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Tell the truth: do you love ALL KINDS of weather? Or do rainy/foggy/cold/not perfect days prevent you from getting outside to play with your kids?

A few weeks ago, I looked at the weather forecast on a day I was scheduled to lead my Con-T-GO Kids OT group: 100% chance of rain.

Great.

I admit- I wasn’t feeling my usual enthusiasm about going out into the woods to lead the group that day.  I reluctantly put on all of my rain gear - boots, rain pants, lots of layers, waterproof gloves - packed my backpack, and drove to our meeting spot while the rain came pouring down in droves.

The kids in my group, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the “bad” weather.  They showed up in colorful rain boots and rain jackets, excited and curious as always.  As we hiked into the woods we saw a large, graceful bird that we’ve never seen before, and the kids stomped and jumped in every puddle they could find.  Joy all around...with the rain still pouring.

Along the way one of the kids pointed out a large, old tree with low and thick branches just off the path.  We set off climbing up a small hill to the tree...with the rain still pouring. The kids carefully planned and adjusted their movements while climbing up the muddy hillside and exploring the tree. One child who wouldn’t touch dirt or trees when he started our group put his hands on the ground to stabilize himself while climbing the hill, then wiped the mud on his pants without skipping a beat. The kids talked and negotiated when navigating around one another on the tree branches, being extra mindful of themselves and others because the branches were wet and slick.

This was the magic of mud, of being outdoors with children, where they are motivated to explore, try, learn, play, and grow….all with the rain still pouring.

Climbing the tree was the first of many magical moments that day where the kids initiated exploring and playing more than they usually do. I had planned several activities, thinking that the kids might be difficult to engage with all of the rain and that we might be going through them quickly. In the end, we only got to one of my planned activities, which was just how it should be, in many ways.  The rain and mud engaged the children naturally in play.

Children may easily internalize our (usually negative) adult interpretations of the weather. We can kill our children’s joy in wet weather play.  As adults, we can be aware of how we communicate our own opinions about the weather to our children. If WE describe the rain as magical and mysterious, if WE express a sense of wonder about the weather, our children will be more motivated and excited to go outdoors in ANY kind of weather and play.  

Our children need to see it as a special treat to be outdoors in the rain.

The rain reminds us to leave possibilities open, to not limit ourselves and others with preconceived notions, and to let things unfold naturally.  

When you go out in the rain with your child, you’ll enjoy having the woods all to yourselves. You’ll have peace and quiet, and experience a sense of wonder and appreciation of the natural world and seasons.  There is nothing quite as beautiful as simply being present with a child during a muddy exploration of the woods in the rain. Let them lead the way. So next time it rains, go outside with your child, find some mud, and watch your heart overflow with joy when the magic happens...because mud is magical for us adults, too!

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It is 6 days into winter break. We’re going a little stir crazy, despite doing our best to get a good daily dose of outdoor play every day. Honestly, the kids have been on screens way too much. My 8-year-old son is a sociable kid, and longs to play with other KIDS in the neighborhood (rather than just his teenage siblings and boring parents). The problem is: the kids in our neighborhood are NOWHERE to be found.

Why? 

In an attempt to get more kids in our neighborhood playing outdoors, we’ve let our son go to neighbor’s houses to ask if other kids can play.  Rarely does the timing work out.  The replies too frequently have been:

“He has piano right now.”

“He has to finish his homework.”

“She has ballet.”

“He has to take a shower.” (Yes, this was a real reply….at 2 in the afternoon.)

“He’s got karate.”

“He has soccer practice.”

During this winter break, I actually had one mom text me after my son had stopped by and her son wasn’t available.  The text said: “Are you guys available for a playdate next week?”

Playdate?  Next week?  Are you kidding me? My reply: “Yes! We’re around. No plans. Send him over anytime to play!”

I confess: I HATE the word “playdate.”  It is a word that embodies just how much the landscape of children’s play has changed since we were kids. It implies we have to set a date to play, and that play must be meticulously arranged, managed, and controlled by parents, not the kids themselves.

How about let’s go back to the good ole days when kids just played outside together whenever it worked out?

Except there are NO kids playing outside in our neighborhood nowadays.

Is this happening everywhere in America? Or just in my neighborhood?

