Get Your Kids Moving Outdoors | Families
By Eric King, ASLA, King Landscaping, www.EricKingLandscaping.com
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. Physical activity can help control weight; build lean muscle; reduce fat; promote strong bone, muscle and joint development; and decrease the risk of obesity. To grow up to a healthy weight, kids need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day.
It's getting more difficult to get children to want to go outdoors. Let's Move, a nationwide effort to raise a healthier generation, says eight to 18 year-old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media during a typical day.
We are fortunate to live in a warm climate that provides ample opportunities for children to play outside. What we need to do is remove the obstacles that deter them from doing so.
Yes, we have pesky insects and heat. But fans do a good job moving air and disrupting insect flight patterns. They also help keep your outdoor living space cooler. Using a radiant heater in cooler months is a good option if you have older kids who like to sit outside and interact with their peers.
When designing your outdoor living room, make it appealing for all ages. Include colors, textures, fragrant smells, and a beautiful healthy lawn. Choose furniture that's comfortable to sit on. Keep in mind that kids have different goals and needs than adults.
Older kids want a place to hang out away from the adults inside the home. That's when lighting comes into play. Consider color-changing LED lights, rope lights or chandeliers that hang from a branch. Illuminate a weathered sign with a spotlight.
One of the most important things for younger children is unstructured outdoor play time. Permanent play structures work fine, but you'll also want to have the most basic elements for them to interact with. This might be a fallen log, rocks, plants or natural leaf litter. Are there things they can pick up to look for salamanders? Can they build a fort from sticks?
We brought in huge rocks at one home. Some of them are close enough that you can jump from one boulder to another. You can put sticks across them and make forts under them. They're the ideal setting for a game of hide-and-seek. Even older kids like sitting on them. When the kids are grown, you can turn the boulder field into an attractive rock garden that serves as a strong focal point for your yard.
A good level lawn is equally important. Give your kids something for rolling around on or kicking a ball. As they get older, they can play Frisbee or croquet.
Kids love a platform they can use as a stage. Make it 30 inches tall or less. The simpler something is, the more creatively it will be used.
Sound is really important too. There are expensive whole-house systems that can perform all sorts of tasks. But it might be as simple as connecting some new outdoor speakers to your current sound system.
Kids like to interact with water. They can look for frogs, stick their feet in it or fill up water balloons.
The key to creating an inviting outdoor living space is having open-ended things that engage the senses and spark creativity. Make it say "It's beautiful out here. Come out and play!"