How Can We Expect Kids to Suddenly Love the Outdoors?

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Susan Solomon is an architectural historian who studies the science of play, the architecture of playgrounds (among other things), and what it takes to get kids doing their thing outside. The first step, of course, is just that: Getting them out the door. In this post on her Science of Play blog, she offers a way to make that happen. It may be easier than we thought!

 …American kids, when they have unstructured free time, seem to favor playing inside. Conventional wisdom cites computers, video games, and TV programs as some of the primary culprits that seduce kids into staying indoors. These beliefs are so entrenched that some manufacturers of playground equipment are finding ways (I think foolishly) to bring electronic gaming into outdoor spaces.

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While it is easy to blame electronics, we haven’t looked diligently for deeper, more systemic causes. The problem may be both simple and easily rectifiable: we don’t expose children to the outdoors when they are very young. We don’t introduce American children to cold weather as infants and then we don’t consistently make sure that they continue to spend time outside -in all weathers and all climates- when they are toddlers and preschoolers. When they get to elementary school we bemoan the fact that they do not play outdoors; it may be that by that time the kids have grown so “addicted” to the indoors that their habits are hard to break.   Why should 7 or 8 year olds want suddenly to play outside when it has not been part of their routine since birth?

 

Her solutions range from the Scandanvian — have kids nap outside in all weather — to longer outdoor recesses in pre-k, and more natural elements in the school yard. Having just read about another state — good God, was it Rhode Island again? — that wants to ban outdoor recess when it’s under 32 degrees, let’s try to remember that kids have always played outside in winter, whatever “winter” felt like where they lived.

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And I say this as a gal who grew up in Chicago, frrrrrrrrrrreezing. So I’d also like to give kids the indoor/outdoor choice when it’s cold. But not to turn winter (including snow and ice) into some kind of “danger zone” that’s too much for kids. – L.

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Send kids outside when very young! And if you're worried about them getting lost, just give them some bread crumbs.

Send kids outside when very young! Just make sure they have bread crumbs.

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66 Responses to How Can We Expect Kids to Suddenly Love the Outdoors?

  1. Joan March 17, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    If kids aren’t allowed to play outside when it’s below 32, how will they ever have a snowball fight, go sledding, or learn to ice skate? Oh wait, I forgot: those winter fun activities are clearly much too dangerous for OUR precious children.

  2. JR March 17, 2016 at 11:35 am #

    From the kid’s perspective:

    Outdoor play – “Flint, be careful! Don’t climb up the slide backwards! Oh, see? Now Hunter’s feelings are hurt! Let’s have a sharing circle to talk about what happened. Do you need a snack? You’re swinging too high! It’s Dakota’s turn now. Here, let me help you do that. Oh no! A white van!”

    Indoor play – “My video game character is all-powerful, conquers extreme challenges with ease, and my mom leaves us alone.”

    I can see the appeal of being an indoor kid as compared to the alternative facing many young people today.

  3. Jen March 17, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    There is a state that is working on legislation to ban outdoor recess if it is below 32 degrees? Wow…I thought legislation was supposed to be used sparingly and for super important issues…now it seems like we are creating laws upon laws. Too many laws make everyone a criminal.

    I can tell you that even after a mild winter in NH, 32 feels balmy. We skied with the school program at near zero temperatures as long as there wasn’t extreme windchill making it unsafe — and it is the school that is making the go-no go decision. In the 5 years my daughter has been in the program, there was only one session that was postponed due to extreme cold. It was the same year that they delayed school because it was unsafe for kids to be outside waiting for a bus. I have heard rumor that on one or two occasions the teachers have brought kids in early from recess when it was cold (the kids have said it’s because the teachers aren’t dressed appropriately — ie. snowpants, and parkas), I am happy to leave the decisions about weather and recess/outdoor activities up to the teachers and the school since they have not given me any reason to be concerned to date.

  4. Havva March 17, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    Interesting, and quite likely true. And it probably isn’t just the kids, we adults are rather addicted to the indoors too.

    My neighborhood had a 5 day power outage, during the height of a very humid summer. We decided to stay put, because our kid’s sleep routine was so sensitive. I had never done well in the summer heat and humidity, I had always been the first among our friends to overheat and head indoors. Now it doesn’t bother me near as much, and I feel fine for much longer in the heat and humidity.

    Another time my daughter and I had just stepped out on a walk to the library when it started to rain unexpectedly. I wanted to turn back and at least get coats and umbrellas, but she preferred to carry on, and I let her. When we were half way to the library the rain intensified. I felt absolutely miserably cold and wet by the time we got there. But I dripped dry very quickly as soon as we stepped inside. Thankfully I was wearing one of the many polyester outfits my mom preferred to buy when I walked to school in all weather (including sideways blowing rain). Sitting there in the library, realizing how fast I was drying out, it occurred to me that this weather wouldn’t have bothered me, or my classmates, in the least when I was school age. When it rained we all came in and dripped dry in our seats. It was neither as cold, nor blowing as hard as what I regularly walked in as a kid, and the gutters that day weren’t turning into overflowing rapids either. The only reason it bothered me so much that day, was that I hadn’t been out in that sort of weather in over a decade.

  5. Brenna March 17, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    I think JR pretty much summarized it. Kids want to play outside if they are left alone doing it, and not constantly being warned about pretty much everything. Let them get dirty, let them run around screaming, let them burn off energy, and they’ll want to go outside again. Easier said than done, unfortunately.

