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Two weeks with your grade-school children! How lovely! At least for a day or two. What then? Here are my favorite tips for keeping kids happy and out of your hair over winter break.

Have a daily schedule and write it down where everyone can see. Don’t worry if your children can’t read yet. Just knowing there’s a list of things that will happen each day gives the time some shape and some purpose. Kids feel less lost and more comfortable when they know there’s a plan

And having a plan makes it easier for you to regulate TV use, snack times, rest time, time for reading or homework and so on. So start your daily schedule with breakfast and work right on through the day until bedtime. Block off time for outdoor play – this could be a trip to the park, playing in the yard, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Include time for reading or reading aloud. Include time for chores or errands. Whatever will happen during the day gets a spot on the schedule.

Make sure to also include some quiet time that is unscheduled. Boredom is good for kids – it opens their minds to new ideas and inspires creativity. So don’t think that keeping a schedule means you have to be the on-call entertainer. When children run out of things to do during time when “there’s nothing to do” dig out some old, forgotten toys, set them to making stuff, or check out my own list of 50 Things To Do Over Winter Break.

I like to use a large chalkboard for the schedule. I picked up one at Goodwill for a dollar or two – but you can use a big sheet of paper as well. The important thing is that the schedule is written fresh every day. You don’t want every day to be the same, and most days will be different from each other. In addition, kids want to be able to cross things off or erase them as they are accomplished. If you have more than one child in the household, they may need to take turns performing this exciting task!

Some other general thoughts that will preserve your sanity and help kids have a pleasant time:
• Children are responsible for keeping themselves busy, not a parent (you are not their social director).
• Being bored is not a waste of time, it’s the gateway to thinking new thoughts.
• Too much screen time is too much screen time. Make certain there’s a good balance of electronic and old-fashioned fun.
• Getting outside and running around is essential for mental health – yours! Even if it’s cold and wet, bundle up and get outdoors.
• You get what you notice so notice good stuff
• Ignore as much bad behavior as you can
• Aim for activities that make a child feel responsible, capable, and grown up

And have fun. If you are in a good mood, everyone else will be too.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

We all know that getting children outside is good for their bodies. Children who play outdoors every day get more exercise, are more coordinated, and are more physically fit than children who don’t.

Now a new study supports the idea that being outside is good for children’s psychological health too. Researchers at Michigan State University found that children who spend five to 10 hours outdoors each week – about the familiar target of 60 minutes per day – feel more peaceful, happier, and even more spiritually connected to nature than other children do.

In the study, 10 children ages 7 and 8 and their parents participated in interviews, observations, and review of children’s drawings and writing. Seven of the families indicated a Christian religious affiliation. Researchers found a strong relationship between time spent outdoors and feelings of connection with nature, feelings of awe at the power and beauty of nature, and feelings of appreciation for natural order.

In other words, getting children outdoors supports their spirituality and belief in the work of a higher power. To families for whom children’s spiritual growth is important, this study provides a clear direction: let children play outside.

According to researcher Gretal Van Wieren, . “We were surprised by the results. Before we did the study, we asked, ‘Is it just a myth that children have this deep connection with nature?’ But we found it to be true in pretty profound ways.”

However, parents for whom spirituality is not so important should take notice as well. As Van Wieren said, “Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways. So it’s a scary question: How will this affect our children and how are we going to respond?” How can we preserve the earth if children don’t appreciate it?

Support your children’s appreciation of nature and sense of wonder by doing these few things:

  1. Make certain your kids spend an hour outdoors every single day. Remember that just walking or bicycling to school is helpful. Recess and sports count too.
  2. Make certain children’s outdoor time isn’t always organized but that at least some time each week is unstructured time. Time in the backyard is part of this, as well as casual trips to the park or playground. Outdoor play without an agenda is what let’s children notice their surroundings.
  3. Don’t let the weather stop you. Every day means every day, not every day it’s sunny and not too cold or too hot. Weather always looks worse from inside the house. Get out and get into it.
  4. Plan family outings into the wild instead of into the mall. Take a hike, go rowing in the park, find a mountain to climb or a stream to cross. Your town or county park district has lots of great nearby locations. Nature is all around your family.
  5. Turn off your phone and keep it in your pocket. You need an hour away from whomever is trying to reach you.

Notice that getting outdoors doesn’t require any equipment, no knowledge whatsoever, and no planning besides remembering the sunscreen and a bottle of water. If it seems like a big deal, that’s just because we’re so unused to being outside. Stay local, keep your eyes and ears open, and do this every day.

Mother Nature and your children’s inner health will thank you.



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.

A preschool teacher in New Zealand asks a question that’s worth stopping to think about. Can your child do the sorts of things you could do when you were her age? He thinks the answer is “no.” He’s noticed that children these days are able to do less.

So think back to your own childhood. When you were six or seven, what did you like to do? Did you

Now answer this: how many of these activities do your children do easily and often? As easily and often as you did at their age?

Kids these days don’t have as much outdoor time that’s unscheduled. They spend less time just playing with other children, and spend more time in organized sports or in settings carefully supervised by adults. Because children’s playtime these days involves grownups, it happens on grownups’ timetables. It’s limited. It’s scheduled. It’s not planned by the children themselves.

This means that children’s play is less casual. Nothing is “pick-up” anymore. The rules are not negotiated anymore but are refereed by adults. Things seem more competitive. Even the places where play happens is less natural and more “civilized.”

If children seem less interested in outdoor play this could be the reason why.  And if children seem less physically fit, softer, and chubbier than they used to be, these could be contributing factors.

So, what can you do?

