Turf ’em outside….

Overloaded with structured play, organised sports, friends to visit, homework (for some) and the general “busyness” and cacophony of a household, young children can easily become worn out and occasionally stressed or even depressed.  As parents/carers, the signs of stress in our children can be easy to miss, as we ourselves go frantically from this thing to that, all the while trying to figure out how to achieve that ever elusive work/play life balance.  Parenting is a relentless gig and at times the entire family needs to step back, take a breath and look for some relief.   The biggest stress buster for young children?  Turf ’em outside…

Taking time outside is a natural antidote to stress.  Without anyone telling them what to do or how to do it and with

angus and mummy on grassthe opportunity for private, quiet play and discovery – it affords little minds and bodies a chance to unwind and be at peace with themselves.  And these periods of stillness and reflection can impart a real sense of place and foster a connectedness with their world.

Here are a few outdoor activities you might like to consider:

  • Grab a blanket and kick back watching the clouds go by.  Every shape and object is up there and identifying and describing them can really fire little imaginations.
  • Buy a small unlined-book and encourage your child to start a nature journal by drawing what they see around them.  It may be a bird swaying on a power line, the neighbour’s back garden, a patch of grass or some billowing clouds racing by.  Rainbows are always a popular subject to draw.  The sketches may be nothing more than a few squiggles and a splash of colour to begin with, but as it slowly becomes the repository of thoughts, dreams, tender drawings and little gems from nature,  your child may well become very attached to their journal.
  • Buy a disposable camera and let your child snap away.  To avoid disappointment, you might want to give them a few suggested subjects, lest you end up with 24 pics of the ground or your child’s left foot.  I guarantee, however, that in no time, they will be better photographers than you….
  • Watching spiders, ants and other industrious little creatures going about their business often mesmerises children.  And interestingly, the busier the insect, the more likely it is your child will sit statue-like observing.
  • Kids love selecting their own personal patch of outdoors and turning it into the perfect Hidey Hole. Encouraging private time in this way develops stillness and independence in your child.  My daughter once fell asleep with a beautiful smile on her face, deep in the recesses of her hidey hole.

varied including angus first day school 2007 066

Of course, recharging doesn’t always have to always be so “zen-like”.  A good dose of rough ‘n tumble, tree climbing, hide and seek or a simple walk or run can have a similar effect. After all, outdoors is where the wild things are and where children themselves can be wild for a few hours.  The important thing is not to structure their time or direct the play.  Sure, you can offer advice or ideas if asked.  But be prepared to retreat and let their beautiful little imaginations conceptualise, implement and lead their chosen activity.  You never know, in doing so you might just find time for a quiet cup of tea (or a well deserved gin & tonic….

What’s your go-to family stress buster?


tom and angus and others 008


  1. says

    Such a good and true message.Outdoor play seems so uncommon for the current generation due to huge amounts of organised time for kids. It’s often purely the result of both parents working but I often wonder and worry about the issue of resourcefulness. When my kids say they are bored, I often find that if I resist the pleas for access to technology, they suddenly become resourceful and find something interesting to do. It’s even better when they find that ‘something’ outside. I’d like to add another idea. If you live in Sydney, visit Reverse Garbage in Marrickville and, as a family, collect a bag of interesting junk to make a fabulous outdoor sculpture…and sit outside to make it. My kids love this activity. Oh and by the way, the ideas in your book are lovely, as is the photography.

    • says

      Thanks Yvette. Thanks so much for commenting. I truly think that we may have forgotten how to teach our kids to do nothing and enjoy it! Time outside may not provide instant gratification in a technologically-minded world but the long-term upsides are so important. I will definitely take a trip out to Marrickville. cheers,

    • says

      When I lived in Sydney (Before Children) I loved visiting Reverse Garbage and coming away with treasure. What a great suggestion for Sydneysiders, and thanks for the little trip down memory lane :)

  2. says

    My three year old daughter is never, ever bored if I let her have water to play with outside. She doesn’t need any prompting at all. Bark floats, rocks change colour, seedpods hold water… all of nature’s treasures are even more fun if you add water!

  3. says

    Our sandpit is the big attraction. But they don’t play in it – the sand is put in various containers, carried around and used for all sorts of things. Tea parties, castles, burying things, adding water, and I admit I have no idea what they’re doing half the time. They’re just so busy and having fun together.

  4. says

    Lovely post, Caro. We frequently have what my 5yo calls “bug club” gatherings, where we search for the wee critters that call the backyard wildlife habitat we’ve created home. (I’m just as excited as the kids when we discover a new insect resident!) Since last spring, we’ve been working on a field guide, filled with photos, drawings and notes about the many types of animals we encounter in our yard. It’s a collection I will long cherish, I suspect, for it already stirs warm memories of the outdoor fun we’ve shared. My family laughs more when we’re outside. Nature invigorates!

  5. says

    I couldn’t agree more about the outdoors being a natural antidote to stress….For all members of family!

    I believe, the time I have spent outdoors with my children when they were very young has created habits that are both healthy for their bodies and healthy for nature. It’s kept them interested and fueled the need to be outdoors as teenagers.
    Children and nature were meant to be together-it’s the most natural thing in the world.

  6. says

    What a beautiful post! I was watching my nephew play outside at Grandma’s house and he looked so serious that I had to go and have a closer look at what he was doing. The gorgeous little 4yo was building ‘a city for the ants’ out of stones, leaves and sticks. Sudden flashback to my own childhood … it was so lovely to see that in the business of today that there is still plenty of time for simple play.

  7. says

    I have happy memories of last Spring, hanging out with my then 3yo son in the back garden: we pulled young pods off the broad bean plants and snacked on the tiny beans inside. I was amazed that he was happily munching on them alongside me.

    After the wettest winter in 60 years in our region, we’ve been desperate for some sustained outside play again and my son is thoroughly loving it. He’s grown really fast in the past six months and is much more confident with jumping, throwing, catching and many other active pursuits. He’s also big enough now to reach the kitchen sink (with the help of a step) and fill up the watering can by himself, so he’s taking great pleasure in watering our pot plants on the patio.

    I wonder if he’ll still have the taste for broad beans straight off the stalk?

  8. Nade says

    I love taking my son to the park.We live in a unit,so going to the park is a must.as we walk we always look at the flowers that are in bloom,any dry,fallen leaves on the ground we jump on them,while people look at us.We especially love touching and feeling the leaves on the oval park fence.It tickles and its amazing feeling.Would love tolive in a house and grow tomatoes.I love grabbing them out of the branches and eating them like that…Ohhhh the simple joys.

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