  6. John March 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

    One obvious thing I have noticed is that African-American neighborhoods are much much busier and bustling with kids and teenagers and adults outside their homes and in the streets than are white neighborhoods. Especially during the warm months. It’s like typical white neighborhoods were 50 years ago. Of course the unaffordability of electronic gadgets for their kids might come into play but I think it might go a bit deeper. I think culture might have something to do with it but I can’t quite pinpoint it.

    Heck, in my subdivision I know there are a good share of kids because last August on the first day of school I was out running before work and saw so many kids out in their driveways with backpacks donned awaiting their bus. So I then asked myself, where did all those kids come from? Because very rarely do I see a kid in my subdivision outside riding their bikes or playing during non-school hours. If I see any young kid riding his bike, it’s usually with a parent riding their bike ahead of him.

    You know, there needs to be public service announcements on TV, in addition to the NFL’s 360 program, that encourages kids to get outside playing!

  7. Rick March 17, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    Well, I must have done something right, because my 7 year old demands to ride his bike to school in the rain.

    And if Dad goes out alone with his son, just make sure you look alike: http://www.rawstory.com/2016/03/bus-rider-reports-possible-abduction-after-spotting-dad-with-albinism-and-dark-skinned-son/

  8. Kerry March 17, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

    When my son was a toddler, we would be the only ones at the park in 40 degree weather (I grew up in Wisconsin, we live in North Carolina). Now I think with school rules declaring it too cold, even he is becoming reticent about going outside sometimes.

  9. Vaughan Evans March 17, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    I think one thing children miss, is not JUST the knowledge of old-fashioned search and chase games-as the joy of imparting these games to their peers(oral tradition)
    On August 24, 1979-at a community picnic, I taught six boys to play ‘Run, Sheep, Run! (Twenty-one children watched me scamper with the aforementioned six boys.
    Within two weeks, SIXTY additional children had tried the game.
    Soon the WHOLE of the local school was playing it.
    The Game ‘Run, Sheep, Run! got into their blood.
    NOTE: For more information about the game-or how I got the children interested in the game, you can e-mail me at:
    skippingdancers@outlook.com

    =-Mr. Evans(Vancouver, Canada)

  10. Beverly March 17, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    While it’s not a state law, our school district has a policy that recess is held indoors if the temperature “feels like” it is below 32. The reason given, when I questioned it, was too many kids come to school without coats. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t take many times of missing recess for those kids to remember their coats. There’ve been many days when I know temps were in the 40’s, that my son says they stayed in and watched movies. I have often wondered if the pressure to stay in comes from other parents, a risk-adverse administration, or teachers that have outside duty.

  11. LGB March 17, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    I grew up in Montana with the saying that there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes. Zero degrees was the threshold for staying indoors for recess. We’ve regressed since the 80s.

  12. Ariel March 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    @joan: I used to live in western NY (The Home of Snow, ha!). i guess REAL ice wasn’t good enough; they built a FAKE ice rink (it’s just some kind of really smooth material) for people to “ice skate” on over in Niagara Falls!

  13. Havva March 17, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    @Kerry,
    For a good two years, my daughter and I were the only ones in the park in any weather…. though in nicer weather, I occasionally scared away teens having sex on the play structures. After I surprised enough teens, they quit hanging out at the park. Then our area had a little free-range upsurge and now there is a decent chance of finding families in the park, at least when the weather is nice. When we go to sled in the park, we usually find no other foot prints.

  14. EricS March 17, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Cold? What cold? I was born in a tropical part of the world. Moved here when I was 5. Been here ever since. It was winter when I moved to North America. I remember instantly falling in love with snow. I couldn’t get enough of it. And because my parents where like every other parent back then, we had unstructured and unsupervised play outdoors. We came home when the street lights came on. Sometimes later. And it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to go back outside after dinner, and doing our homework. As long as we were in bed by 9-930pm.

    That was pretty much how my whole childhood went. We explored, we learned (from good or bad experiences), we adapted, and we became efficient and confident at what we did as children. It’s absolutely true, start kids young. From the time they are able to understand you (age 2 and up), get them used to what will help them in their future. Not only the here and now, and not what WE as parents want. It’s always been what best for the children. And that isn’t always what WE desire. They aren’t us. We shouldn’t make them into what what we want. We should encourage them to find themselves. And allow them to experience the world to do so. From a distance, and not on a leash (figuratively or literally).

  15. Tim March 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    I think the legislation is because of fear of lawsuits. They are afrai they will get sued if a kid slips on the ice or (not sure how) gets frostbite during recess.

    It could be that too many kids come to school without hats and mittens, but would they really deny the whole class outside play because a couple kids don’t have hats?

    I also think it’s important to expose kids to different kinds of weather when they are very young so it feels natural to them. They should also be exposed to other environments where it smells different, food is different, people speak differently, fire hydrants are a different color, etc. Travel is good for this.

  16. Catherine Caldwell-Harris March 17, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    As a radical free-range kids parent, I’ve always wanted my boys to be outside playing whenever possible. One of my metrics for a good babysitter was whether the babysitting was reluctant or eager to get outside with the kids. Lots of young women (the typical babysitter) would just rather look after the kids inside if it was the least bit cold (easier to keep an eye on them while texting). I’m not blaming them — just kept their preferences in mind when I chose who to hire.

