However, it can sometimes be a struggle to get kids moving and engaged in outdoor play. But both play and time spent outside are essential for kids to grow and learn. I’m here to share my top tips to get your kids out and active!
Why is outdoor play important for kids?
There are many benefits of outdoor play!
- Builds strong bodies. Kids build muscles, balance, flexibility, and coordination as they run, jump, swim, and climb outside. It is with this strength and coordination that they need to sit at a desk and do school work without getting fatigued. Moreover, helps kids stay fit and prevents childhood obesity.
- Builds cognitive skills. Cognitive skills include a lot more than memorizing colors or the alphabet. They include reasoning, thinking, planning, problem-solving, and memory. These are the skills that kids need to be successful in life.
- Builds social skills. Kids often engage with each other while playing outside
- Improves sleep.
- Provides opportunities for kids to take risks. Risk-taking is an essential part of childhood. It builds confidence, allows kids to problem solve, and helps them face and overcome fears.
- Can teach kids about science. Kids learn about the natural world as they make observations in nature. They’re provided with real-life, hands-on learning experiences.
- Helps develop a love of nature. This love of nature is important for conservation purposes. It’s people who love and care about nature who are willing to fight to protect it.
Tips for Encouraging Outdoor Play
Here are my top 10 tips to help you get your kids outside more and encourage more active play.
1. Go to a New Park.
Visiting a new park can get kids excited about heading outside. I have friends whose kids used google maps to list all the local parks they’d like to visit during the summer.
Every park will have a different play structure and natural features. Kids love to explore new spaces. This can make a trip outside fun and engaging. Parks in the area often have safe playground equipment and plenty of space for children to run and play, making them a great option for young kids who love to roam and try new things. So if your neighborhood park is no longer cutting it, load the kids up in the car and go check out another park.
2. Invite Friends.
Invite your kids’ friends to play in your yard or come along when you head to the park. Kids love having playdates, and this can be a great way to get them excited about playing outside.
3. Ride Bikes.
Kids love to ride bikes! This is a fun activity for kids to do solo, with their friends, or as a family. You can ride around your neighborhood or on a local bike path. It is also fun to plan days to bike to school or the park.
Start little ones out on a balance bike to help them build their balance. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they’ll lean, turn, and pick up their feet. This will set them up with the skills they need to master a pedal bike quickly.
Safety reminder: kids must always wear a well-fitting helmet when riding a bike.
4. Wear Proper Gear and Clothing.
Alfred Wainwright wrote, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” and I’ve found that kids are generally pretty happy outside as long as they’re warm and dry.
I’ve taken kids outside every day of the year in Alaska, and proper gear makes all the difference! If you’re struggling to keep kids outside year-round, maybe consider the clothing they’re wearing.
Clothing must match the weather!
- Cold weather: a warm jacket, hat, mittens, neck gaiter, warm boots
- Wet and rainy weather: a rain jacket or rain suit, rain boots, and rain hat. Check out all my favorite rain gear!
- Hot and sunny weather: long sleeve hooded sun shirt (I’m a major fan of staying covered on bright days), light-colored clothes, sun hat, sunglasses
5. Use Your Backyard Space.
Your backyard is an excellent space for outdoor play. Consider adding some active toys like an outdoor climber, slide, or slackline if you have the space. Play items like this will help engage kids and keep them moving longer. An outdoor game like cornhole, when paired with the best cornhole bags, is a quality addition to playtime!
Cardboard boxes, 2x4s, rocks, and sticks can also be fun open-ended backyard additions. You’ll be amazed at all the varied and imaginative things kids can make with such simple items.
Make sure to leave enough open space for kids to run and play.
6. Get Outside Together as a Family.
If you want your kids to go outside, you have to be willing to head outside too. It turns out that what you model with your own behavior has a pretty significant impact on your kids.
Go for a walk, head to the park, and run around the backyard. Show your kids that you, too, prioritize time spent outside.
7. Take a Hike.
Heading to a local trail is another fun way to get your kids active. You can easily find trails for all ability levels using AllTrails. Search your area and filter hikes by difficulty level. You can even search for kid-friendly hikes.
Kids love to read about trails and help pick hikes. They feel a sense of ownership of the outing when they can give their input about the hike. This can get them excited to get out and explore. Allow them to look at options with you using AllTrails or a local hiking book from your library.
8. Visit the Pool.
Swimming is a favorite kid-approved outdoor activity. Find time to head to your local pool, and remember to bring sunscreen.
Safety note: kids must ALWAYS be supervised when in and around water. This included kids that know how to swim.
9. Turn Off the TV for an Outdoor Play.
Want your kids to move more and engage in outdoor play? Turn off the TV. I know this is a tough one. TV is a big part of our culture and daily lives. Changing habits can be challenging for our kids and us, but we can do it!
And I know just the support you need to be successful. Jerrica Sannes of Raise Wildflowers created The TV Detox, which will walk you through the whole process of changing your TV habits. Her course is free and life-changing, I promise.
10. Give Kids Lots of Uninterrupted, Unstructured Time.
As parents, we sometimes feel like we need to constantly be playing with our kids or at least send them to structured activities like soccer and dance. But what they really need is unstructured time. And lots of it.
Take your kids outside and allow them to be for a minute. You’re providing them with the time and the space to be active but don’t feel like you need to rush in and entertain them. See what games and activities they slowly come up with on their own when they are finally left to structure their own time.
Kids will slowly learn how much fun they can have when engaging in outdoor play.
Final Thoughts on Outdoor Play for Kids
There are so many great reasons to get kids outside, and I hope that these tips will help your family spend more time outdoors exploring, moving, playing, and building a love of nature. What do your kids love to do outside?
Laurel is an early childhood educator, parenting coach, and lover of the outdoors. She shares her knowledge and experience by writing for <a href="https://kidswhoplay.com/" link rel="noopener" target="blank">Kids Who Play</a>.