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  • Stacy Boyd

Every child needs outdoor play, especially if they attend school.

According to this recent piece from REI, outdoor preschools are growing in popularity, and they may be changing the way parents see early education and the importance of connecting with nature.

One of the key organizations highlighted in the piece, and driving this outdoor movement, is Free Forest School. Their free parent-child classes are an amazing way to experience nature at a child's pace, and are geared toward the five and under set. We highly recommend their sessions here in Sunset Park, which you can find through their NYC Facebook group.

But it’s not only the youngest children who need access to outdoor free play. A Danish study published just last month looked at the mental health benefits of time spent in residential green space for one million Danish children. The results? “Wilderness, public parks, urban green spaces, it doesn’t seem to matter.” Kids who spend time in nature reduce their incidence of adult mental illness by 55%.

So how can you maximize unstructured outdoor time when you and your child are both inside all day, at work and at school? If you're a working parent who can't attend weekday parent-child classes, try these ideas instead:

[if !supportLists]1) [endif]Go outside together on the weekend with nothing on the agenda. Take a short walk, visit your local green space or just play on the stoop.

[if !supportLists]2) [endif]Be brave when it comes to “bad” weather. Dress for the rain and enjoy the puddles. Layer up and feel how invigorating it is to crunch the snow and ice. You’ll be surprised how resilient both you and your child become.

[if !supportLists]3) [endif]Don’t overschedule yourself or your child. It’s proven that taking breaks to daydream, be bored and breathe deeply improves productivity and creativity, for grown-ups and for kids.

[if !supportLists]4) [endif]Look for after school activities that offer outside time and free play. In Brooklyn, consider Brooklyn Wild in Sunset Park or Brooklyn Nature Days if you’re near Prospect Park. In lower Manhattan, PlayGround:NYC offers after school clubs as well.

In today’s society, the lure of screens and tight schedules frequently keeps us inside. But take a little time outside to relax and connect and you might find you want more!

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