A Guide to Getting Kids Outside

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Hectic schedules for families during the school year leave little time to take a walk or enjoy time at the park. As we approach the end of the school year, summertime provides ample opportunities to get our children outdoors and active. However, it can also be challenging to persuade children to put down devices to go outside and play. As a parent, sometimes it’s easier to allow children more screen time and indoor activities. Still, the long-term benefits of outside play counterbalance the short-term inconveniences.  

Countless Benefits of Cultivating a Relationship with the Outdoors

There are countless benefits of cultivating a relationship with the outdoors. The Child Mind Institute states kids should play outside because it builds confidence, promotes creativity, teaches responsibility, gets them moving, and reduces stress. You don’t need the luxury of a big backyard to explore the great outdoors. Parks serve as shared spaces for people and provide a center for community activities. People’s perspectives of parks are influenced by their particular needs and preferences for the available space. Parks have the power and potential for cultural exploration and community building. Community gardens, art, and historical monuments can provide cultural significance for park users. Others may use parks for recreational activities or relaxation. Let’s explore some ideas for parents to convince kids to get outside and take advantage of their community parks. 

Using Technology to Enhance Outdoor Experiences

Technology often presents an obstacle to getting kids outside. It may seem counterintuitive, but technology can be used to enhance outdoor experiences. For example, geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt where players use GPS devices to find hidden containers worldwide. Secret locations vary from easy-to-find areas to more isolated ones, involving planning and preparation to access the site. Check out Engaging Students with Scavenger Hunts to learn more about geocaching and using technology for scavenger hunts. Explore parks that offer hiking or biking trails to explore nature and take a digital camera or a mobile device to take pictures of wildlife you encounter during the experience. Photographing nature is a fun way to use technology while exploring outside. This National Photography Month post shares even more ideas on photography. There are also many apps to identify plants and animals.

 Making Outdoor Activities a Family Affair

Another way to get your kids outside is to make it a family affair. Plan activities for all family members to participate and include your kids in the planning process. For example, encourage your child to explore locations online for a family hike or organize outside games with another family. Planting a family garden is a fun way to learn about plants and soil with your child. In Staying Close to Home for Great Outdoors Month, you’ll find great ideas outlining how families can get their children outside. My favorite is the Game Ideas for Kids Outdoor Games.

When it comes to encouraging children to play outside, having a variety of engaging games and activities can make all the difference. Here is a list of popular low-cost or no-cost outdoor games and activities that children and families can enjoy together, along with quick instructions or tips for how to play them:

  • Nature Scavenger Hunt
    • Create a list of items found in nature, such as specific types of leaves, rocks, or flowers.
    • Give each child a copy of the list and a bag to collect their findings.
    • Explore a park or natural area together, searching for the items on the list.
    • The first child to find all the items or the one who finds the most within a set time wins.
  • Obstacle Course
    • Set up an obstacle course in your backyard or local park using cones, hula hoops, jump ropes, and other household items.
    • Designate different stations where children have to complete specific tasks, such as crawling under a makeshift tunnel or hopping through tires.
    • Time each child as they go through the course and offer rewards for the fastest completion times.
  • Outdoor Arts and Crafts
    • Set up an outdoor art station with paints, brushes, and large sheets of paper.
    • Encourage children to create their own masterpieces inspired by nature or their surroundings.
    • You can also try activities like leaf rubbings, making nature collages, or creating bird feeders using recycled materials. Partner the arts and crafts with a scavenger hunt and have the children use their gathered materials to create their works of art.

Remember, the most important aspect is fostering fun, adventure, and creativity when playing these games and activities. Engaging with your children and participating alongside them models a positive example and can make the experience even more enjoyable and create lasting memories of outdoor play. In addition, it may motivate your child to get outside.

The Benefits and Necessity of Outdoor Play

Getting kids outside can be challenging, but it’s always worthwhile. Find activities and environments your children will enjoy and encourage exploration and discovery. Being outside offers innumerable physical, mental, social, and cognitive benefits. It is critical for development and contributes to the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle.

Numerous studies have highlighted the adverse impact of excessive time indoors on children’s mental health. Lack of outdoor exposure and limited engagement with nature has been linked to increased stress, anxiety, and depression in children. Being confined indoors can lead to feelings of isolation, reduced social interaction, and diminished opportunities for sensory stimulation. Furthermore, insufficient exposure to natural light and fresh air may disrupt circadian rhythms, affecting sleep patterns and exacerbating mental health issues.

Encouraging children to spend more time outdoors and engage in physical activities can help mitigate the negative consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. Outdoor play promotes physical fitness and enhances cognitive function, creativity, and social skills. It provides children opportunities for exploration, problem-solving, and connecting with the natural world, fostering a sense of well-being and resilience. Balancing screen time with outdoor activities is crucial for maintaining children’s optimal physical and mental health.

Have a child that needs the motivation to get outdoors more? We have already discussed setting a positive example and making it a family activity. Here are some ideas that parents can use to encourage children who are reluctant to spend time outside:

  • Gradually increase outdoor time – Start by incorporating small doses of outdoor time into your child’s routine. Begin with short outings or play sessions and gradually extend the duration as your child becomes more comfortable and engaged.
  • Offer choices and variety – Give your child options and let them choose activities they find interesting. Consider biking, gardening, flying a kite, playing sports, or exploring nature trails. By allowing them to choose, they will feel more empowered and engaged in the process.
  • Make it playful – Incorporate elements of play and fun into outdoor activities. For example, we discussed scavenger hunts and obstacle courses, but you could also build sandcastles at the beach.
  • Invite friends or neighbors – Encourage your child to invite a friend or neighbor to join them in outdoor activities. Having a playmate can make outdoor time more enjoyable and provide social interaction, motivating reluctant children to participate.

Patience and understanding are key when encouraging reluctant children to spend time outside. It’s essential to create a positive and supportive environment that nurtures their curiosity and allows them to explore the joys of the great outdoors at their own pace.

Amidst the hectic schedules and the allure of indoor activities, parents must recognize the countless benefits of cultivating a relationship between their children and the great outdoors. Engaging in outdoor play builds confidence, fosters creativity, teaches responsibility, and reduces stress, as the Child Mind Institute advocates. By leveraging technology to enhance outdoor experiences, making it a family affair, and implementing strategies to motivate reluctant children, parents can unlock the immense potential of outdoor play. By embracing outdoor play’s physical, mental, and social benefits, we can lay the foundation for our children’s healthier, more active, and well-balanced lifestyles. So, let’s seize the opportunities summertime offers and inspire our children to embrace the wonders of the natural world, creating cherished memories and nurturing their overall well-being. In the comments below, share your ideas and favorite resources for getting kids outside!

About the author: Kevin Bower

Kevin Bower has 21 years of elementary teaching experience, is a certified reading specialist, and teaches instructional technology to pre-service and practicing teachers. He has presented nationally, had his teaching practices cited in various publications, and published a collaborative article on infusing technology into the balanced literacy classroom. Kevin’s research interests focus on using technology to best meet the needs of students with diverse abilities.

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