Getting kids outdoors makes them happier, healthier – and smarter

19/11/2012 3:03
Getting kids outdoors makes them happier, healthier – and smarter

An inspirational mother who has given her children an exceptional gift that will resonate through their lives.

Full article can be read from the link above.

“To Liza Sullivan, a mother of two, the Earth is more than the grass beneath her feet. It’s a place where her children foster creativity and confidence, develop character traits like empathy and resilience and learn the importance of taking risks. The quality of her twins’ growth is rooted in their time outdoors, she said.

So much so that two years ago, Sullivan decided against her kids’ last year of preschool, quit her job as the associate vice president of education at the Chicago Children’s Museum, and decided to use that time to teach the then-3 1/2 year olds on her own through free play and time in Chicago’s natural environment.

After visiting 50 parks in 50 days and returning to favorite forest preserves, nature centers, farms, museums, beaches and playgrounds throughout Chicago, Sullivan said her children have started kindergarten with an amazing foundation. Now she is committed to helping other parents who might not be professional, full-time educators through co-chairing the Let’s Play initiative at the Alliance for Early Childhood and writing informative blogs.

….. During the time the Wilmette mom spent with her twins, she witnessed first-hand the benefits shown by research. At a forest preserve, her daughter used the setting to re-enact fairy tales. After her son saw a snake, that night he slithered around their living room. Even climbing a tree became a learning experience. The twins would determine which way would enable them to climb the highest, yet still deciding for themselves how high was too high. Their curiosity was endless, said Sullivan. “When we walked into nature, the kids’ play was different. It was much more open-ended and much more rich,” she said. “For them, it was more exciting and, for me, it was more of a respite.”

….Sullivan used her knowledge as an early-childhood educator and let her kids take the lead. They decided where they wanted to go that day and how they wanted to play. She modeled, read books and assisted her twins when necessary, but for the most part, the day was theirs.

……Letting go wasn’t easy. Sullivan said getting outdoors was a learning experience for her, too, as she had to get over the fear that her children’s safety was in jeopardy…….“It’s really scary to be a parent, but I don’t want my kids to be totally afraid,” she said. “I want them to feel they can trust their decisions, feel comfortable handling risk and know what to do if something goes wrong.”

The two years with her children were a luxury for Sullivan, and she understands time is an issue for most parents…..“Whether you have an hour or an afternoon,” she said, “if you can leave your watch, your Blackberry, or iPhone aside and just focus on your kids and the space you’re in, it’s an exhilarating experience for your family. It’s about getting back to the basics.”

In order to get back to the basics, she avoided scheduled activities. Organized sports and extracurricular activities were not a part of her family’s daily life. Instead, a backpack full of books and packed lunches ensured longer, more relaxed periods of time outdoors.

………With winter approaching, there can be a tendency to spend less time outdoors. That doesn’t mean there aren’t outdoor-play opportunities available. “We went sledding, built forts, went for nature walks and went to the beach,” Sullivan said. “I found that if I bundled the twins up and brought hot cocoa that most days they were fine.”

Tess Michaels