For healthier children, spend more time outdoors!

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Creative free play time at the beach, outside.

My best childhood memories all took place outdoors. Whether it was rowing around Squirrel Cove in Desolation Sound in our dingy, or riding bikes around Lord’s Hill, most of my childhood was spent outside. We wielded machetes and hacked a trail down our hill to a beautiful forested valley where we made forts with logs, sticks and ferns. We fished at the Stillaguamish River and rode our air mattresses down the rapids. Everything we did was outdoors. One of the main reasons for this was my strict mom. She allowed us one hour of TV per day, and she circled two 30-minute shows for us to watch in the TV Guide. They were always on PBS.

In an article in the Washington Post called, “Kids do not spend nearly enough time outside. Here’s how (and why) to change that” by Collin O’Mara he lists a number of benefits your children–and yourself can enjoy–by spending more hours outdoors. Collin O’Mara is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and a father of two.

Here is a sobering statistic: The average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a digital screen, often at the expense of unstructured play in nature. The good news is departing from this trend is easier than you think, and quality outside time can fit into even the busiest of schedules. It is worth the effort; the benefits go beyond a little time spent in the fresh air.

Over the past few decades, children’s relationship with the great outdoors and nature has changed dramatically. Since the 1990s researchers have noticed a shift in how children spend their free time. The days of the free-range childhood, where kids spend hours outside playing in local parks, building forts, fording streams and climbing trees, have been mostly replaced by video games, television watching and organized activities such as sports and clubs.

Here are a few of the benefits:

Better school performance. Time spent in nature and increased fitness improve cognitive function.

More creativity. Outdoor play uses and nurtures the imagination.

Much higher levels of fitness. Kids are more active when they are outdoors.

More friends. Children who organize their own games and participate in unstructured group activities are less solitary and learn to interact with their peers.

Less depression and hyperactivity. Time in nature is soothing, improves mood and reduces stress. It can also increase kids’ attention span, because things move at a slower pace than they do on the screen.

Stronger bones. Exposure to natural light helps prevent vitamin D deficiency, making outdoorsy children less vulnerable to bone problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health issues.

Improved eyesight. Time spent outdoors can help combat increasing diagnoses of nearsightedness.

Better sleep. Exposure to natural light, and lots of physical activity, help reset a child’s natural sleep rhythms.

A longer life span and healthier adult life. Active kids are more likely to grow into active adults.

And the best part, all of these benefits — especially those related to health and well-being — also apply to the adults spending more time with their children outdoors.

I believe my kids love being outdoors. From the time my son was two years old until the kids went off to college, we rented a house in Laguna Beach. This was because close friends took on a three-month rental and asked us to take half of the summer. Because we live where most summer days are over 110 degrees and as hot as 126, we jumped at the chance. I took the kids to the beach every day, and while I sat reading, they played in the sand and waves. They had to use their imaginations and I loved watching their elaborate playtime. The rest of the year, when we were home, we spent long hours in the park where they played with friends. We moms would set out blankets and sit and chat while our kids climbed on a stagecoach or the turtle-shaped fountains.

As the kids got older, we literally moved our lives on deck and spent hours with the swim team. But, although that time was structured, it was still outside.

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What are your favorite childhood memories? Are they mostly outside, too?

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RIP My Dear Friend

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Rebecca with my baby girl.

I have a sadness in my heart ever since I looked at Facebook this morning and saw that my friend since childhood, Rebecca, passed away Saturday.

She had a huge personality, was fearless, beautiful and brilliant. I received private messages from her on Facebook constantly, and I noticed I didn’t reply to the last one which I received Saturday afternoon—the day she died.

I wonder if she knew she was leaving us? I had no idea that she was ill, but I’ve since learned that she had diabetes and died from DKA (Diabetic ketoacidosis).

The first time I met Rebecca was at my own house. Her older brother Paul had been hanging out with our family for a few weeks that summer before seventh grade. One day, Rebecca decided to come over to our house with him because she wanted to meet me. We went to different elementary schools but for junior high the town’s elementary school students would all attend the same school. I was shy and wouldn’t leave my bedroom to meet her. Finally, my mom coaxed me out to meet Rebecca Coombs and our friendship of a lifetime began.

