Growing up, playing inside the house for hours was unheard of. I remember that I was constantly outside for play time. I would play catch with my siblings outside the house, ride on the bike, or even fly a kite at the nearby park. However, due to technology, kids are not playing outside as much as they should be now. Screen time has taken over most of their active lives. In fact, many kids cannot think of anything else to do to entertain themselves beyond watching TV or playing on the iPad.
Instead of pointing fingers at parents (I’m sure all parents are trying our best!), I think we should all make an effort to bring back outdoor activities for all children. Outdoor play is so essential for children’s development. It allows them freedom to explore, foster creativity, help them develop their strength and most importantly, allows kids to burn off all their excess energy by running around and not having to bump into things or sharp corners indoors.
I think it’s time for us to encourage outdoor play for our kids, but how do we get our kids off the screen so that they will spend more time outside? The idea is to instill in them the love for outdoors, and if they want to go outside, they would naturally put down the iPad in favor of some outdoor free play!
Here are some ways to get yours kids to go outside and play without nagging:
1. Set limits to screen time
As parents, the onus is on us to set limits and boundaries so that kids know that their time is up, and they should be choosing some other activity to do instead. I am not suggesting taking away the screen time completely as there are still some merits to allowing it, but if we make it a point to say that TV is only allowed after dinner time, kids will naturally know that’s the routine and will know that there is no screen time at other times of the day.
In our house, we also enforce a “no-screen in the bedroom” rule. They all know that the TV is in the living room, and this concept is ingrained in my kids since they were young. They have never watched TV in their bedroom, they don’t question it, and they don’t get upset about it.
2. Make outdoor fun
My daughters love to dig dirt and look for tiny creatures in our backyard. To motivate them to go outside, I would always start out by telling them we are going on a treasure hunt, and our mission is to find as many slugs as we can. By creating a fun game, we turned our walks into an exciting treasure hunt. Sometimes we even find extra things on the way!
3. Invite a friend to go along
Thankfully, we live in a neighborhood with many young families and kids. My eldest has found a friend that she enjoys playing with. We (the parents) would make plans to go outside for walks, and the kids would happily tag along. As soon as I tell her, let’s go on a walk with XXX down the street, she would jump at the idea and promptly get dressed.
The thing is, most kids don’t like to play alone, but if outside fun is happening with other kids in attendance, they would want to be a part of it.
We have now made outside play time a regular play date, and it is one of the things that my kids look forward to the most on the weekends.
4. Take their indoor toys outside
My kids have a couple of favorites when playing inside the house. They like their push-car, balance bikes, and their tea party set. To make the outside world more inviting, I have allowed them to bring their inside toys out to the porch and backyard to have some play time. By doing so, I have provided a safe extension of home, and they feel completely at ease while playing outside. Just make sure to clean the toys before you bring them back in.
5. Allow unstructured play time
Kids love free play. Contrary to popular belief, the more unstructured it is, the better it gets. According to research, when it comes to brain development, time on the playground is actually more important than time in the classroom due to the way it changes the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This regulates one’s emotions, ability to solve problems and strategize.
As parents, we should strive to provide some free play within safe limits. Just bring them to the playground and allow them to come up with their own games. You’ll be surprised at what they will do with the surrounding resources.
6. Water is their best friend
My kids love water play. To make my point, I accidentally left a bowl of water on the table the other day, and my youngest managed to find it, splashed her tiny hands in it and obviously made a mess at the table. I only found out about it because she was giggling and laughing over it. How can I be mad at the little one when she was having so much fun?
Over the past few summers, we have set up a mini water park on our deck and backyard by rotating different toys – water table, a splash pad and a kids slide that leads into an inflatable pool. Both my kids love it! They could be out there playing and splashing to their hearts’ content, and would never want to come back in.
7. Set a destination and go with them
Your kids will want to go out more if you go with them. Set a destination and make it even more special. I know my kids like to hike, so we have found it to be a pretty effective strategy when we tell them that a specific day is hiking day and we will be venturing to a specific destination. It gives them something to look forward to, and there is more excitement in going outside as a family. Remember to bring your cameras along with you to snap some pictures!
We all know that introducing new activities and routines to kids can be challenging sometimes. Start small, and get your kids outside to play by increasing the number of minutes each day. Eventually, playing outside will become a regular thing for your family.
With these tips, I hope you will be able to get your kids outside more often and teach them to appreciate the outdoors a little more.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to motivate and encourage kids to go outside more for some play time? Share your comments below. I would love to hear from you!
Do you want to teach your kids how to love nature? Check out my other post here.