  1. Stock play equipment kids can use. Lots of equipment like scooters and bikes can be got second hand or shared with nearby families. Certainly balls of several sizes and Frisbees should be part of every family’s front closet.
  2. Let kids play. Don’t worry about the rules or technique. This is about having fun and being active, not making the team. If you like and are invited, do join in with the play, but play along; don’t make everyone do as you say.
  3. Keep out. Try not to hover or supervise compulsively. Certainly keep an eye out and be ready to redirect kids if things seem headed for danger. But children will find their own level of challenge if you let them. Try to let them.
  4. Be sensible. At the same time that you’re keeping out, don’t allow ropes on trees or climbing structures, bicycles on busy streets, and so on. Teach safety and remember that kids – especially children without a lot of experience with outdoor play – can’t see the dangers you can. Don’t hover but do guide.

You might find your kids don’t even know how to have fun outdoors anymore. You might have to show them. But if the fun has gone out of childhood in your neighborhood, now is the time to put it back.

Let your children have as much fun, be just as active, and be as agile now as you were back then.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Exercise is a bad word.

At least for many children, exercise sounds like hard work. It sound boring. It sounds like something a person has to do, not something she wants to do.

If you’re having trouble selling your children on being more active, it might be because you’re suggesting they go get some exercise. Try calling it something else.

Talk about doing specific things that are fun. Shooting baskets. Playing with the dog. Seeing how many pull-ups you can do. Tossing around a Frisbee. No one ever said getting exercise meant doing calisthenics. There’s a lot of other ways to be active for half an hour or more that make the time fly by.

In addition, avoid tying being active to a goal, like losing weight or even getting stronger. The way to make being active a regular part of your child’s life is to let it be valuable for its own sake. Because it’s fun. Because it feels good.

Many of us have made some resolutions for the new year, resolutions that might have included getting our kids more active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that every child should engage in active play, preferably outdoors, for an hour every day. We know this is good for our families.

In addition, during the cold, dark winter months, we feel more like hibernating than being active. Cuddling in a blanket with a good book or the television seems more attractive than walking around the neighborhood. But everyone eats better, sleeps better, and is more alert and even smarter when they’ve got the blood moving and shaken out the cobwebs.

How to do it without assigning “exercise”?

  1. Make a list. Sit down with your kids and brainstorm as many ways of being active as you can come up with. Limit yourselves to ideas that are actually possible from home – no point is listing “go skiing” if that requires hours of time, a lift ticket, and a drive to the slopes. Be inclusive. Gardening and cleaning the garage together count.
  2. Include indoor ideas as well as outdoor ones. Jogging through the house, up and down the stairs,  to loud music and marking off each circuit as you pass the kitchen can be just as much fun as a jog around the block. Try dancing. Even lifting weights can be fun if it’s done for fun, not for “exercise.”
  3. Aim for being “active” not for being tired. There’s plenty to be gained without needing to feel any pain. All activity is good and leads to more activity later. Just get your kids moving, don’t worry too much about how hard or how fast.
  4. Commit to a span of time each day. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30, with the option always to keep playing or keep going longer if you want. If you can, establish a dependable time every day for activity – maybe before dinner. But getting some activity in each day is more important than keeping to a schedule.
  5. Have fun. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Be active in a way that makes you and your kids happy.

Activity is good for everybody, and your children might find it easier to be active if you’re active along with them. Go for it. Make this a family thing.

Just don’t call it “exercise.”


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

From inside the house, outside often seems uninviting.

It seems too cloudy, too rainy, too sunny, too cold, too hot. Indoors seems so comfortable and easy. Going outdoors takes effort.

But going outside is important from several different angles. Make getting outside a must-do part of your child’s everyday life.

Fresh air and sunshine. Even your grandmother could tell you this: fresh air is good for you. Getting outdoors increases oxygen levels and energizes the brain. Sunshine – even on a cloudy day – delivers vitamin D, which just about everybody needs more of.

Exercise. Running around is what children do and there’s nowhere better to do it than out of doors. This is especially true if your child is more of a couch potato or a delicate flower who seems happy in the house. Something’s missing in your child’s life if she’s inside all the time. Get out and play!

Grace, agility and confidence. I understand: outdoor play is fine for athletic kids but maybe not for yours. I’d like you to reconsider that. Outdoor play contributes to the sort of elegance of motion and coordination every child needs. It adds to a child’s confidence in his physical abilities and adds a hardiness in the face of the elements that will keep him from being perceived as a wimp. Just because your child doesn’t like active play now doesn’t mean she won’t want to join in someday in the future.

New ideas. All that oxygen and fresh things to look at and to do spur creativity and thinking. The sensory experience of being outside – the weather, the birds, even the traffic – provide different things to think about from the indoor scene. A walk around the block recharges your child and you too.

Change of scene and a change of attitude. There is reason to believe that problems with attention and hyperactivity are linked to children’s disconnect from the natural world, according to Richard Luov, author of Last Child in the Woods. Even if your location is in the city, getting onto the sidewalk provides a link to what is universal and timeless in human experience. You’ll feel better for it!

It’s easy to make excuses for staying inside.
• The weather always looks worse from the indoor side of the window. Bundle up and get out anyway and you’ll likely find the weather isn’t so awful as you thought.
• Allergies are a problem but they shouldn’t be a stopper. Don’t let your child become an invalid over pollen. The benefits of an active outdoor life require management of allergies that lets kids be kids.
• Your child’s age isn’t an issue, since even infants benefit from a stroll outdoors.
• And remember that you’re never too busy to take the children outdoors. A few minutes out in the world will refresh you too. Pick a time that works for you – after school or after dinner – and stick to it.

Once you make getting outside a daily habit, you’ll come to expect it, even to look forward to it. Your children may be better behaved and healthier. Your whole family might be smarter.

There will be days you think, oh, I just don’t want to! Those are the days you need to get outside the most!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.