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The last photo she sent me of herself. “When my baby grand wants a kiss, I oblige. Sir-Mix-Alot this as good as I can get! lol.”

She was the opposite of me in so many ways. She was bold, outgoing and not afraid of anyone or anything. Her long straight black hair hung past her waist and she had a huge smile. Some of my fondest memories were her introducing me to Taco Bell—which I still love today. I got a burrito supreme today in her honor.  Also, because of Rebecca, our entire high school won the local radio station KJR’s competition for a free concert—which was the first rock concert I ever attended, “WAR.” I went with her to see Natalie Cole at the Paramount in downtown Seattle, too. She introduced me to so much music and laughter. I remember always laughing with Rebecca and her sister Mary. Mary became as close of a friend to me as Rebecca.

Rebecca was one of a few students from our high school that went to the University of Washington with me. I remember spending the first night in the dorm, with Rebecca in a sleeping bag on my floor.rebecca 1

My sophomore year Thanksgiving weekend, I was home and I went with Rebecca and Mary to a concert at a local Grange. I was going to ask a family friend who was there to a Tolo (a dance where the girls ask the boys for the date). We were crossing the street on the Bothell Highway when I panicked at the oncoming lights of cars. I froze in the middle of the street. I grabbed onto Rebecca’s parka hood and she wasn’t able to escape the oncoming pick-up truck either. I shattered my pelvis and Rebecca lost a kidney. We became connected by that one experience forever.

Later on, she married the family friend who I was going to ask to the dance. The marriage didn’t last that long and she did find someone she said was the love of her life, who sadly died a few years ago. Also, her brother Paul died years ago as well as Mary’s husband. Her life had so much tragedy, yet she stayed positive and filled with joy. Near the end, she moved to Hawaii to be close to her son Jake, who she was so proud of. She posted pictures of her new life and her grandchildren whom she called “the grands.”

I will admit she was much better at reaching out and staying connected. Throughout our lives, she’d call me and during the last few months send me private messages on an almost daily basis. One funny story I remember about Rebecca was she called me up and asked who Bill Gates was. She had attended the Microsoft Christmas Party with a friend who worked there and met Bill Gates. She had no clue who he was. It was well known in Seattle that Bill was looking for a wife. He had asked her to Sunday Brunch and she said no. She told me that he was kind of a geek and she was felt awkward and made up an excuse why she couldn’t go.

I miss my dear friend and how full of life she was. God bless you and RIP, Rebecca.

 

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Meet the 90-year-old Helicopter Parents

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I’m still working on not being a helicopter mom.

In a Boston Globe article called “Meet the Helicopter Parents: These helicopter parents are 90. Their kids? 65,” by Beth Teitell gives a number of hilarious examples of middle-aged grown-ups being helicoptered by their 90-year-old parents:

 

“My mom asked for the phone number of our school board to tell them they keep me out too late at meetings,” @bonitadee tweeted. “I am 57 and a school principal.”

The writer Roxane Gay captured the new reality. “My mom just texted me to curse less on twitter,” she tweeted on April 8. “I said stop stalking me. She said ‘I will not.’ I am 43.”

I too get unsolicited advice from my dad. I probably enjoy it as much as my kids like unsolicited advice from me. It’s not very often, though. And another thing I learned in this article is this: when the advice ends–you’ll be very sad. 

Another point, we are just as much at fault for allowing our parents to helicopter. Most adults don’t stand up to their parents or say anything at all. For example, my daughter has no problem telling me when to stop over-parenting or helicoptering. My son is more polite about it, but he tells me not to worry. “That he’s got it handled.” Me, I say nothing, or try to explain my point of view. Mostly, I view both my mom and dad as leaning to the “free-range” spectrum of parenting, rather than helicoptering.

Here’s more from the article:

Welcome to 2018, when people are living so long that baby boomers, the original helicopter parents, have helicopters of their own.