  17. EricS March 17, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    @Beverly: Kids are like sponges, especially when they are younger. They don’t known any better and rely on parents/adults for guidance. Now if they are being told, “it’s too cold for you to go out”, and they don’t know any better, then to them it becomes, “it’s too cold for them to be out”. They know what they learn. That is the question every parent should be asking themselves. “What do I want my child to learn”. Sadly these days, everyone has varying opinions, and it makes it harder when some of those people hold a position of authority. Unlike past generations of parents and adults, who were all pretty much on the same page. Hence why past generations of children were more successful young adults than this generation. But ironically, because of technology and media (social and conventional), some of these old school kids have been turned to sheeple. And have learned to fear what they are told to fear. Therein passing those fears to their children. People have lost common sense. So in turn, don’t teach it to their children.

    I also have no doubt that one of the reasons why recess has been eliminated in many schools, is because teachers don’t want to be outside (especially in inclement weather), or they’re just too lazy. And they have the “adult mentality”. “I’m the adult, your the child, what I say goes”. Without ever thinking about what is best for the child. Just what is more convenient for themselves.

  18. lollipoplover March 17, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    “Why should 7 or 8 year olds want suddenly to play outside when it has not been part of their routine since birth?”

    Exactly. Like most of childhood, it’s a learned behavior. Now ask how many parents enjoy playing outside as adults (vs. watching TV and using electronics indoors) and I don’t blame the kids for not liking the outdoors. Plus, most of them have been raised in temperature controlled environments and enjoy air conditioning and heat. It’s not just cancelling recess if it’s under 32 degrees (and don’t get me started about them not allowed to play outside in snow or rain), schools without air conditioning cancel when temperatures are high. Physically feeling hot or cold as a child is dangerous!

    My personal pet peeve- when did kids walking in rain coats with umbrellas become *bad* parenting? I’m amazed at the crazy drop off of kids as pedestrians when it starts to rain. My child gets stopped more by cars in rain and offered a ride, like she’s risking death by getting wet, than any other time. She has a rain coat. She has boots! She loves walking in rain and snow (especially fresh fluffy snow) and is not endangered. It drives her nuts and she can’t understand why her friends have to be driven in rain, when the cars splash puddles on the kids (which they weirdly enjoy). And the middle schoolers who are driven to the bus stop to wait in a dry car because…they can’t figure out an umbrella? What became so unfashionable with proper outerwear and dangerous with rain?

  19. Powers March 17, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    I played outside as a kid. Not always, but regularly. And I hate the outdoors.

  20. Kathleen March 17, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    “When it rained we all came in and dripped dry in our seats. It was neither as cold, nor blowing as hard as what I regularly walked in as a kid, and the gutters that day weren’t turning into overflowing rapids either. The only reason it bothered me so much that day, was that I hadn’t been out in that sort of weather in over a decade.”

    Havva – when you mentioned how hard it was blowing, I had another thought – what time of year was this, and what was the temperature like when you got inside the library? It occurs to me that half the year, you wouldn’t want to walk anywhere in the rain, because once you arrived at your overly air conditioned destination, you would freeze. It’s harder to dress appropriately for outdoor weather when the indoor “weather” is so drastically different.

  21. Havva March 17, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    @John,
    The first evidence I had of kids in my neighborhood, was after a serious blizzard. I went outside to shovel, and I heard all these squeals and giggles coming from all angles. I was stunned, I had seen a grand total of 5 kids in our area of the neighborhood to that point, and 3 of them were only seen being rushed in and out of a mini-van across the street. I kept hearing the giggling but I never saw a single kid. The closest I came was evidence in one front yard that a couple sledding runs had occurred. After the next blizzard that year, we decided to go on a charm offensive and baked some muffins and went out to meet our neighbors. We didn’t get very far, as most of the neighbors invited us in for tea and a chat. But, with in sight of our house, we met 8 additional school age children. We had maybe laid eyes on the teen, lots of teens walk to the local high school. But we had no clue the others existed.

  22. Backroads March 17, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    JR’s comment is spot on.

    Admittedly, that invincibility thing is a reason I enjoy/don’t mind video games in moderation. It’s a fun use of the imagination.

    But when video games and electronics become the “safe option”, we have a problem that goes beyond mere personal preference and interest.

    My two-year-old has shown up kids older than her on the playground. I let her out everyday… because she expects it and demands it.

    My school leaves it up to the discretion of our recess monitors. This is both great and kind of crappy… because one of them moved to Northern Utah from Hawaii and is always cold.

    As for coats… we tell them to borrow from the lost and found if that’s the attempted excuse not to go outside.

  23. Havva March 17, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    @Kathleen,
    I think the library walk was on a day that was about 75deg, late spring or early summer day. I see your point about the trouble with being wet and air conditioned. Where I grew up, it rarely got above 80 F, so a building with air conditioning was very rare, and in one case a flat out scandal. The schools most certainly didn’t have a/c.

  24. Brian March 17, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Just starting bikecommuting a few years back, I find that each winter I have built up a larger tolerance for cold. We all know that somebody from “down south” that puts on a parka when the temps hit the 40’s in Jan while the friend “from the north” was talking about getting ice-cream since it was a nice day in the 20’s.

    Kids are that way as well, if they are not used to it then they are not comfortable in it, and who really wants to go out if they are miserable.

    @Rick, I’ll see your kid and raise you mine. He begs to bike to school in the snow 😉
    I have to tell him no because I can’t get studded tires for his bike.

