by Chris Jones

I grew up in the 80s and 90s with the streetlight rule. After school and on the weekends, I would spend hours on end playing outdoors with my friends. We’d ride bikes for miles, toss around the football or baseball, and traverse through the woods pretending to be explorers. As the sky filled with colorful hues of red, orange, and yellow, we’d start keeping an eye on the light in front of my house. Once it began to flicker and then sustain its glow, it was time to end the day. We reluctantly went home before, but sometimes not before hearing the sounds of our parents calling our names from our respective decks. That was life without the personal connectivity of cell phones. It was a different world, one filled with fresh air, trees, and free play.

I give my kids the same rule. Since our neighborhood is awash with street lights in many neighbor’s yards, they too know when the sun starts to break toward the horizon and the lamps shine, they should head home no matter how much fun they’re having.

We hear a lot about kids being over-scheduled and not getting enough outdoor free play and I can almost agree based solely on visual evidence. You may be able to as well. How many times have you driven to work in the morning and saw what looked like hundreds of kids huddled at bus stops, but during the evenings, weekends and even summer months, you see only a handful of children meandering around. For the first year in my old neighborhood, I was convinced that we lived in a retirement community as there was our kids and two others who regularly played.

I’m not knocking parents who put their children in activities. My boys play sports and my daughter does ballet. I think structured play does a lot for building aspects of character and discipline, but I am advocating more telling-the-kids-to-go-outdoors play. The natural world alleviates stress, improves mood, and unstructured play with other children help kids with interpersonal relationship skills and conflict resolution.

A few months ago, my son and one of his playmates got into a fight. The child’s frantic mother messaged me wanting to help the kids resolve the issue. I agreed that it should be resolved, but I was hesitant to get involved and decided against it. Since they both rode bikes and played with the same group of friends, I knew that time apart and eventually pushing pedals together with a little wind in their faces would solve the issue—and it did. A month or so later, they were riding again, playing on the playground, and having fun.

In this issue, you’ll read about Generation Z kids and their penchant for personal interaction and connection, as well as learn about why getting back to nature is great for kids. I hope both inspire you to connect with your kids deeper, allow them more opportunities to connect with peers unstructured, and enjoy it all in the open space of the natural world. As William Shakespeare wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”