We all know the importance of outdoor play for our children. But how do you actually get your kids outside and motivate them to stay out there?
I make it a priority to take my toddler to the playground every morning for him to run around. When I think back to my childhood, I remember being outdoors all the time. Throwing snowballs in the backyard, playing road hockey with the neighbors everyday, digging trenches between puddles, and learning how to surf for the first time are all treasured moments for me.
But nowadays, kids are rarely spotted outside and are spending an excessive amount of time on their phones or electronics instead. Some schools have even reduced things like recess and PE classes. This is a problem and it’s up to the parents to help guide and encourage their children to include outdoor activities in their daily routine.
Parents should aim to have their kids play outside for a total 1000 hours in a year. And the recommended daily goal should be 4 to 6 hours everyday in order to reach this mark (accounting for missed days and winter season). This may seem impossible, but considering that the average American kid watches 1200 hours of television every year, it’s not.
There are numerous causes out there that try to promote the importance of outdoor play, like former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and the NFL Play 60 program. These at least tries to bring awareness to this issue, but it’s not enough.
As parents, we should just be encouraging outdoor play as often as possible. Making sure your kids have regular unstructured time outdoors is the best way to do this. And while organized sports is a physical activity, it is not the same as outdoor play and won’t have the same benefits.
In this post, I will first explain what these benefits are and then list out my 33 useful tips on how to get your kids outside.
Why is Outdoor Play Important?
What’s more important than your child’s health? Well, playing outside will help. It encourages physical activity and movement, which will develop their motor skills such as balance, jumping, climbing, throwing etc. And their cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength will improve as well.
Exposure to the sun helps their body produce Vitamin D, which is difficult to get from foods. This is important in helping build their immune system, which is vital for their body to fight off germs and diseases. Just remember to use sunscreen when needed.
Being out in the fresh air relaxes the body and helps reduce stress and fatigue. It’s like a way to recharge their batteries, which can improve their sleep. Nature also stimulates all of their senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste), whereas watching tv can arguably be detrimental to their sight and hearing.
When your child is outside, they are learning things in the real world in a more enjoyable way. It’s science, math, art and history all in one spot. Their sense of space and scale is expanded and they can explore a learn about their own capabilities. Without restrictions, they can push their limits, experiment moments of success and failure and learn by trial and error.
Research shows that physically fit children appear to do better in the classroom as well. When allowed to play freely, children’s attention span improves and they are more likely to stay with a task.
Without much supervision outside, your child’s imagination can be limitless. Just have a listen to their conversations on the playground next time. You’ll realize that they are making up their own games and rules or creating role playing situations. They’re figuring things out on the fly.
They also instinctively incorporate natural resources into their play. A simple stick can be a pen, a key, or even a steering wheel. Nature encourages imaginative play and physical exploration. Creativity is a valuable skill that can help them come up with solutions and ideas later in life.
Better Social Skills
There are always other kids on the playground for your child to connect with. Through play, they can develop their communication skills and provide opportunities for collaboration, negotiation, and interaction.
They are exposed to more diversity as well when meeting kids from different social and cultural backgrounds. And it gives them a chance to talk to strangers, make friends and learn how to share.
The outdoors can boost self confidence and self esteem. Children who develop their imagination are able entertain themselves easier and are less likely to be bored in any situation. Spending time out in the fresh air is also associated with improving your child’s moods and happiness.
It’s exciting to see children in a natural environment, analyzing their surroundings, peaking their curiosity, and finding joy in discovering new things. Being outdoors gives them an appreciation of nature. And if they develop a connection early on, there’s a better chance they will continue to be inspired to go outside throughout their lives.
33 Useful Tips on How to Get Your Kids Outside
Now that you are aware of the benefits, here are some suggestions on how you can inspire your kids to play outside more.
- Lead by example – Children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the outdoors. It’s important to show your kids that you also enjoy being outside. It can be as easy as sitting outside with a beer, cup of tea or a book.
- Let go of your worries – Make a safe environment and check up on them occasionally but let your kids loose. Allow them to discover their boundaries (within reason) and play freely.
- Dirty is ok – Tell them it’s fine to get wet, dirty, and messy. In fact, get dirty on purpose. You can clean them up after.
- Play with them – Teach them a game, throw a frisbee, or kick the ball with them.
- Make it a regular – Set outdoor play as a daily routine and prioritize.
- Limit screen time – Set a daily limit they can use the phone or watch tv. Hide the remote if you need to.
- Set up your space – Make your backyard appealing. Clear out room for them to play. Maybe build them a treehouse or ask them to build their own fort.
- Home extension – Use outdoor spaces as an extension of your indoor space. Open up the doors to the balcony to allow easy access back and forth.
- Gear up – Buy some exciting outdoor toys such as swing set, trampoline, pogo stick, kites, ropes, sidewalk chalk, bocce etc.
- Ride on – Also get them something to ride on like a bike, scooter or skateboard.
- Sports – A basketball hoop, hockey goal, or a badminton net brings hours of play.
- Make it easy for them – Have all of their shoes, hats, and jackets in a convenient spot so it’s easy and quick for them to go out.
- Listen to them – Ask them what they’d like to do outside. Be flexible. If you set out for a hike and they suddenly decide to climb a tree or jump in a puddle when you get there, let them. They will be more engaged with the outdoors when it’s on their own terms.
- Playdate – Kids are more willing and have fun with other kids. They can be sibling, neighbors, school friends, teammates, or your friend’s kids.
- Make friends with the neighbors – When you child see’s the kind next door outside, they might want to join them. Creating a tight community with other families in the neighborhood can be helpful.
- Play with their pets – Encourage your child to chase the cat, or walk the dog.
- Bring it outside – Get them to draw or read or do their homework outside. Bring your indoor toys out there also. My toddler loves to get his toy cars stuck in the mud.
- Meals outside – Have a picnic in the park for lunches or a bbq for dinner. If you have a deck or patio space, have all of your meals outdoors.
- Outdoor parties – Host birthdays or other gathers ouside.
- Outside chores – Have them involved with mowing the lawn, watering plants, hanging laundry, or rake the leaves.
- Scavenger hunt – Set up a scavenger hunt or a treasure hunt for them to collect items.
- Water time – Hand them a water gun or water balloons, Even setup a backyard pool.
- Plant a seed –Get them to help with your gardening. Teach them how to take care of plants.
- Rock out – Start a rock collection (or shells from the beach) and encourage them to learn about resources in nature.
- Make it family time – Schedule a specific activity you can all participate in together. Maybe a nightly walk around the block.
- Commute by foot – If it’s not too far let them walk to school. If you’re driving somewhere, park your car a few blocks away and walk with them to the destination. Try to incorporate walking into your everyday transportation.
- Regular walks – Get in the habit of having walks or bike rides for leisure.
- Venture out – Make it a mission to visit new playgrounds. Go somewhere new like the forest, trail, or beach.
- Go to the zoo – There’s nothing like seeing animals up close.
- Active vacation – Do something active on your vacations. Rent a kayak, go skiing walk, bike the new city.
- Outdoor hobbies – Take them fishing, hiking, or swimming. Get them into an outdoor activity.
- Go camping – The ultimate outdoor experience. Even pitching a tent in the backyard can feel adventurous. At the very least, you can just lie down outside and watch the stars.
- Geocaching – If they must use technology, at least use it outdoors with geocaching.
Now Let Them Play
Remember, your job as a parent is to encourage your kids to go outside. Hopefully some of these methods can help you accomplish that. Once they are there, you should take a step back and allow them to play freely for the most part.