  25. Stacey March 17, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

    It is also helpful if “outside” has the infrastructure that encourages people to be able to walk from place to place. If you have to drive to safely get to a park… Kids can’t “free range” themselves there.

    http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2012/07/virtualactuality-attheir-core-i-believe.html

  26. Stacey March 17, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    I remember being in Air Force Basic Training and if it was deemed cold enough by our TI’s to wear our field jackets and gloves, then everyone had to put them on. I remember thinking that the military was run by southern temperature wimps….But, uniformity is something the military requires so you suck it up and deal with it.

    Uniformity is not a requirement for elementary school.

  27. Roger the Shrubber March 17, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

    Off topic but brought to mind because of Backroad’s mention of recess monitors – During recess my 10yo son plays a game where one person throws a ball into a crowd of students who all try to catch the ball. Apparently this is something they play regularly with a leather football which is part of the school’s equipment. Yesterday he brought a tennis ball from home and played the same game. After inspection of the ball by the recess monitor, he was told that he would have to put the ball away, it was too hard and a student could get ‘seriously hurt.’ WTF.

  28. BL March 17, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    “… longer outdoor recesses in pre-k, and more natural elements in the school yard.”

    So … the solution must come from schools? Why? What about being outdoors when not in school (“school”, of course, being a type of building in which one spends time indoors, mostly)?

  29. Coccinelle March 17, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    I was sure it was basically innate for kids to love playing in the snow. I still haven’t met a single one that doesn’t like it. I still have a hard time to imagine a kid that doesn’t like it because he “never went outside”. That’s so sad, I can’t believe a kid can grow up without his parents letting him play in the snow once. Snow is like a baby sitter and a computer game all in one, your kid will be so engrossed he will have frostbites if you don’t pay attention.

    And that’s true even for older kids (or adults), you can make really beautiful sculptures with snow and use your skills and creativity. I seem like I really like snow and I do but let me tell you that comes from a girl who absolutely hates cold. I have cold feet and hands in the summer, I can’t stand anything colder than 10°F. But I still like snow!

  30. Doc Hal March 17, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    If we ban outdoor recess when the temperature is below 32° how will the children get used to cold weather activities when they get older? Will it be too cold to dig your car out of the snow or shovel your walk? Work in an outdoor job? Or participate in activities in the military (“Sorry Sarge, it’s too cold to march today.”). Or learn to ski or ice skate — Oh, we can’t do either of those anyway. We might fall and break a leg.

  31. Diane March 17, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    Lollipoplover, the rainy day drop off and dismissals annoy me, too. In my kids’ school, the majority of children getting picked up in cars or on foot are headed straight home, yet if it’s sprinkling, we have to pick them up in the classroom instead of having them wait outside. They’re not going to melt, people! Two days a week my kids walk home, unless there’s a lightning storm. I am working on them to walk unaccompanied more often but they are a bit lazy and don’t want to carry their violins for the 1.2 mile walk. 🙂

  32. Anna March 17, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

    I’m from Ontario but my first teaching job was in Virginia. I was shocked to discover, the first time we had snow there, that both my principal and the parents assumed snow necessitated indoor recess. They, of course, were shocked that I would even for a moment think the kids could go outside in the snow.

    In my childhood, if a teacher had tried to deprive us of a snowy outdoor recess – which, of course, is the most fun kind of outdoor recess ever – we would have thought it was a human rights violation.

  33. Donald March 17, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    “……manufacturers of playground equipment are finding ways (I think foolishly) to bring electronic gaming into outdoor spaces”.

    That would be interesting.

    I think it could be a good compromise. I’m not completely against video games. I’m for or against the actual games themselves. For example I hate the mindless ones where no thinking is required. (if it moves, shoot it) However I like some of the roll playing games.

    My favorite (I didn’t play but I saw it was great for kids) was Star Wars Knights of the old Republic. In it, the choices that you make in the game will determine how your future will unfold. Your character changes slightly for each choice that you make. After days of playing, your character becomes someone like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader.

    Just like in real life, the choices you make now alters your character (very slightly) All these thousands of very small changes add up. This also determines your future experiences.

  34. kate March 17, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    Eric,

    The issue of not having a jacket could be an economic one. In our school system, the staff is well aware of this issue and the nurse keeps a supply of warm clothing for those in need.
    But I was surprised that my neighbor “didn’t bother spending the money on a jacket” for her toddler since he spent so little time outdoors. He went from his warm house, to his warm garage, to his warm car…. Why would he need a jacket? She was appalled that my elementary age kids walked to the end of the drive on their own in any weather.

  35. Genevieve March 17, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

    Think back to hundreds of years ago. Indian tribes practically lived outside. Families learned how to survive the harshest elements of winter. People were hardy and tough-skinned. Now think twenty-first century. If we don’t let our children outside ever, how will they be able to fend for themselves when a serious survival situation occurs, especially in cold weather? Take your kids camping and teach them survival skills as often as possible. I speak from experience, because you never know what dangers could happen or if you got trapped in the wilderness. It’s important to know what exactly to do. We don’t want our future generation of Americans to grow up puny and wimpy, not knowing how to deal with the great outdoors, do we? (Trained as survivalist)

  36. Carrie McMerry March 17, 2016 at 7:58 pm #

    Some of the most fun memories I had as a kid (back in the time when…..GASP…..there was none of this “technology” stuff) happened outside, whether it was building snowmen in the winter with my sisters, or swimming and canoeing at camp in the summer. My family was also huge on camping and since we lives in the woods basically in the middle of nowhere, us kids were almost always outside. We made mud pies, fought with sticks, all things that are now considered “highly dangerous.” Ah, how times have changed!

