures of things in the yard they could find. A round rock, a small twig, a big tree, a bug or a plant they would recognize by its name. You can even divide up a larger group of kids into teams to help them develop teamwork.

Kids love water. Send your child out in the rain and he will find every puddle to stomp through. If you have plenty of mud, stimulate your child’s sense of touch by letting him squish his toes in the mud. If you have a toddler, bring the umbrella out and walk around counting the earthworms that gather on the sidewalk.

Even if it is a colder winter day, think about taking a walk together. It doesn’t take a lot to turn this into something special for the family. Be sure to take snacks, insect repellent and water. When you go for a walk, you are not easily distracted from what you are doing.

When you spend time with your child at home, phones ring, doorbells ding, televisions are on, other people show up. There are many distractions.

While you are hiking, you can play games as a family. You can count trail markers or wildflowers. Hopefully you can count other walkers because they are relatively few out on the trails.

Don’t forget about taking your child outside to plant something. Growing vegetables is exciting especially when you can eat what you have grown. That definitely teaches a love for outside. Even planting a tree your child can watch grow over the years can be exciting.

Climbing a tree is even more exciting than going to the gym and climbing. This encourages children, both boys and girls, to feel adventurous while it build their strength and dexterity.

So look around. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to stay inside just because it is winter. Check out sites on your computer when you come in and see if they have more ideas of kid-friendly things to do outside. Check the Sierra Club site at for ideas. We haven’t even talked about camping, which is a wonderful outdoor activity.

All the while he is exploring, finding new things and having fun, he is learning to love the earth. If he loves the earth he will want to do whatever he can to protect it. You will have turned him into a nature lover and a nature protector. Good job.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at

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