As a parent, many of us wish that our kids would get off the computer or stop watching TV and go play outside. But many of us are so busy that we forget to encourage outdoor play in ways other than yelling, “Go play outside.” However, playing outside is important. Kids need to get that active exercise, breath fresh air, and develop interest in the world around them. You can encourage outdoor play be providing kids with activities and by playing with them. Here seven ways to encourage outdoor play with a combination of sensory opportunities and hands-on experiences that excite kids to try outdoor play either as a group or independently. I also included a list of outdoor play examples at the end of the post for a little inspiration.
How to Encourage Outdoor Play
Creating natural magic
Back home, parents may struggle to find such novel attractions, and that’s part of the challenge in getting children outside to play. The virtual reality of video games may seem much more interesting than the reality of their own backyards. To make matters worse, some kids are confined to their backyards because of concerns for their safety in roaming too far from home.
Without an opportunity wander and dream, the children’s imaginations can be stifled. Imagination is often the foundation of play, but it can suffer as a result of attention spans shortened by hyperactively designed video games. When parents ask kids to go outside to play, kids may see it as forced boredom, compared to a known source of entertainment such as the TV or gaming device.
There are ways to overcome the boredom factor. It all starts with activities to create a focus for play. Providing sports equipment and outdoor areas that attract visitors, such as a garden or patio, can help encourage outdoor play.
Encouraging a natural desire to play
Fostering the urge to play begins with environments that don’t hem kids in. Sometimes giving kids a little focus can work wonders to make the world seem like a bigger place and the backyard a little less confining.
Even a roughly constructed sandbox can serve as a wonderful focus for playtime during a child’s early years up to age 6 or 8. Depending on the maturity of the child, you can add a little water to a sandbox or let them have a hose to repeatedly fill up the holes they dig. You’ll find the kids crawling around the sandbox for hours, often inventing worlds that have nothing to do with the backyard.
Get your child a bike. Then ride or walk together.
The bicycle is the ultimate tool for outside play and fun. Even if you walk with your small child on their tricycle around the block, you’re both learning about the value of play and exercise.
Creating a sense of ownership
A classic treehouse, backyard slide, or fort on your property is still a great way to encourage kids to get outside for exercise. These types of spaces give kids a sense of ownership of their own space. If you can’t make a tree house, get the kids excited about regular trips to the playground, or put up a swing set on your property. Most importantly, be willing to occasionally join your children on the equipment if you are physically capable. Kids love parents who get involved. But also remember to let them interact with other kids and stand back even if they’re having social challenges. Part of play is learning how to socialize.
Get a dog
While cats are nice around the house, they don’t exactly encourage exercise. But walking the dog and taking it to a park or forest preserve is one of the simplest ways to get your child outside and engaged in the world. You might want to read these tips for getting a new dog if you decide you are interested in adopting a dog.
Find a lake, river, pond or stream
Kids love to play near water. With age-appropriate supervision, your child can wander about and get exercise with friends near a body of water. They often enjoy building boats or seeing what floats or spotting fish and turtles.
Examples of outdoor play
- Jump Rope
- Hula Hoop
- Pretend Play
- Building Forts
- Sandbox Play
- Water Table Play
- Messy Crafts
- Bouncy Toys
- Ride-on Toys
- Swing Set Play
- Slip N Slide
- Bug Hunting
- Butterfly Catching
- Bird Watching
- Trampoline Jumping
Encouraging outdoor play is an issue all modern parents seem to contend with, whether they live in lower Manhattan or a ranch in Wyoming. Mostly encouraging outdoor play is about being creative enough to try ideas until something seems to stick with your children. Even if they’re resistant to playing outside, your kids will thank you one day.