My daughter loves playing outside. LOVES it. She’s like a little feral cat, or a hippie. If I let her, she would spend 100% of her time outside, like an animal.
I’m told that this is a good thing, mostly by people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If you listen to older people talk, they basically spent the entirety of their childhoods outdoors, and it turned them into wonderful super people, and it’s just a shame that kids spend so much time indoors these days, and GET OFF MY LAWN!
In addition, there are lots of psychologists and scientists who say that fresh air and sunshine are important for healthy physical and psychological development, and you need to make sure your kids spend time outside.
Ok. Fine. Since the whole world seems to think that being outside is the best thing ever, I do it. Despite the lupus, and the fact that I need a tub of hypoallergenic sunscreen and a parasol, I do it. I dutifully take my child outside to play, every single day.
But here’s the thing – I’m not entirely convinced that this is really enriching her life in any serious way. Here are the things we do when we “play outside”.
1) Trying to Fly
Nadia has a set of fairy wings that she loves to wear. She insists that I put them on her, and then we go outside, because apparently you have to be outside to “fly”. “I FLY!” She screams. “I FLY!” And so we go out, even though I know exactly how this is gonna go.
The thing is, she can’t fly. She just can’t. And if I pick her up and swing her around or attempt to assist her into the air, she gets really, really angry, because that’s cheating. She doesn’t want Mommy’s assistance. She’s not an idiot. She knows that’s not really flying. And yet, her own attempts to fly are pathetic and sad, and ultimately end in tears.
Is this good for her? I guess we’ll let her future therapist decide.
2) Bothering Ants
I don’t pretend to understand Nadia’s fascination with ants. It doesn’t extend to any other insects. But any time she sees an ant, she immediately drops to her stomach and watches the ants, fascinated, unblinking, for an unsettlingly long time. If there is a stick or a leaf nearby, she will use it to poke at them, routing them in different directions, or letting them climb on her little ramps.
I suppose this is sort of educational, in a way. You could say that she’s learning about the natural world. But I would say overall, the education she is receiving from the ants is rather limited. She’s mostly just bothering them.
On the bright side, she never intentionally hurts them, so she’s probably not doing it for psycopathic reasons. It’s not a “God-complex” thing.
3) Collecting Sticks
Nadia loves sticks. But it’s the love of a rock star for an unattractive groupie. Brief, uncommitted, and greedy. She wants the stick badly, until she finds a new, better stick, and then she hands off the old stick to me, the “band manager” of sticks. Occasionally she will use the sticks to bother ants, or to brush Mommy’s hair (i.e. beat Mommy in the head with a stick while saying “Nice. Pretty. Nice.” in soothing tones)
This is not enriching. She is learning nothing from it. It is a waste of everyone’s time.
She loves to trespass on others’ property. She has absolutely no concept of private ownership, and she doesn’t give a fuck about your walls and fences and dogs. The thing is, there’s a really cool stick in your yard, and she wants it, and that’s all that matters. She will have that fucking stick if it’s the last thing she does. Or flower. Or ball.
I would just like to say, however, that if you put a koi pond in your front yard, you’re kind of asking for it. I can’t imagine any child walking past it would be able to resist peering into it, at least for a minute. You are going to have toddlers on your property if you put a koi pond there.
Anyway, I suppose that trespassing may actually be useful for Nadia if someday she becomes a burglar. Or a spy. But otherwise, no, not so much.
Side note: If you have a child, and she hangs out in someone else’s yard, collecting flowers and leaves, no one looks out the window and says “Hey what’s that weird two year old doing in our yard?” Nope. NO one blames the two year old. Instead, they’ll say, “What’s that woman doing standing on the sidewalk, staring at our trees? She’s got a kid with her. Or, is she following that kid? Should we call the police?” You’re the weirdo. They never blame the baby.
5) Throwing Balls into the Street, Because Whatever, Mommy Will Get Them
Nadia enjoys playing with balls. But not like, actual games. She just throws and kicks the ball to various places, and demands that I stand in one place and occasionally throw the ball back to her when it gets lodged under the car. No big deal. I can do that.
Except she intentionally throws and kicks the damn ball into the street, knowing full well that she’s not allowed in the street, and that I will be forced to go retreive it. It’s the most tiresome game in the world. I tell her repeatedly not to deliberately throw it in the street. I am cheerfully ignored. Eventually my patience runs out, and I take the ball away, and say we have to go inside because she’s misbehaving. At which point she will demand to wear her wings and “go fly”.
You might say she’s learning hand eye coordination, and getting good exercise. You’re right. But mostly I think she’s just messing with me, learning how much disobedience Mommy can tolerate before she snaps.
Is playing outside the wholesome, enriching activity everyone seems to think it is? I don’t know. I feel like she could learn all this stuff inside just as easily. But it makes her happy to be outdoors, and I suppose in the end, that’s what matters.