Kids are overscheduled, over-managed by their parents, and on screens too much. (If you’re on winter break right now, add up how much time your child TRULY spent on a screen in the past few days…you’ll be shocked.)

WHY aren’t kids outdoors playing with neighborhood kids? My guesses are:

1.     Kids are overscheduled.  There is literally NO downtime to let them run free outdoors.  They have ballet, soccer, hockey, baseball, French lessons, violin, piano, karate, Spanish lessons…our race to get our kids to be “successful” adults starts with overscheduling them in childhood.  But research is clear that the opposite is true: kids who have lots of unstructured play in early childhood are most likely to become successful adults.  We are not doing our kids any favors by overscheduling their childhood years with lessons and classes at the expense of outdoor play time.

2.     Parents are afraid. The news makes it seem like something awful will happen to our child if we let them out of our sight for just one minute.  In all but very few cases, NOT true.  The book Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy helps us consider the REAL risk, the REAL likelihood that something horrible will happen to your child if you let them take age-appropriate risks in play.  I’ll summarize here: the real risk is infinitesimally low. If you let them ride their bike a few blocks away at the age of 9? Or if you let your 7-year-old walk alone 2 doors down the block to see if a neighborhood kid can play?  Or if you let your 8-year-old scooter to the park with a friend?

3.     Kids simply aren’t outside playing. The reality is that most kids are indoors doing sedentary activities such as video games, watching YouTube videos, or watching Netflix.  If there aren’t other kids outdoors, playing outdoors looks boring.  We need to all be committed to kicking our kids out of the house like our moms did when we were young.  We need critical mass!  Sending our kids outdoors to play is a way to help minimize adult fears (other parents are doing it, it must be OK!) AND at the same time it lures our kids outside to be with other kids who are having fun out there.

By limiting our children’s neighborhood outdoor play, we are robbing kids of crucial outdoor play experiences that they NEED for their healthy development of play, creativity, problem-solving, and age-appropriate risk-taking.  They develop these skills primarily through free-range outdoor play with neighborhood kids!  In outdoor play with neighborhood kids, kids learn from real life, whole body experiences. They learn to deal with a variety of different personalities, to create their own games, to be independent, cooperative, brave, creative, and active. All the things we long for our kids to be when they are grown!

What would happen if we actually let our kids outdoors and let them play together and explore the neighborhood in an age-appropriate way?

Right now, my son has returned from scootering by himself around the block for an hour….cause no other kids were outside at 10am on a Friday morning of winter break when the weather is sunny and 60 degrees. Why are we not more alarmed at this reality??!

What do YOU think? Do you send your kids outside to play in your neighborhood? Why or why not? Do American neighborhoods exist where children’s free outdoor play is still a reality in this day and age? (Please tell me they do!!)

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Ever think about how your child wants you to express your love for them?  How do they actually experience our love and care?

 Just like us adults, your child has a unique way they are particularly wired to receive affection and care.

 I recently came across an article on best-selling author Gary Chapman’s 5 love languages and realized it could be an interesting framework to consider how we care for our children, not just our lovers, partners, or spouses.  

Consider which of the following may be the BEST way for you to express your love for your child:

1.     Words of affirmation.  As Carol Dweck’s research at Stanford reminds us, words of affirmation should be focused on a child’s hard work, effort, or perseverance, rather than on innate aspects of their personality or their “smarts.”  Notice if your child seems to blossom and open up when you praise or compliment their hard work or effort on a task.

2.     Acts of service. Doing something to help your child may be a way that they experience your love.  Perhaps your child opens up and connects with you when you are helping them with homework, or helping them clean their room, or giving them a ride to a desired activity.

3.     Receiving gifts. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful!  Notice if your child responds to a gift by opening up and connecting with you in some way.

4.     Quality time. This is a BIG one as a parent!  We are all busy and sometimes that gift of a few moments of our undivided attention can be the best way to demonstrate our love for them.  Consider ways to build quality time into your daily life with your child at home.  It could be turning off devices for a certain period of time, eating dinner or dessert together, or reading a book each night before bed.  For older kids, you can do parent-child “dates” where you take your child out for some 1:1 time with you at a place they choose.

5.     Physical touch.  Some kids are snuggle-bugs; they crave physical affection and touch.  This is 100% the love language of my youngest child, so every day I make sure to spend at least 5 minutes of quality time snuggling with him before he goes to sleep, and I give him a big good morning hug every morning when he wakes up.  If you child craves physical touch, aim to give them more hugs and deep pressure (try doing a steamroller!).

