Many parents would agree that getting kids outside is becoming increasingly difficult.
According to Edward Wilson, a biologist at Harvard, us humans are instinctively drawn to nature. He called his theory biophilia.
: a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature
Unfortunately, his theory doesn’t seem to correlate with what many parents are experiencing in the 21st century.
Safety concerns, smaller gardens, technology and lack of interest are some of the reasons that the average American child spends only 4 to 7 minutes a day engaged in unstructured play outside.
The benefits of getting kids outside
More and more studies are highlighting the benefits of spending time outdoors.
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv cites 60 studies that show the benefits of getting outdoors. His website now lists over 700 studies!
Such are the benefits of a walk in the woods or splashing in some puddles, that doctors are even prescribing time outdoors to many patients with physical and mental health issues.
Children who spend time outdoors are apparently brighter, less anxious and generally more happy than those who spent more time indoors.
The good news is that our body can still produce Vitamin D whilst protected by sunscreen. We just need to spend more time outdoors.
Vitamin D is essential in “helping the body get sufficient calcium and phosphorus. These minerals are critical for building and maintaining strong bones. Getting ample vitamin D is key for warding off conditions like rickets in children”.
So, how do we encourage our kids to play outside when they’d rather be indoors?
What can we do with our kids outside if we don’t have a massive garden?
What activities will get children playing outside for longer?
Here are some great ideas for getting kids outside. Some links are affiliate.
Let them take the lead.
When I was little we used to take it in turns to plan a family walk. Us kids would choose the location and pack the picnic. It really got us enthusiastic about it and I still remember ‘my walks’ decades later.
Like many toddlers, our three-year old sometimes struggles with transitions. Going from indoors to outdoors, especially during winter can be a challenge. However, he loves choosing where we should go for a walk or which park we should visit that afternoon.
Giving children more of a role in decision making may help to get them enjoying themselves outdoors.
Get some fun equipment
Something that really helped to get our boys outside no matter the weather was making and buying some awesome playground equipment for the garden.
We chose our equipment really carefully as we wanted something that would get years of use and keep our boys enthusiasm.
Spark an interest
If your child has an interest then go with it.
If they love animals then you could visit a local farm, feed the ducks, go birdwatching, try horse riding.
If they love art then get creative outdoors using nature as your inspiration.
Meet them half way.
There’s no denying it…technology is pretty amazing. You can watch a video on just about any topic you like on YouTube or play your favorite games with your online friends.
But you know what they say about having too much of a good thing.
If your kids love watching Pokémon then why not try getting them outside to play Pokémon GO. Many parents have said that it got their children of the sofa and into the fresh air.
If they’re glued to their mobile then download the geocaching app and try it out or get them to shoot a video of your adventures.
Get wet and muddy.
Some parents really struggle with this one but if the time is right there is nothing wrong with getting dirty outside.
Dress them up warm if it’s cold and let them loose. Better yet, join them!
Choose a family sport.
It’s great to encourage our kids outside but often us adults could do with a little more outdoor play too.
There are so many physical activities that are easily accessible nowadays. Try some out as a family and see which ones you enjoy.
Sometimes getting kids outside is as simple as saying “who can find me something yellow?”
Occasionally we’ll set up a more elaborate treasure hunt that involves treats and clues.
If the weathers good then hide birthday gifts around the garden for you child to find. It’s a lot more memorable for them than simply tearing off the paper.
As children we had a Christmas treasure hunt too…we loved it!
Grab your lunch and a blanket and head outside to your garden or park.
Sandwiches and salads are great if it’s sunny. Try some simple homemade soups if it’s cold.
Our family favorite is to fry onions, leek, mushrooms and garlic and then add courgette and lots of juicy tomatoes. I blitz it all up with this and take it out in our stainless steel bottles.
Help children to explore and discover the natural world for themselves with these tools.
Go to the movies.
Many places now offer outdoor movie screenings and drama productions. Pack some popcorn and blankets and take your family to enjoy a film under the stars!
Grow your own
Give your child a small patch of earth or some pots so that they can get planting. This is a great activity for fussy eaters too as they’ll often feel encouraged by the fact that they created the food on their plate.
Make an Explorer Box
The best gift my kids got this Christmas was put together in a charity shop in France in about 5 minutes and cost 3 Euros!
I found a cool box and filled it with binoculars, a magnifying glass, tape measure, torch and anything else I could find.
It’s come out with us loads as we’ve been dinosaur explorers, pirates and zoologists.
Show me a child that doesn’t love collecting rocks, shells or similar treasures. Encourage this and collect together.
My sister’s family has a beautiful collection of sea glass. They’ll spend ages searching for the perfect additions to their collection.
Pick you own
Pick your own fruit and vegetable farms are especially awesome if you have no garden at home.
Our fussy eater started eating strawberries and raspberries when he was taken to pick some outdoors.
Make it fun
If your hiking as a family then take your time. Play games and eat snacks rather than marching ahead to the finish line.
Create something indoors for outdoors
Getting kids outdoors is easier if they have a reason to go outside. Make bird feeders, bird houses, fairy doors…
Bring a friend
Things are always more fun with friends. Arrange to meet some friends at the beach or in the local park.
I love camping! Writing this post has made me realize just how many happy childhood memories I have of being outdoors.
Waking up to birdsong, cooking in the open air, playing with the other kids, sheltering from the rain…memories just waiting to be created!
Why not plan your vacation around outdoor activities? Book a surf lesson, go hiking, take your bikes.
Go with the flow
This post would be entirely dishonest if I didn’t mention that we spent a lot more time outdoors in the summer than we do in the cold, wet winter…and I think that’s OK.
For me, winter is for brisk walks, building snowmen, splashing in puddles, toasting marshmallows…then running home for cocoa and a story.
If it’s freezing out then don’t be afraid to stay indoors more than you would in the summer-time!
Set an example
I’ve saved the most important until last! If we want our kids to play outdoors then we must play outdoors too.
They need to see us admiring nature, taking time to smell flowers, watch birds, climb trees, splash in puddles, wade through rivers, roll down grassy slopes, mountain bike, swim in the sea.
The truth is, our children are much more likely to be outdoors and to enjoy being outdoors if their parents are too.
So, go have some fun outdoors…I’m sure they’ll follow!
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Do you have any tips for getting kids outside?