  37. Donna March 17, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    “If we ban outdoor recess when the temperature is below 32° how will the children get used to cold weather activities when they get older? Will it be too cold to dig your car out of the snow or shovel your walk? Work in an outdoor job?”

    I am always puzzled by this train of thought. The idea that disliking something means that you lose all ability to deal with it at all.

    I hate the cold. I do not find being outside when it is cold even remotely enjoyable. While a winter outside job is not my dream, I could work one if that is the only one I could get. While I choose to live in a place where I never have to dig out a car or shovel a walk, I could do those things if I had to move to a snowy climate. I do many things in life that I don’t enjoy because they are necessary to exist. Not being willing to subject myself to the same conditions for kicks and giggles doesn’t impact my ability to get necessary things done at all.

  38. Jennifer S. Hendricks March 17, 2016 at 9:38 pm #

    At my son’s preschool in Montana, they went outside every day, no matter what, even if on a few days it could only be for a short time. One of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen is the entire toddler class getting on their snowsuits, coats, boots, etc. in what served like two minutes flat. The three-year-olds had learned to help the two-year-olds, etc.

  39. Donald March 17, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

    “At my son’s preschool in Montana, they went outside every day, no matter what, even if on a few days it could only be for a short time.”

    I love this idea! It makes so much sense! People practice for a fire drill. Why not practice going outside in cold or rainy weather? Ok, I don’t expect many will agree with me. However by canceling recess when the weather isn’t ideal, we ‘practice’ doing the other extreme.

    Becoming an adult is stressful anyway. Why add to this by giving the children another stressful situation? Going out in the cold in order to get to work isn’t that stressful. However why are we teaching children that any discomfort should be avoided?

    And then we wonder why there are so many people that are candy asses!

  40. Warren March 17, 2016 at 10:25 pm #

    Those talking about not being able to work outdoors during weather have it wrong. Anyone can do it.

    The problem is with the way schools handle weather is that they are teaching it to the students. We are seeing it now in the younger generation. Because of how they were raised and how the school treats them, they feel and believe that adverse weather means they do not have to work in it.

    I personally have come across young employees that have told me they don’t have to work when

    1. it is too cold
    2. too hot
    3. too windy
    4. raining
    5. snowing
    6. freezing rain
    and all of them have been told to get their butts out there, or be fired.

    Also, I get sick and tired of people that say you can’t be outside during an lightening storm. Yes you can. Unless you are standing out in a field holding a metal rod, you are fine.

  41. Donald March 17, 2016 at 11:31 pm #

    In schools children are taught:

    1. 2+3=5
    2. The earth revolves around the sun
    3. It’s hard to invade Russia because of the winter
    4. How to write an essay

    However, we also teach them

    5. Any discomfort should be avoided
    6. The world is a very dangerous place
    7. If the weather is cold you should not go outside
    8. All stranger are dangerous (especially men in white vans)

  42. MOBK March 18, 2016 at 12:59 am #

    I like JR’s explanation.

    But the other thing is that a whole lot of adults don’t really like being outdoors. If parents take every opportunity to avoid being outside kids are going to pick up on that attitude.

    The schools can have a role, but don’t count on them alone to instil a love of the outdoors. The best thing to do is from a very young age have as many fun adventures outside with your kids as possible. Then as they get a little bigger give them as much outside freedom as YOU can stomach.

    Bike everywhere you can with your little kids and then give your medium sized kids some bicycle freedom if your streets are at all suitable. Set a positive example by being the first to do a cannonball into that lake. Buy your daugher a pocketknife and teach her to whittle (outside). Engage their help planting and tending a veggie garden. And of course go camping.

  43. MOBK March 18, 2016 at 1:41 am #

    And write on cue a new book from Richard Louv, author of the bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods. Due out on April 12 his new book is called Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life.

    http://www.amazon.com/Vitamin-Essential-Guide-Nature-Rich-Life/dp/1616205784

  44. Reader March 18, 2016 at 2:11 am #

    JR, that may well be true, sadly. Video game characters allow kids to at least experience some vague imitation of what it’d be like to have some freedom.

  45. Reader March 18, 2016 at 2:14 am #

    Also, Australian schools only cancel if the temperature is above something like 40C (104F) – if it’s above that temperature, classes cannot be held until it gets below that temperature again!

  46. andy March 18, 2016 at 4:38 am #

    @MOBK @JR I think both of you are to what the cause is. Lone 9 years old or older kid has nothing interesting to do outside. At that age, surrounding is explored quite quickly and then it is just hanging around bored. Inside, you can do interesting stuff alone. Outside is interesting only when it is socialization and for that you need group of friends with you – and even then inside activities are at least comparably exciting.

    Adults, especially those without kids, don’t socialize outside either. Many professionals don’t have time for it and would be seen as lazy if they chosen to spend too many evenings visibly just hanging around. You are supposed to hang around in work and slow down meetings with useless comments and monologues instead :).

    Adults don’t seem to find interesting things to do outside even when they have time for it. Children tend to mimic adults.

