Imagine my surprise when I rounded the curve of my parents’ long gravel driveway and saw my son and my fifty-two-year-old mom sitting in a treehouse. After hoisting buckets of dirt and water, they’d fashioned mud pies, decorated them with leaves, and left them to dry in the sun.
When I climbed the ladder to peek at the “baked goods,” I met my mom’s smiling brown eyes. “I can’t believe you haven’t taught this child to make mud pies! He’s missed out on a major part of childhood fun.”
Gulp. Busted by my mom. I was defenseless.
A major part of childhood fun? Shame on me! I’d helped him find roly-polies and catch lightning bugs, but no, we hadn’t made mud pies.
The thought sparked childhood memories of my own mud creations decorated with stick candles and sunbaking on a short brick wall. I chuckled as I remembered “cooking” mimosa pod “soup” in an old pot with water from the outside faucet.
Most kids gravitate toward dirt and puddles and mud. Why? It’s just plain fun. And parents spend a lot of time warning, “Don’t get your shoes wet!” “Those are your only school shoes,” or “It’s time to go.”
In our defense, life is busy, and mud is messy. However, we can’t let children miss out on childhood fun like jumping in puddles and digging for worms. Outdoor play opens a new world that can’t be discovered inside the walls of our home.
The psalmist wrote, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). God created children with impressionable, inquisitive minds and rapidly growing bodies. Let’s consider some of the ways outside play fosters physical, intellectual, and spiritual development.
Three Benefits of Outdoor Play
› 1 • Playing outdoors enhances natural curiosity, sharpens observation skills, builds vocabulary, and otherwise engages those little minds God created. Last weekend, our youngest granddaughter examined petals on a camellia blossom and asked, “Gigi, what’s on this flower?”
› 2 • Running, jumping, and climbing strengthens young muscles. These activities can also reduce the frustration of sitting too long and prevent some disobedience. A pastor once instructed parents, “Pave the way for your child’s success. Make it feasible for them to obey.” In other words, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath…” (Ephesians 6:4 ).
› 3 • Nature’s playground provides an opportunity to demonstrate love by spending time together and opens the door for teaching children about God so that we as parents can “…Bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Spring is just around the corner and as sure as tadpoles wiggle, little ones will bolt for the outdoors like a racehorse at the gate. Let’s take advantage of their natural curiosity and the need for fresh air by engaging in outdoor springtime fun.
A Bucketful of Fun Ideas
- Collect rocks and wash them with a garden hose. Arrange by size and sort by color. Outline a flower bed with large rocks.
- Make mud pies (My mom said so).
- Explore a local arboretum or park.
- Create a simple birdfeeder for neighborhood songbirds.
- Make tree bark crayon rubbings.
- Design an obstacle course.
- Spread a quilt under a tree for story time.
- Add food coloring to a bucket of water and “paint” the driveway. Time the evaporation process.
Sanity and Safety Tips for Messy Play
- Purchase inexpensive rainboots and clothing for worry-free play.
- Keep a plastic bin near the door for dirty shoes and wet socks. Add an extra washable mat indoors. (Let’s hear it for less mopping time, Mom!)
- Keep a supply of old, dark-colored towels handy for clean-up.
- Mushrooms and spiders and snakes, oh my! Teach children to identify dangerous plants and animals. Of course, for littles, close supervision is necessary.
- For children old enough to play at a distance, provide walkie-talkies, a timer, and a whistle.
Tools of the Trade
- A camera to capture everyday moments and giggly videos for later.
- Inexpensive magnifying glasses to add to the wonder.
- Children’s field guides for identifying birds, insects, wildflowers, and trees.
- Vented container for insects and container for rocks.
- Inexpensive vases for blooming weeds and wildflower bouquets.
- Paper and crayons to relive the day in pictures—Let each child draw a picture, label the drawings, and create a book.
You don’t have to make mud pies in a treehouse to enjoy outdoor springtime fun, but hey, a little outside baking wouldn’t hurt, would it?
What activities would the children you know add to the list?