Every parent can figure out their child’s love language and use that knowledge to better communicate their love for their child.

So what do you think is your child’s favorite way to experience your love for them? Does it match what you’ve been doing lately?

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Does life feel busy?  Do you need more time? 

As a mom of 3, a wife, a business owner, a professor, AND a PhD student, I love efficiency!  Here’s a list of things I’ve discovered really work to free up time so I can spend more time with my kids:

1. Share shopping with friends.  Anytime I go to the grocery store, I text a neighbor or two to see if they need anything. (“Headed to Costco. Need anything?”)  They’ve started to do this in turn for me…saving me multiple runs to Berkeley Bowl, Safeway, etc. for little things during the week.

2. Cook in large quantities.  Get a food processor to make chopping tons of veggies easy work.  Takes the same amount of time, but you’ll have leftovers for future meals.

3. Make a loose meal plan for the week.  We do Mexican Monday (usually homemade veggie burritos), Italian Tuesday (pasta and salad), Wacky Wednesday (something weird for dinner- like snacks, breakfast, etc), and Soup Sunday (HUGE vat of soup).  Thursday/Friday/Saturdays we eat leftovers and usually pizza at least one of those nights (keepin’ it real here).  Having a loose schedule eliminates thinking and makes it easy to grab items quickly if I’m randomly at the store and know we need something for dinner.

4. Exercise WITH your kids.  Take the kids on a hike or to the park, and rather than sitting and watching them- move your own body too.  Walk, try the monkey bars, climb, hang upside down, do some push-ups or sit-ups.  Or if you’re like me and use exercise as your “me” time, go early in the morning before they even get up…I love doing this and feel it starts my day off right.

5. Batch process your email.  Try to only check email 2-3 times per day and set a time limit for doing so.  I’ll admit- I’m the worst at this one, but I KNOW it would free up valuable time if I diligently followed this rule.

6. Track your social media usage.  Rescue Time is an app you can add to your computer that will track how much time you spend on social media.  Always a good wake-up call when you see the actual number of minutes. (I have no affiliation with Rescue Time- just like it and use it.)

7. Use Trello to help organize your whole life.  Trello is my new best friend in managing my life: my to-do lists, my projects, my teaching, and my business. It works like a digital bulletin board and allows collaboration and communication with other people as well. (Again, no affiliation…just a service I love.)

8. Clean the bathroom while you brush your teeth or take a shower.  Don’t laugh…it works!  If you’re like me and don’t have a housekeeper, this is a real time saver.  While you brush your teeth, wipe down the sink with some vinegar and water.  While you take a shower and wait for the conditioner on your hair to soak in, take a minute to scrub the tub with some baking soda.

9. Use checklists to automate daily processes and minimize thinking.  Any time we have to THINK about things we take more time to do it.  Use bedtime checklists, morning checklists, after-school checklists…create whatever checklists you need to automate processes to free up more time to do things you love.  This is a good routine to teach kids too: First the must-do’s, then the get-to’s.  Easy Daysies is a cute scheduler created by a teacher/mom (again, no affiliation), but you can easily make your own too.  A magnetic wipe off board on the fridge works in a pinch!

10. This last one may be relevant only for the preschool/early elementary parents, but I advocate we should let young kids sleep in their clothes for the next day. (They usually wear soft cotton clothes that are like pajamas anyway, right?!)  They change at night into clean clothes, sleep in them, and wake up dressed.  This eliminates extra laundry and eliminates the need to get dressed in the morning…one less opportunity for a morning meltdown. Yay!

Hope you got a tip or two you can use to make your own daily life easier…and have more time for the things that TRULY matter in life. Have some fun with your kids today with the time you freed up in your schedule.  Take a walk, do some birdwatching, read some good books, or just snuggle. :)

Tell us busy parents, how do YOU find time to be with your kids in creative ways??? Comment below! Share your tips and tricks with our OKOT community!

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3 Ways to Make Hikes Even More Therapeutic for Your Child - YouTube
In this short video, Laura Figueroa shares 3 simple ways you can make a hike in nature even more therapeutic for your child...in addition to the natural benefits of fresh air, vitamin D, and healthy movement! :)
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