Playing outside has lots of benefits for kids: They get sunshine and vitamin D! They get to use all their senses! (Even taste, if they lick a few tree trunks.) They get social interaction! They build resilience and confidence! They get to really move.
The great outdoors gives children room to run and jump and climb and kick and catch and throw. (Without any chance they’ll break your favourite vase.) These activities aren’t just great exercise for little bodies, they’re also important for developing advanced motor skills like agility, balance and coordination, as well as strengthening muscle and building endurance.
But clocking up hours of outdoor play can be a challenge. Especially if you live in an apartment, if you have more than one kid, if you’re struggling to find five spare minutes in the day for a shower let alone a nature hike. So! We’ve pulled together a list of simple things you can do, to get your kids outside more.
Start with simple swaps.
Increasing your outdoor time doesn’t need to involve an all-day hike through the national park. It can! (Take snacks.) If you’re feeling daunted, start small. Eat lunch in the backyard on a picnic mat instead of inside, spend time reading on the balcony rather than the couch, or turn that quick drive to the post office into a walk/scoot/ride.
Take indoor toys outdoors.
Not the iPad, obviously. But other playtime favourites that can weather the outdoors – things like building blocks, cars and trucks, sensory balls or animal figurines. Your kids will enjoy having the comfort of a toy they like with the excitement of new surroundings.
Explore new spaces.
If you have kids, you probably also have a go-to park that’s: convenient, clean, not too crowded, and has an above-satisfactory swing/slide set-up. It can be tempting to walk there on autopilot, but when you have a little extra time, try exploring new outdoor spaces. Take the kids to a botanical garden, national park, beach, river or waterpark – exposing your kids to varied environments will be hugely beneficial and help keep it exciting.
Involve kids in outside chores.
Cleaning the outdoor furniture might not be your favourite task, but for children with a cloth and a water spray bottle, it’s surprisingly fun. Let your little housemate accompany you while you hang clothes on the line, feed the pets, sweep the outdoor patio, or tend to the garden. You can even give them a toy wheelbarrow or shovel and spade, so they can get involved. They’ll learn about different responsibilities around the house, and feel a sense of importance helping out.
Make an outdoor activity jar.
You say: “Go play outside!” They say: “I’M BOOOOOOREED.” Try making an outdoor activity jar. Get your kids to help you come up with a bunch of easy, independent play ideas (think: bubbles, frisbee, insect hunts, kicking the ball, bird-spotting, sidewalk chalk), then write them on pieces of paper and pop them in a jar. Next time they’re stuck for something to do? They pick an idea from the jar and head outside.
Turn it into a challenge.
Need a motivational kick-up-the-bum? A short or long-term challenge can create a little extra incentive to boost your outside time. You might challenge your family to a screen-free day once a week, or 30 minutes of outdoor time each day for a month, or check out 1000 Hours Outside, which aims to clock 1000 hours of outdoor time over the span of a whole year.
Build it into your routine.
An easy, no-think-y way to increase your outdoor time is to make it part of your everyday routine. Maybe you always take a walk in the morning to school or daycare, or visit the park in the afternoon to burn off the 4pm zoomies – if kids know to expect the outdoor time, they’ll be less likely to battle against it.
Try water play.
There are zillions of ways to work water into your outdoor play! Set up a tub with toys to wash, give the plants a drink with a watering can, take cooking play outside with cups, spoons, pots and pans, or try water ‘painting’ with a bucket of H20 and a big paint brush. If the weather is warm, set up a hose or sprinkler for the kids to run through, or let them get grubby making mud pies. (Not for eating, please.)
Get the whole family involved.
You can make the outdoors even more appealing by turning it into family bonding time. Family bike rides or nature walks will help kids to start associating the outdoors with positive and quality family time, and they’ll also learn from your example as a parent. You can even start a family bucket-list of fun, outdoor activities you can do together!