A growing number of middle-aged folks — accustomed to directing their teenagers and young adults’ lives — are also on the receiving side of the equation. In today’s world, you’re never too old to be somebody’s baby.

In 2012, 53.7 percent of people aged 55-59 had at least one parent living, compared with 43.6 percent in that same age group in 1992, according to Ashton Verdery, an assistant professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University.

Relationships between adult children who are 65+ and parents who are 90 and up are new enough that the National Institute on Aging is funding a study.

Kathrin Boerner, the principal investigator of the “Aging Together Study,” and an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said she was surprised at the amount of advice and support that flows “downstream,” from very old parents to senior adult children.

1915364_1296704101497_7996135_nAre you an adult with helicopter parents? What do you say when they give you unsolicited advice?

The Trials of Trying to Not Over-Mother

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The actual real-live graduation shot.

 

My daughter’s graduation ceremony began with a reception outside of the David Eccles School of Business with refreshments, balloons, and families posing for photos together. Over the loudspeaker, instructions were blared out: “All graduates need to have a yellow card.”

I looked around and saw many graduates wearing caps and gowns and clutching yellow cards. The trick was where do you get one? I immediately went on the hunt and approached someone who looked like a staff member.

“Where do you get the yellow cards?” I asked.

“Mom!” my daughter ordered. “Stop it!”

What I wondered? I was only trying to be helpful. There is the problem. My kids don’t need me to help them anymore. My daughter clearly doesn’t want it at all.

Things I thought were helpful to her are now annoying. For example, she’s looking for a spin class at home. I immediately googled and started giving her suggestions.

“Mom. I can find my own class. I know which gyms I like and don’t like.”

After years of taking these responsibilities as my own, it’s rather difficult to let it all go. It’s a tough habit to break. But in the end, you know what? She did find and fill out her own yellow card and walked in the graduation ceremony just fine, without my help.

I think the secret will be to wait until I’m asked for help. Not just jump in and do things. My son calls frequently and says, “I need your advice on something.” Those words are like magic to me. 

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My daughter and Waffles the pug.

What do you think about trying to break the over-mothering habit?

 

What is white space and why do we need it?

 

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White space to be superheroes.

In a parenting article in the Herald-Tribune from Sarasota, FL called “White space is important for kids to develop interests,” Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, parenting experts, explain what white space is and why kids need it.

In my opinion, we all need white space in our lives. It’s a time to reflect and think, without the TV on in the background, or checking out your social media on our phones.

From the article:

In art, the white space is sometimes called negative space. This offers an interesting play on words because many parents view the white space — the unscheduled, empty time in their child’s day — as something negative, something to be avoided.

But just as negative space is critical to art and rests are vital to music, white space is critical to a child’s ability to develop thriving interests.

In practical terms, white space is totally unscheduled time. It’s time when kids don’t have homework or activities or chores or screens or visiting friends. It’s time when they are left to grapple with themselves — alone — probably bored, thinking to themselves, discovering things.

White space can be challenging for most people at first, especially if they have been conditioned to fill quiet and empty moments of the day with people, tasks or entertainment. But it is in the white space that human imagination is called upon, an inner-thought life develops and significant interests can develop.

Many parents are afraid of white space. They think it is unproductive, maybe even a waste of time. They think it’s an opportunity for kids to get in trouble. Some are afraid their kids will drive them nuts or make a mess or wreak havoc in some other way. Some parents even fear their children will miss out on other things. Others are afraid their kids will resent them for enforcing times of white space.

Ultimately, these parents do not have faith in the process. But the truth is white space allows kids time to learn how to think about things. When there is no other voice but their own telling them what to think — no friend, adult, video game, TV show, YouTuber or even the author of a book — they have to grapple with things on their own, in their own minds.

In these moments, a deep inner-thought life can develop. The skill of communicating with oneself and learning how to think about things begins to take root. And often, from this inner wrestling match, deep interests may arise.

