Fitness Articles

14 Ways to Encourage Kids to Play Outdoors

Tips for Parents and Mentors

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We believe that all parents want what is best for their children. We also know that our world is changing more quickly than ever before, and sometimes we are swept into new lifestyles before we realize it. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that we would need to encourage parents to send their children outside to play? But, with children spending between 40 and 60 hours per week attached to electronic umbilici, and the balance of their time scheduled between school, sports and other extracurricular activities, educators, doctors and early childcare experts are beginning to see a myriad of negative effects ranging from reduced cognitive development as a result of overly structured activities that do not stimulate problem solving and creativity, to childhood obesity, reduced muscle development and balance and other physical ailments.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as a right of every child and the American Academy of Pediatrics states that "Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth". The AAP goes on to say that "even those children who are fortunate enough to have abundant available resources and who live in relative peace may not be receiving the full benefits of play. Many of these children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play".

We hope that your family will take a step back from the hurried lifestyle to which we have become accustomed, and recognize the need for all of us, but especially our children, to have free time for play! Here are a few ideas to get your kids started. Once they're outside, we predict that they'll have plenty of their own ideas!

Tips for Parents and Mentors to Encourage Outdoor Play
  1. If you live in a house, create a child-friendly backyard.
  2. Give children a place on the porch, deck or in the bedroom where they can display nature treasures that they find and want to keep.
  3. Provide simple tools to aid discovery. Kids love tools! Include a bug box, trowel, magnifier, etc.
  4. When you take children to parks and other natural areas, allow them to explore. Let them decide which trails to take. Stay nearby for safety, but don't interfere or help unless asked.
  5. Encourage plenty of time outside. Consider taking a walk to the library, store or post office instead of driving.
  6. If a child asks or remarks about a landmark or natural feature you drive past often, find out more about it and go for a visit.
  7. Take advantage of the natural resources available in your area. Take children canoeing, kayaking or fishing.
  8. Take a few leaves from different trees while the children are not looking. Give them the leaves and ask them to find which trees they came from.
  9. Provide a tree identification book to help kids learn about the trees in their own neighborhood.
  10. In the fall, leave the fallen leaves down for awhile so kids can run around and shuffle through them.
  11. Rake up a big leaf pile and let them demolish it. If they're not pre-schoolers, leave the rake out so they can rebuild it if they want.
  12. If you have an appropriate area, let older children build a campfire in the backyard. Set safety rules, then stay away while they and their friends discuss hot topics. Check for safety by looking out the window or wandering out to ask if they need more snacks.
  13. Put out bird feeders that can be seen easily from windows. Let children help feed the birds. Keep a bird book by the window to help them identify what they see.
  14. Make up challenges for children to do outside, similar to the "Survivor" television show. This is a guaranteed kid pleaser, especially if there is a reward (a gift of time with Mom or Dad, or perhaps a night off from helping with the dishes).
Sources
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989. Available at www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm.

Ginsburg, Kenneth R, MD, MSEd, and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics. Available at http://www.aap.org/pressroom/playFINAL.pdf.

Posted with permission from the Grow Outside Guide to Outdoor Play, published by the Leave No Child Inside Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati.

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Member Comments

  • What great ideas- even for we grandparents to encourage our grandchildren.
  • Sadly, it's not like it was when we were kids. People drive through my neighborhood with no expectation of kids jumping out in the road or being anywhere around them (because kids so rarely go outside nowadays). My dear daughter has no regard for cars around her either, so I have to watch both kids like a hawk if they leave the yard. I know us older folks can say "we came back in when the street lights came on." Unfortunately, that's dangerous now and you can get in trouble for it if you're not with your kids. I know in VA a family almost had their kids taken away for letting them walk about a mile to the park alone.

    Also, I know there have always been "bad guys" out there...but with fewer kids outside now, it makes my kids a bigger target.

    Don't get me wrong, my kids go outside frequently (in the yard or cul-de-sac), but I have to be out there with them. It takes away from time that I could be productive, but watching them play is fun in and of itself. :) It's just heartbreaking that they can't play like we used to...times change.
  • This is good advice for everyone. When I was a child, we played outside all the time. As I got older, I spent more and more time indoors. Maybe children spend so much time indoors because they see adults spending so much time indoors.
  • When we were kids parents needed articles on "How to get your Kids Indoors Before Dark".
  • COMPLETIONMEL
    I really like the idea of making he backyard child-friendly. We're almost there but I can see how it could be more friendly. Thanks for the information:)
  • TEXASTOPAZ15
    Let's stop bringing up our children to live in Petri dishes!!!
  • Go GEOCACHING with them!They will learn stuff, see stuff, and have fun!
    see:
    https://www.geo
    caching.com/
  • I grew up in the city. We had one TV in the house, no a/c. In the summer, my brothers and I would wake up, have a bowl of cereal while we watched a cartoon or two then out the door we went till dinner time. That's what everyone did. Parents had to come outdoors to get us to come in and have supper. Everyone looked forward to going outdoors. It was very rare for a kid to spend time indoors. Very RARE. We didn't have much but there was always something to do. We find something to do. We used our imagination to keep occupied. We socialized and made new friends. I think that's what's missing nowadays, children rely on "things" to keep themselves busy and rely too much on their parents to keep from being bored.
  • SCOOTERGIRL777
    What a truly wonderful article. When I was a kid, I was always jumping rope, up in a tree, hopping on a pogo stick or just about anything that was really active. My sister loved her dolls and reading. We were like night + Day. As adults we both are more than fine with adult children and grandchildren. Not everyone is the same for a lot of different reasons. But with all of the time WASTED on electonics just fooling around, I think it's healthier to try to get outside and get into nature. Outdoor activities, get back to roller skating down the sidewalks like kids use to do.Walk in the rain, I did that! MY kids did that and love the memories. Get out there with your kids and let the laughter and memories begin !
  • Excellent article. I have a teenager that recently has decided that he is to busy to go outside after school.
    I know that high school keeps him busy, but I would love for him to get out more.
    Will offer some of these things.
  • Great article. I will have my grandchildren for the summer.
  • Thanks for sharing
  • My Mom's favorite idea was to just turn the AC off! Said she didn't want to have all 6 kids AND all their friends in the house all day. We spent our time outdoors playing kickball, catching garden snakes in the field (don't ask why), racing our bikes, and only came in when Batman was on, then went right back out again!
  • JSIEVERT
    For those who left comments about how horrible it is to have to give your child things to do outside, please remember that not all kids enjoy going outdoors, even if they don't live in a tech filled house. I grew up on a farm and loved spending time outside doing anything and everything. However, my sister would much rather just stay inside, read, and listen to music, even with all the fun that awaited outside. When I was young I just couldn't understand. Now I do. We are all human which means we are all different. We enjoy different things. My husband and I farm, and our young son loves going outside just like my husband and me. However our daughter is perfectly happy to play quietly in her room by herself. It's a challenge for us to get her outside. Please be respectful of us parents who are trying to encourage our kids to enjoy the outdoors, even though its not their cup of tea.
  • Excellent suggestions! Spending quality time with children away from computer games and texting can only be a good thing.

About The Author

Leave No Child Inside Leave No Child Inside
Through education and community engagement, the Leave No Child Inside Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati promotes children's outdoor play, learning and lifelong connection with nature. Learn more at www.LNCIGC.org.