    Beyond that, many adult don’t like being bored outside looking at how children play. They would rather have children play at home, because then they could cook simultaneously or watch tv or something else. Mom on playground fiddling with phones attract some level of derision, mom exercising around playground would look weird and it is not really socially appropriate, so is it so surprising that they would rather be at home?

  47. BL March 18, 2016 at 6:59 am #

    @Warren
    ” Unless you are standing out in a field holding a metal rod, you are fine.”

    And some dedicated golfers have been known to tempt fate by doing exactly that.

  48. BL March 18, 2016 at 7:06 am #

    @andy
    “Lone 9 years old or older kid has nothing interesting to do outside. At that age, surrounding is explored quite quickly and then it is just hanging around bored.”

    If you’re limited to “surrounding” meaning the immediate area around your house, well, yes.

    At that age I had the run of a town of 5000 people and it was quite possible to keep from being bored all day long outside, with or without friends.

  49. andy March 18, 2016 at 7:26 am #

    @BL It was not like that for me. I could bike pretty much wherever and elsewhere was pretty much like around the house. Different billboard or a bit different park was not all that much difference to make it interesting everyday.

  50. jen March 18, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    @kate — your neighbor doesn’t buy a coat for her toddler because he is never outside for long? What if her car goes off the road or the radiator breaks and they are forced to walk? That is just plain irresponsible. We are constantly reinforcing – dress for the weather even if you plan to be in the car. you don’t need to wear all the gear in the car but always have warm coat, hat, gloves and boots. Plus, then you’re ready if you pass a killer sledding hill. 🙂

  51. Curious March 18, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    Do you think opening windows in babies’ and children’s rooms has an impact?
    My baby had a window open a crack in all weather, and grew into a kid and adult who dresses several layers lighter than the average.
    This would not work in communities with poor air quality, of course.
    I would prefer to see laws to improve the air quality, and encourage Americans to breathe deeply, and send their “snowflakes” out to play.
    Coping with the weather is an important life skill. Why wait until they get to Brownies and Boy Scouts and are too wimpy to sleep in tents? My fresh-air sleeper loved winter camping, and this is in Northern NY where the weather is comparable to Lenore’s Windy City.

  52. lollipoplover March 18, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    One of the saddest sights to see in my ordinary suburban town is the building of new daycare/schools (usually chains). These monster office-like buildings go up with ample parking lots and the outdoor “play” area for children is a small square that’s fenced in tight with a cover on top and usually in the back, near the dumpster. No trees or natural area is anywhere in sight.

    If that was what I was offered everyday for outdoor play, I’d probably enjoy staying inside too! But these places stay in business and grow so there’s obviously a demand for them.

    My oldest is an avid outdoorsman. From a very early age he begged to go outside to play in all sorts of weather. His younger sister was usually sleeping and pushed along outside everywhere I followed him. Second daughter is not as fond of the outdoors. She can couch surf for hours happily. Yet she’s our most gifted athlete and just prefers organized sports for activity. She doesn’t want to go fishing or skateboarding. They are so different yet raised the same way. It’s just their preferences and since they are both happy and active, I let them choose what they want to do for their free time. The daughter needs down time, alone time, often indoors. But then she gets off the sofa and scores 28 points in a basketball game. And my son could practice for hours shooting hoops and just be mediocre. Go figure.

    The best tip I can offer if getting kids outdoors is a goal: Adopt a homeless pet.
    Walking the dogs is my guaranteed exercise/fresh air/clear my head and think time as well as social time with neighbors. Same for the kids who walk our dogs. They reluctantly agree (especially if they seem glued to the sofa) but always comeback happy after some fresh air with some observation or sighting of friends out or fellow dog walkers. There are many great leads and leashes(we love the Easy walk) that help smaller children control large dogs. “Go walk a dog” is my canned response if anyone complains they are bored or have nothing to do.
    Works like a charm!

  53. Michelle March 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    “You know, there needs to be public service announcements on TV, in addition to the NFL’s 360 program, that encourages kids to get outside playing!”

    These already exist. Every one of the “kids” channels that my kids watch has spots encouraging kids to go play outside, giving them ideas, telling them how exciting it is, and suggesting that they should only watch a certain amount of TV per day.

    OTOH, in all of the online mom communities I frequent, except where they are explicitly “free-range,” when the subject of kids playing outside unsupervised comes up it’s usually in the form of a complaint: “Whenever I take my kids outside, I end up supervising the whole neighborhood because I’m the only parent out there! Then I feel like I can’t go inside and leave those kids alone! Why don’t their lazy parents come outside and watch their own kids???”

    Kids can only get so much outside time if their parents believe it has to be 100% supervised by an adult. 🙁

  54. lollipoplover March 18, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    “Whenever I take my kids outside, I end up supervising the whole neighborhood because I’m the only parent out there! Then I feel like I can’t go inside and leave those kids alone! Why don’t their lazy parents come outside and watch their own kids???”

    What gives her the right to supervise my kids???
    Some kids don’t need to be *watched*. They understand their family rules for outside play (all kids have different ones). I don’t need Negative Nancy patrolling my kids. I DO trust my neighboring parents to give me feedback if they ever have a problem with my kids. They aren’t perfect all of the time but most of the time, they are just fine.

