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For children, there is nothing like playing outdoors

Nov 01, 2014

As children grow older, there’s a tendency to ignore play time, but even they need unstructured time to play and explore, writes Rutu Mody.

Rutu Mody

New Delhi: There’s no doubt that our lifestyles have changed drastically in the last couple of decades, and the impact of that shift is being faced by our children. When was the last time your child climbed a tree? Or sailed a paper boat in a puddle of rain water?

Parent’s today are quick to dismiss the benefits of these seemingly silly activities, but time and again researchers have found that playing is critical to the healthy growth and development of children. In toddlers, play develops fine and gross motor skills in addition to helping them socialise with other children and adults.

As children grow older, there’s a tendency to ignore play time, but even they need unstructured time to play and explore. It teaches problem solving and fosters a sense of independence and gives them much needed downtime from academics.

Even though the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as a right of every child, today we have to cajole and coax our children to go out and play. This generation of children have distractions in the form of screens that fit in the palm of their hand to wall-mounted, plasma ones. Children aged two to four spend an average of two hours a day just watching TV. That doesn’t include other screen time like tablets and mobile phones.

While apps, television shows and games can be educational and generally give mom and dad enough time to eat lunch, there’s nothing quite like playing outdoors for kids.

Time and again, parents complain that Mumbai just doesn’t have enough to do for kids. Sure, Mumbai may not be the greenest, most play friendly city in India, but that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely nothing to do. Read on to find out what you and your kids can be doing on weekends to get those creative juices flowing.

1. Go for a trek in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The physical and psychological benefits of being in tune with the great outdoors are numerous. Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park is home to the Kanheri caves, a group of rock-cut monuments and caves. Located 6 km from the entrance of the park, this is a great way for the family to spend time together and get fit together. Wear comfortable clothes that let your skin breathe, comfortable shoes and a cap. Make sure your backpack is well stocked with water, biscuits and insect repellent.

An easier to trek to do with smaller kids is the Yeroor Hills trail that’s in Thane. There’s even a small Machaan for the kids to climb up and stake claim to.

2.  Go bird watching and trekking in Karnala Bird Sanctuary Located in Panvel Taluka of Raigad District, outside Mumbai this is a favourite for avid bird-watchers and hikers in Mumbai. The sanctuary is home to over 150 species of resident and 37 species of migratory birds who visit the sanctuary during winter. Rare birds like the three toed kingfisher and Malabar Trogon have been sighted here. “We took our 6 year old daughter for a trek here during the monsoons. She struggled at times, but didn’t give up. And the sense of achievement she felt when she finished was tremendous” shares artist Amrita Tandon.

3.  Spend the night in a  Big Red Tent

It’s the stuff of childhood fantasy… well it is if you were a child before the noughties hit us. The idea of surviving in the outdoors with nothing but a tent, compass, pocket knife and a can of baked beans may seem romantic to some and torturous to others. Big Red Tent aims to bring Camping to Indian Metros. With 2 campsites near Kolad and Karnala that are child and pet friendly, it’s a great way to introduce the outdoor life to you and your kids in small doses.

4.  Farmers market – Maharashtra Nature Park, Dharavi.

“Where do tomatoes grow?”

“In the supermarket!”

This was a brief exchange between a friend and her four year old recently. There’s precious little awareness amongst kids today about where their food comes from. My mother used to take me to the market once in a while and I would watch her sift through mounds of mud covered spinach before choosing the right one. Today, our greens are picked up in convenient AC hypermarts or ordered online.

The Farmers Market in Maharashtra Nature Park is a great way to show our kids what natural produce looks like. Organised every Sunday there’s certified organic fruit and veg to stock your kitchen with, art &craft and story sessions for kids and even nature walks.

Sailakshmi Deepak, mother of two boys was a regular at the Farmer’s market before they shifted to Dubai.

“It’s a great half day out with the kids. It’s an experience that’s a treat for all the senses! And my boys would always come back buzzing with new found information and questions. And it makes a great change to the mall any day!”

5.  Cycle along a promenade – If you can manage to rouse yourself out of bed early on a weekend morning, then why not helmet and knee pad up, stow those cycles and scooters in the trunk of your car and head to the closest sea facing promenade with the kids. Marine drive and Bandstand are great places to show your pedal power and even better are the smorgasbord of eating joints to eat breakfast at later!

6.  Play a sport: So every other kid is the next Federer or Pallikal. But why not give the

Structured sessions with the coach a miss every now and then and play with your kids yourself? Studies show that children who play a sport actually do better academically (busting the dumb jock myth) and there’s nothing more inspiring for your kids to see Mom or Dad play badminton, do 50 laps in the pool or run on the track. Instead of following the do as I say route, why not try do as I do? “Both my sons know I run and train for the marathon. So when I talk to them about being fit and healthy, they know I’m following that advice for myself too. When I run, they love to chase me and try and keep up!” shares Menaka Raman, a Social Media consultant and running enthusiast.

So there you have it, great outdoor things to do in Mumbai! What are you going to try this weekend?

Rutu Mody-Kamdar is an independent strategy consultant and trainer based in Mumbai. A PhD in children's consumer behaviour, Rutu has worked with children in the course of her research and consulting work. She currently consults for Rustomjee developers in Mumbai.

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