When I was a child, “Go outside and play,” was a phrase my sisters and I heard frequently from Mom and Dad. We were lucky enough to grow up in a neighborhood where most homes came with large yards or open space nearby. If the sun was shining, we were encouraged to go outside and occupy ourselves, armed with nothing but a friend or our own imagination. There was plenty of outdoor exploring to do and the lure of technology had not yet taken hold. Our homes and our lives were not monopolized by cellphones, DVR’s, computer games, or 24 hour television networks.
Today, life is much different. The places and spaces where families live and grow are not always conducive to a child having “free reign” of the neighborhood, nor do kids take it upon themselves to just go outside to explore or play as much. There are too many distractions which make it more convenient to stay occupied indoors or wait for that scheduled play date to arrive. Don’t get me wrong; it’s wonderful if kids choose to curl up and read their favorite book or have an afternoon of crafting with Mom, but it’s also wise to encourage free play, exercise, and exploration in our children. This is important for their physical, psychological, and social development. So, how do we get kids to spend more time outdoors? Here are a few ideas:
Take a favorite indoor activity outside. Encouraging kids to take their “inside” toys outdoors can inspire them to explore play in new ways. Playing dress-up or stacking building blocks in the back yard can spark the imagination. A favorite pack of colored pencils and a stack of blank paper will bring the budding artist out when surrounded with nature and the great outdoors.
Expand your indoor living space outdoors. A covered deck or three season porch can provide extra room during hot summer days or cooler autumn months to extend play spaces all year long. This can be a perfect spot to play board games or complete a puzzle.
Plan outdoor family time. Planning a specific activity outdoors is a great way for Mom and Dad to set an example and to incorporate family time into daily routines. Everyone can get some exercise during the family walk after dinner or plan a weekend picnic at the neighborhood park.
Vary your environment. Exposing kids to different outdoor places challenges them to look at the world in different ways. Spend a day at the beach or take a farm tour. Experiencing nature firsthand is a fun and interactive way to teach kids to appreciate the outdoors.
The more the merrier. If play dates are the norm in your neighborhood, make a play date for an outside activity. It can act as an incentive to persuade the “inside child” to spend some time outdoors and having another little person around may be the spark that’s needed to ignite that exploratory spirit.
Share outdoor chores. A creative way to get kids outdoors is to enlist their help with outside chores. Have them help you wash the car or come along when walking the dog; it teaches responsibility and helps them to develop everyday life skills.
Water play. It’s a proven fact; kids love to splash, jump in, or pour water. If this sounds like your child, send them outside to make some mud pies, have them sail their toy boats in the kiddie pool for the afternoon, or even let them help you water the garden. Getting wet acts as a sensory activity and stimulates brain and cognitive development.
No worries about the mess. No need to stress about messy hands and feet, just prepare ahead of time and have soap, water, facecloths, and towels by the back door to reduce the mess before they step back into the house once playtime’s over.
Good habits are hard to break. If possible, make it a routine to spend at least one hour outdoors each day. Having outdoor time on a consistent basis encourages a child to appreciate, respect, and play with the natural world around them.