    It is not lazy to stay inside and work when my kids want to play street hockey on our street. I don’t want to watch street hockey, particularly. I DO sometimes shoot hoops with my kids and other kids in the neighborhood. I don’t judge other parents who aren’t out with their kids as they probably have better things to do. We have a water cooler the kids drink from in the garage but I usually send them away for snacks. Sometimes I feed them. Other times the neighbors feed mine. I don’t see a need to supervise other people’s kids unless we invited them over and those kids know our house rules and where and what they can play outside so I don’t really have to watch them. These moms need to chill out!

  55. Jen March 19, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    I was on the road for work yesterday and was driving through Nashua NH (pop 87k & the 2nd largest city in NH) and passed Amherst street elementary school–found a shot of it here on this website http://viewmemories.com/GIPC/usnh0164-sc05.html . The playground isn’t much to look at — it’s in a busy mixed use neighborhood. Mostly concrete with a little grassy area. It was recess time — there were kids running around everywhere, balls flying…can’t be sure which kids were playing tag, which were playing dodgeball, which were just running willy-nill–chaos and lots of noise! Most had no jackets on, many were in shorts–we had a high of 45 degrees yesterday. The two adult male teachers (I only point this out because they seem to be a minority in elementary ed these days) on recess duty were engaged in conversation off to the side and though supervising, seemed not to be concerned that anyone was going to get mortally wounded or die of exposure. Not sure where they stand on other policies but recess appears to be a win! Sorry I didn’t take a picture — not that I was worried about being arrested but because I was in busy bumper to bumper traffic just outside the fence.

  56. Vaughan Evans March 19, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    One way to encourage outdoor play is to encourage “singing games.”(A singing game is a dance-that groups of (say)7 people do. They form a circle Each person is IT during a particular verse. All the children sing as they dance.
    -Would you like me to send you the words and music of “Traipsing the Grouse Grind.
    -If so, e-mail me a:
    skippingdancers@outlook.com

  57. Michelle March 19, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    @lollipoplover, I agree 100%. I always get the feeling that the moms making these complains did not even consider the idea that other parents might think their kids are fine playing outside without an adult. They are so completely engulfed in the idea of kids needing constant supervision that they honestly believe “those other parents are expecting me to watch their kids.”

    There was even one mom whose child accidentally broke another kid’s glasses. She was willing to help replace the glasses, but also blamed the other parents for not being outside watching their kid!!

    It’s not the kids who need to be convinced to go outside. It’s the parents who need to be convinced to let them! (And that would make outside more fun for the kids whose parents do let them out, who just don’t want to play all by themselves.)

  58. lollipoplover March 19, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    @Michelle-
    I thank my lucky stars that we have no moms (or dads) like that in our neighborhood.
    Most of our neighbors have 2 working parents and multiple kids. Families will often send the kids out with the older ones responsible for the littles. Kids will be playing in their own yards and see others out and combine play efforts, no parents needed. This is a lovely sight- kids of different ages playing together. It’s also how my daughter got 2 of her babysitting families. Many of these kids gather in my driveway as we have a pretty good basketball system in our driveway. Or they are up the street on the trampoline.
    Often it gets me up to the neighbor’s house to stop in for a chat or a glass of wine. Not to judge their supervision efforts, but to be socialize. I find it much easier to get along with my neighbors when I see them as allies instead of competition.
    This blaming parents for broken glasses, like parents have superhero powers to prevent all accidents, is absolute nonsense. As an adult, I’ve accidentally broken glasses (I sat on them). Where’s my supervision? I once sat on my daughter’s beautiful gingerbread house that she spent over 4 hours decorating when she placed it on the passenger seat of our car and I climbed in and didn’t look where I was sitting.That was truly the worst sound and feeling to tell her I crushed it (and my pants….). Oy.

  59. andy March 19, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    @lollipoplover @Michelle Blaming might be just deflection strategy, people tend to blame others when they themselves fear to be blamed. You see that a lot in sports (or online games) with insecure guys – every fail is immediately blamed on nearest possible target. A guy once hit me with racket and instantly blamed it on me. He was on wrong place and knew it, but wanted to avoid being criticized so he blamed me.

    I hate when people do that, but I found it is pretty universal behavior whenever people feel something might be their fault but don’t want to admit or hear it.

  60. Jen M March 19, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

    We’ve always taken a “normal wear and tear” approach.

    scratches, bruises, bumps and sprains as well as the occasional need for stiches or a cast happen when kids are busy living. If my kid is climbing a tree or riding a bike in your yard and incurs any of the above — fine. If they hurl themselves off your second story roof — we may need to talk about the kids playing at our house for awhile. 🙂

    Typically, if our kids can’t play at someone else’s home–it’s not the kid that is the problem but perhaps it’s the parents that don’t make good choices–and I don’t mean serving pop-tarts and orange crush for lunch (not my choice but near as i can tell, in moderation, that never killed anyone!) but something egregious like neglecting their own kids and putting them in harms way.

  61. Michelle March 19, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    @lollipoplover, our neighborhood has become more and more Free Range. When we first moved in, you wouldn’t think there were any other kids around. I kind of hope that me sending my kids outside to play is what encouraged others to do so. A lot of the kids who now regularly run around our neighborhood with my younger kids, were either babies or hadn’t moved in yet when I was sending my older kids out to play. By the time the younger ones were “of age,” it had become completely normal! 🙂 Part of it was also our local school budget crisis, because the school actually started encouraging kids to walk instead of taking the bus!!

