I am basically the choir when it comes to the subject matter of this book. I am all about giving my kids as much outdoor time in nature as possible. I don’t need convincing that it is beneficial to children’s physical and emotional development. However, for those times when I start to think that maybe they should be completing more worksheets, Balanced and Barefoot is a persuasive, evidence-based reminder of the reasons why outdoor time is so important.
Title: Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
Author: Angela J. Hanscom
Publication Year: 2016
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I learned in this book that one in six children now have a developmental disability. This is a huge increase compared to previous decades. Far more children are suffering from problems related to “attention, balance, strength, coordination, or sensory processing.” There has also been a significant rise in cases of ADHD. Many kids are weaker than in previous generations and have decreased stamina. Colds are more common. Many kids have trouble reading due to problems with visual tracking. Posture is poor. Kids have trouble regulating their emotions and suffer from more anxiety.
The author makes the case that increased time spent in nature can improve many of these problem areas. Kids that spend time outdoors and in nature frequently have better find motor control and gross motor skills. They are physically stronger and have better stamina. Time spent doing unstructured activities improves kids focus and ability to self regulate. Time in nature improves people mood and leads to happier kids.
Once the author convinces parents of the importance of time in nature, she lists realistic and helpful strategies to make this time actually happen. She advocates giving kids “loose parts” for outdoor play like old crates and hoses. Over time, kids imaginations will develop to the point that they will be able to have fun even without props such as these.
She makes the case that parents today are over-concerned with safety both in terms of play equipment as well as child freedom. Parks that are considered more dangerous actually give children valuable practice learning how to conduct themselves appropriately. Allowing kids who are 9 years or older to bike to a neighbors house to play is developmentally appropriate. Also, practices such as these will improve a child’s self-confidence, maturity, and emotional development. Even babies and toddlers benefit from being allowed to play in the mud and dirt.
Personally, I did not learn a ton from reading this book, as I already believed in the importance of time spent outdoors. However, if I were to even run into a parent who questioned the value of unstructured time in nature, I would gladly point him or her to this evidenced-based book.