Inside: Seven tried and tested ways to tempt your kids out of the house and fuel their zest for the outdoors.
I had an interesting conversation at the park the other day.
I was sharing with another mom how, when I was a child, my grandma would sternly tell me that if I didn’t get home by 9 pm, she was going to lock up the front door and have me sleep outside.
She was joking, of course, but the point was that my caregivers needed to come up with an incentive to get me home. I just always wanted to be outside. However, most parents today have the opposite problem! They’re wondering how to get kids to spend more time outside!
In reply, my friend mentioned a study she read that American kids spend less time outside than jail inmates.
Once I got home, I had to read it for myself. Yep, it was true. The average American child spends only 4 to 7 minutes a day playing outside, while inmates, even in maximum security prisons, get at least 2 hours. And any less is considered inhumane!
Fascinated, I thought it was worth exploring this topic further.
Mounting evidence, both from correlational and experimental research, demonstrates that spending time outdoors is essential for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It reduces stress and muscle tension, improves sleep, reduces anxiety, strengthens immunity, improves focus, and even boosts memory.
If that impressive list wasn’t enough, outside time also helps our kids develop their gross and fine motor skills, fosters creativity, and encourages them to explore the world around them with independence and curiosity, preparing them for the job of being responsible adults.
As you can see, the benefits are extensive, and you can take my word that you can find a mountain of research to back up every claim. On the other hand, who would even argue that time outside is not good for us?! It seems that some truths are so obvious that we often pass them by without acknowledging them.
It’s time to change that, don’t you think?
If you are increasingly tired of seeing your kids hunched over screens instead of playing outside, here are seven tried and tested ways to consider.
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1. Outdoor Challenges
One great way to get your kids excited about going outside is to start with a simple challenge. You don’t need fancy tools or equipment to do a challenge, and they can be easily tailored to fit any grade level or family lifestyle.
You can start by simply aiming to spend 10, 15, or 30 minutes a day outside. If you don’t want to put a number on it, pledge to spend a specific part of your day outside. For example, you can go for a walk after dinner as a family or get up earlier and take a dog for a walk around the block.
2. Take Nature Walks
The benefits of nature walks are many! Not only are they a healthy form of exercise, but they also provide fresh air and educational opportunities. Most kids love to be on a mission, so download these nature scavenger hunts to give them something to focus on. Then, gather some sticks, leaves, and pebbles and turn them into a creative collage with natural materials when you get home. It’s a great way to help kids appreciate nature.
You can also help kids have more fun by enriching the time outside with something like this Nature Detectives Pack. Just download this almost 100-page activity book and see what catches their interest. Is it outside activities with a science twist, fun games, or printable boredom busters? There is something for every taste in this pack.
3. Make It a Family Activity
One of the best ways to get your kids to spend more time outside is to make it a family activity. If you go on hikes or bike rides as a family, your kids will be more likely to enjoy the experience and want to do it again. You can also make it a regular activity by setting aside time each week or weekend to do something outside as a family.
If you are too tired to go on a bike read, you can take your family read-aloud time outdoors with these book lists for every month of the year. Just spread a blanket on the ground or find a park bench and enjoy the outdoors with a good book.
4. Plan Outdoor Games and Activities
Planning outdoor games and activities can also be a great way to get your kids to spend more time outside. As you can see in the pic above, my girls love chalk. They also love hoola hoop games, bubbles, hopscotch, and hide-and-seek.
You can set up a scavenger hunt, have a water balloon fight, or play tag. You can also plan a family game night outside with games like cornhole or Giant Jenga. These activities will help your kids have fun outside and build great memories.
5. Do Outdoor Science Activities
Kids are naturally curious about how things work and the scientific, natural world. You can use this to your advantage outdoors, too! Set up some Outdoor Science Experiments with very little prep and no worries about the mess since you’ll be outside.
You can also encourage messy play outdoors with some of the following activities:
These activities involve not only science but art and engineering. What a great opportunity for play-based learning outside!
6. Provide Fun Outdoor Toys
Providing your kids with fun outdoor toys is another great way to encourage them to spend more time outside. Bikes, scooters, and rollerblades are great options for kids who love to be active. You can consider a sandbox, water table, or playhouse for younger kids. Having toys that they enjoy using will make it more likely that they will want to spend time outdoors.
7. Create a Garden or Plant Some Trees
Creating a garden or planting some trees can be a great way to get your kids to spend more time outside. You can involve them in the process of selecting plants, preparing the soil, and planting. This can be a fun and educational experience that will teach them about the environment and the importance of taking care of our planet. Even if you live in the city, there are ways to create small garden spaces or even potted herb gardens on your windowsill.
In conclusion, there are many ways to get your kids to spend more time outside. Nature walks, outdoor challenges, making it a family activity, providing fun outdoor toys, planning games and activities, and creating a garden are all effective strategies. By encouraging your kids to spend time outside, you’ll be helping them develop essential skills and fostering their love for nature.