As a parent, you know that your child benefits greatly from time spent outdoors. But with the draw of shiny, colorful electronics at every turn, getting your kid to play outside at all can be a tremendous challenge.
When you recall fond childhood memories, you probably remember the fun and exciting outdoor adventures shared with your siblings, cousins, and friends. From nature hikes and catching fireflies to splashing in the creek and making mud pies, most adults of your generation spent many long, contented afternoons playing outside as kids.
But can today’s generation say the same?
These days, many children are spending the vast majority of their lives indoors. Outside activities like climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing tag have all but disappeared in urban neighborhoods.
So, how can you encourage children to spend that valuable time in nature that is so vital to their physical and mental wellbeing?
Here are some creative ways we’ve come up with to help you encourage outdoor playtime with your children:
1. Embrace the dirt.
Okay, you don’t want your clean floor tracked with muddy footprints, and you don’t want your child to stain his new T-shirt. But young children often enjoy outdoor play more if they are not scolded for getting messy. Embrace the dirt, and, better yet, why not play in woods or the mud with them? You may be surprised at how active your kids become when Mom or Dad lets loose.
2. Now, really dig in.
Get kids engaged by planting a garden. Plant vegetables, flowers, herbs, or succulents. Some children will simply enjoy playing in the dirt, while others will be fascinated by growing their own food. Some children enjoy learning about bugs and worms they find while digging and planting. Take every opportunity to encourage them to learn about the world around them in a hands-on environment.
3. Go back to the bugs.
If you have children who are interested in the minuscule creatures that inhabit your backyard, encourage them as young scientists. Give them jars to collect specimens you can identify together later. Supply them with blank books to record their discoveries and create drawings of insects, reptiles, and birds they sight while exploring in the great outdoors.
4. Let nature take the lead.
Next time you want to get the kids outside, skip the bikes and playground equipment. Instead, take your little ones on a wilderness hike, or let them run loose in a state park. Fallen trees, stumps, and rocks quickly become obstacle courses with a little imagination, and streams and waterfalls make great wading pools and sprinklers.
5. Be a bold explorer.
Don’t just shove your kids out the back door. When you plan family vacations, explore exciting new environments. Fun parks and resorts hold obvious appeal, but endless adventure awaits in wilderness camping, mountain cabins, and oceanside cottages. In addition to exercise and creative play for your children, you will enjoy highly economical summer vacations.
6. Remember the Alamo!
Do your children have any inkling of the endless fun found in an army fortress made from fallen tree branches or a pirate ship created from driftwood? Help your kids create exciting fort-building memories by furnishing them with supplies like old sheets and quilts, tarps, twine or rope, duct tape, and large cardboard boxes. You can also encourage your kids to use natural supplies for fort-building, such as fallen trees and logs, branches, leaves, ferns, stumps, and rocks.
7. Be a nature detective.
Encourage outdoor play by using quizzes and scavenger hunts. Create a list of plants, animals, and other natural elements for children to check off on the drive or walk to school. These nature detective games are another excellent opportunity to use their scientist notebooks from idea #3. Have your kids write down their observations, and encourage them to research later the things that most capture their imagination.
As you can see, there are many simple and easy ways to encourage your kids to play outdoors. Incorporate just one or two of these suggestions, and you’ll likely see an immediate increase in your children’s interest in outside activities and interaction with nature.