In my children’s lives, they were extremely busy. I do think a lot of their time in the pool, staring at the black lane on the bottom of the pool, gave them time to think. Also, the full days at the beach allowed them time to be creative and create everything from sand castles to kitchens and lie back and stare at the blue sky and ocean waves.

As for my own thought process working on a mid-grade children’s novel, somedays it may seem like I’m not getting anything done. In reality, I’m thinking. I’m mulling things over. That’s when problems get solved and creativity is allowed to spark.

 

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Time to explore and figure things out.

What are your thoughts about white space and how do you use it in your life?

 

Should preschool be taught outdoors?

 

Letting my kids play and be kids.

Enjoying the great outdoors.

 

I love the idea of having kids outdoors more. In a story in The Atlantic called “The Perks of a Play-in-the-Mud Educational Philosophy” by Conor Williams, he asks “When did America decide preschool should be in a classroom?”

My own preschool years were spent outside (unless it was absolutely pouring rain.) We didn’t have school before kindergarten as a matter of fact. Of course, most moms stayed home—at least they did in Snohomish, my hometown. We played in a sandbox, rode bikes and trikes in the streets, picked dandelions in our backyard and stared at clouds.

As we got older, we moved out of town to the countryside. We built forts in the woods, picked bleeding heart flowers and fiddleheads and rode bikes to pick wild blackberries for our mom to bake us pies.

I’m glad someone has the concept that being outside is good for you.

Here’s some of the article:

Most American kids don’t spend large chunks of their day catching salamanders and poking sticks into piles of fox poop. In a nation moving toward greater standardization of its public-education system, programs centered around getting kids outside to explore aren’t normal.

But that’s precisely what students do at the Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. There, every day, dozens of children ages 3 to 5 come to have adventures on Irvine’s more than 200 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. These muddy explorers stand out at a moment when many American pre-K programs have become more and more similar to K–12 education: row after row of tiny kids, sitting at desks, drilling letter identification and counting.

Mention how anomalous this seems, though, and the teachers at the Nature Preschool can only express their wish that that weren’t the case: Why is it odd for 4-year-olds to spend the bulk of their time outside? When did America decide that preschool should be boring routines performed within classroom walls?

Today’s kids are growing up at a moment when American childhood—like much of American life—is increasingly indoors and technologically enhanced. Families spend more time indoors and on screens. Smartphones have warped the teenage experience. Perhaps as part of reaction to those trends, the United States is witnessing a budding movement to reintegrate childhood with the natural world. Nature preschools, outdoor pre-K, forest kindergartens—call them what you like: Early-education programs like these are starting in communities all over the country. The Natural Start Alliance, a group advocating for more outdoor experiences in early education, says that the number of “nature-based preschools” has grown at least 500 percent since 2012.

The ideas that underscore these programs trace back, in part, to a 2005 book by the journalist Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods. Louv argued that American childhood had become overly standardized, overly structured, and overly saturated with technology. He coined a term for the phenomenon: “nature-deficit disorder.” Published just a few years after the adoption of No Child Left Behind—the federal education law that ramped up the emphasis on standardized testing and incentivized schools to focus on math and reading—Last Child received dazzling reviews and was passed around public schools as samizdat. The book helped launch the Children and Nature Network, which describes itself as an “organization whose mission is to fuel the worldwide grassroots movement to reconnect children with nature.”

My own kids had lots of time outdoors in the summer months we spent at the beach. Besides playing in the waves, they spent hours building drip castles, digging holes and fighting over sand. As they got older, they boogie boarded, tried surfing, swam and collected sea glass. I can’t begin to say how wonderful those years spent outdoors were for my kids. They had to use their imaginations and were away from computers and the TV for most of the daytime.

As for preschool, they both went to one but only in the mornings. They spent a lot of time in the afternoons at the park (with me hovering closely) or at the city pool.10995700_10206245569881976_4214520029871361800_o1597031_10206245570241985_7630871641838507528_o

What do you think about preschools and learning being out of the classroom in nature?