    I have occasionally run into other moms who were following their kids around the neighborhood, and gave me a strange look when I drove up to tell my child to come home for dinner, but I don’t care. I have better things to do than tag along with a bunch of 8yo girls!

    @andy, you’re probably right about the blame game.

  62. Emily March 19, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

    >>From the kid’s perspective:

    Outdoor play – “Flint, be careful! Don’t climb up the slide backwards! Oh, see? Now Hunter’s feelings are hurt! Let’s have a sharing circle to talk about what happened. Do you need a snack? You’re swinging too high! It’s Dakota’s turn now. Here, let me help you do that. Oh no! A white van!”

    Indoor play – “My video game character is all-powerful, conquers extreme challenges with ease, and my mom leaves us alone.”

    I can see the appeal of being an indoor kid as compared to the alternative facing many young people today.<>Lone 9 years old or older kid has nothing interesting to do outside. At that age, surrounding is explored quite quickly and then it is just hanging around bored.<<

    That was my reality growing up–I wasn't into sports, I got bullied a lot by other kids, and I wasn't allowed enough "free range" outside to actually go anywhere other than MAYBE the park and the corner store (on good days) until I was in high school. I liked going outside for specific purposes–to go to the beach, or to go skiing in the winter, for example. I do "outside" much the same way as an adult–I'll go outside if I'm going somewhere, or to go for a run, or a walk with my dog, or a swim in the lake in the summer (I live within walking distance of a pretty nice beach), or if something needs to be done outside, like raking leaves or shovelling snow. I don't just randomly "play outside." That's considered socially acceptable now, but it wasn't when I was a kid. I also hated supervised outside play back then, because it seemed like the supervising adults would let legitimate bullying behaviour slide, but then rag on me for sitting quietly and reading, or playing with my Game Boy, or hanging by the side of the soccer field at camp, making a gimp bracelet while the other kids played, when I wasn't hurting anyone.

    Also, I'm seeing a bit of a "false dichotomy" here–it's not as if the options are "outside" or "screen time." I mean, besides the fact that some "screen-based" activities are productive and educational (for example, I learn most of my Zumba choreography from watching videos), there are other indoor activities that don't involve screens, and expand your mind quite a bit. When I was a kid, I liked to read, write, sometimes draw, and do crafts, I've played several different musical instruments over the years (piano, clarinet, guitar, bass clarinet, flute, and steel pan drums, plus singing off and on), and all those things were done mostly inside. As for the "exercise" argument, that can be done inside as well–there are exercise videos on YouTube for free, and a lot of adults join gyms, or take fitness classes, or buy exercise equipment for their homes, so they can get their exercise without going outside in inclement weather when they don't have to. I think that that's fine–it's one thing to refuse to work in inclement weather when you have an outdoor job, as Warren said, but there's nothing wrong with choosing to spend one's free time indoors. I really liked it in elementary school when it was an option to go to the library or the computer room at recess, rather than outside. I got the peace and quiet I needed, and I returned to the noisy classroom feeling refreshed. I didn't get that feeling in the melee of the schoolyard. In high school, we could do whatever we wanted during lunch or spares, up to and including leaving the school property, as long as we were back for our next classes. I usually spent that time in the music room. The feeling of being trusted to make my own decisions did a lot for my sense of self-worth……which I think is what free-ranging is all about.

  63. andy March 20, 2016 at 9:07 am #

    @Emily Yeah and even beside directly educational videos, computer time is not necessary as evil as people make it to be. Even if it is just video game, if the kid is healthy and do sport, why is mindlessly kicking the ball against wall seen as superior to trying hard to pass difficult level? Why is chatting with girlfriends about latest tv show or fashion seen as preferable past time for girls when compared to solving puzzle game or exploring elaborate rpg world or just generally being focused on goal in game? It is not that girls talk about fashion only and gossip, it is that girls doing that are treated as spending time the “right way” and those who play game don’t. Some with boys and mindlessly talking about girls or last match. It makes no sense.

    Of course there are limits on how much I want to my kids to play games, just like there are limits on how many cartoons they can watch during the day. Being outside is healthy, in person socialization matters and physical crafting has value. However, it seems to me that people take it as normal and accepted that kids watch 90 minutes long cartoons while they are horrified on idea of kid playing 90 minutes long video game session. And somehow pointless non-activities that don’t involve screen are “good” while similar or even better screen activities are bad.

  64. Doc Hal March 21, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

    Hey Donna, I don’t think you got the point of my post at all. I has nothing to do about doing things you don’t like – We all have to do things we don’t like. I had to go to work everyday and pay my bills. I didn’t like either one of those things. What I was trying to say is if we teach children that it’s not safe to go outside because it’s cold that’s a lesson that will stay with them for life and will prevent them from sensibly dealing with the cold as they grow older. It prevents them from experiencing things that are a necessary part of being a child and growing up. When you prevent children from experiencing any part of life because of some irrational fear that they are too fragile to handle it it harms the child, not help.

  65. TJ Farhadi March 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    I agree – I grew up in the cold and we played in the freezing cold and loved it. It helped me grow up and learn how to communicate with friends and new acquaintances on the playground.

  66. Dan March 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    Pro tip: A dog is a good excuse.

    My daughters are 4 and 1.5. Every day, they join me outside to walk the dog. Even in the rain. Even when it’s cold. The older one is now in charge of picking up the poop. Even in the rain.

    When we go to the park without the dogs, even the younger one starts to wail when it’s time to go home.