Spending more time outdoors, preferably in natural settings, may be the simplest, healthiest, and most economical remedy for the terrible increase in numbers of children diagnosed with social, emotional, and learning problems over the past two decades. It may also be the answer to many problems suffered by adults in our increasingly rushed, technology-focused lives. And on a global scale, there’s evidence that more people spending more time in natural spaces would contribute to solving the environmental challenges that are increasingly disrupting our lives.
Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Intelligence, and Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability
What’s it like to be on the receiving end of well-meaning sympathy for your learning disabilities, accompanied by low academic and career expectations? How does it feel to want to engage in the challenging learning activities that your friends in the gifted class are experiencing, and to be told you never will? Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute—describes his personal journey through special education, and what it taught him about the nature of intelligence, talent, and creativity.
I’ve been thinking and writing about these issues for a few decades, but nonetheless, my copy of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined is full of underlines and dog-eared pages where I’ve marked research findings, quotes, and ideas I hadn’t yet encountered or thought about in the way Kaufman describes them. This book gave me fresh perspectives on many important ideas in my field and deeper understanding of many of the foundational concepts, as well as introducing me to research findings I hadn’t seen.
Parents can help their kids find their own particular kind of genius by encouraging their sense of wonder in the ordinary. You may or may not want your child to be a genius—an exceedingly rare and extraordinarily high achiever in a particular field—but you can help him develop his intelligence, creativity, and talents, by ensuring he has enough time for unstructured play and daydreaming.
In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”
If you want your child to grow up to be confident, co-operative, intelligent, creative, and successful, protect his playtime from all the encroachments of life in a fast-paced, ambitious, technologically wired world.
Playtime is one of the most cost-effective investments a parent can make in a child’s education. It requires nothing more than time, space, and imagination. It does require your faith in her inner strength, her capacity to make her own fun; it requires stepping back and letting your child discover who she is, what she enjoys doing, and the ability to pursue her own interests.
While parental support for learning is enormously important to kids’ success, that can be tragically overdone. Instead of being filled with spontaneous improvisation and discovery, children’s time is increasingly being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices. By robbing kids of ample time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, we are taking away essential opportunities for them to develop the skills required for real achievement and fulfillment over time.
Creativity is more accessible (and more effortful) than most people realize. Most parents want their kids to experience the joy and fulfillment that come from productive creativity–the kind of creativity that makes a difference.
Here are seven ideas for parents who want to support their children’s productive creativity:
1. Curiosity. All kids are born curious. They want to understand more about the world around them. Support your child’s curiosity, and you’re taking the first and probably most important step toward him discovering the joys of productive creativity.
2. Passion. Support your child in finding out what she wants to learn more about. Whether it’s musical, artistic, athletic, intellectual, domestic, scientific or something else, follow her curiosities, and help her think about possibilities for further exploration. A passionate desire to go farther is at the heart of productive creativity.
3. Opportunities for learning. Productive creativity is built on knowledge and understanding. Your child needs something with which to be creative. Help him find opportunities to learn and to experience challenge in his areas of keen interest. Productive creativity happens in all domains–a scientist or a chef can be as productively creative as a musician–so help him feel free to follow his interests wherever they take him.
The most frustrated kids I know fit the giftedness/LD profile. They have exceptionally advanced abilities in some areas (aka, ‘giftedness’) and problems in other areas (aka, ‘learning disabled,’ or ‘LD’).
It can take a long time before parents and teachers figure out the giftedness/LD situation, if they ever do. By then, too often, the child hates school, and is deeply unhappy. Her self-esteem is non-existent, she’s having trouble making friends, she feels like nothing’s good in her life. She’s on track for leaving school as quickly as she can, and she may or may not find career fulfilment.
Here’s another article on the importance of outdoor play, this one by Laura Markham. She starts off by outlining the benefits to kids’ health, intelligence, and happiness: kids are calmer, more optimistic, healthier, more creative, and more successful at school when they spend lots of time outdoors.