Why I’m a fan of Sam Darnold’s parents

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I’m so impressed with the parents of Sam Darnold, who is rumored to be the first pick tonight in the NFL draft. They were parents who let their phenom athletically-gifted kid, be just that. A kid. Tonight we’ll find out if Sam is the first pick, or not. We can learn so much from Sam’s parents regardless of the level of talent our kids have, or what their passions are. I wrote this about USC’s quarterback eight months ago:

My husband asked me to read a story from the Bleacher Report about USC Quarterback Sam Darnold. I put him off for a day because frankly, I wasn’t that interested. I finally read it to appease him and found Sam’s story to be fascinating—mainly because of the parenting style of Mike and Chris Darnold.

From childhood through high school, Sam played basketball, football, and baseball. I think he played volleyball, too. His parents let him try and decide what sports he participated in. They didn’t make him specialize or get him private lessons or coaches. In fact, Sam believes his success in football is from playing all different sports and learning a variety of skills. In a refreshing story written by Jeff Perlman, you find out about a dying breed of parents—ones who believe in fun and no pressure. Parents who let their child lead his own life.

“USC’s star quarterback and his parents do not live by the LaVar Ball theory of the universe. They let a multisport supernova grow up into his own man. And that’s why this 20-year-old might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.”

Yet the story of Sam Darnold isn’t the story of the modern quarterback, loud and sparkly and created to own the internet’s 24-hour hype machine. Nope, it’s the story of a young man on the verge of superstardom because, not long ago, he was allowed to diversify.

He was allowed to be a kid.

The Darnolds’ Capistrano Beach household is in the heart of south Orange County, where there are youth sports leagues atop leagues atop leagues, and private coaches atop private coaches atop private coaches.

In Orange County, it’s not uncommon for a nine-year-old pitcher to throw sliders and curveballs nine or 10 months of the year—with a father behind the backstop holding a radar gun. It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to play Pop Warner, then a season of flag and then spend the summer under the watchful eye of a $200-an-hour passing guru.

This was not going to happen to Sam.

“My parents,” the quarterback says, “wouldn’t have allowed it.”

On paper, this might come as a surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a more sports-centric family than the Darnolds. Mike (Sam’s dad) was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, Chris (Sam’s mom) a volleyball player at Long Beach City College. Sam’s older sister Franki starred in volleyball at the University of Rhode Island and three of his cousins—Allie, Michele and A.J.—also participated in collegiate volleyball. Sam’s late grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the 1954 team that went to the Final Four. He was also a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team.

Put simply, organized athletics are a big deal in the Darnold world and have been for decades.

“But,” says Chris, “they’re not everything. We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”

“One day you open your eyes and it’s, ‘Holy cow, your son is in this position,’” Mike says. “I mean, it’s crazy, right? Crazy, crazy, crazy—one in a million.”

He pauses. Though Chris is acknowledged by family members as the emotional one, the father has been showing his soft side of late. He insists he never cared whether his children played sports or an instrument or worked a job—as long as they were involved and happy and tried different things. But to have a son as USC’s starting quarterback; to have a son who is a Heisman Trophy front-runner; to have a son who is humble and decent and respectful?

“Say what you want,” Mike says. “Sam’s not flashy, he’s not a yeller, he’s not a trophy collector, a bragger. But I feel like we worked hard to raise our kids the right way. And it’s paid off.”

I believe the Darnolds have lessons for many sports parents, myself included. Of course, they had an exceptionally athletic son who could have been recruited in basketball, baseball or football. But more than that, they raised a humble, balanced kid. They are proud of him as a person, not just as a star athlete. Their attitude and parenting style helped develop Sam into the man he is and will become.

I hope you take the time to read the entire Bleacher Report article about Sam Darnold and his parents. There’s also another great article in the Los Angles Times called “As expectations swell, USC’s Sam Darnold finds comfort at home near the beach” by Zach Helfand.

I’m excited to watch him play football this year. Here’s a YouTube of his 2016 highlights.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Sam Darnold by CBS’s Allie LaForce.

What do you think about kids specializing in one sport at an early age?

 

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photo of Sam Darnold from the Bleacher Report