Getting children to play outdoors seemingly feels impossible these days. As a child of the 80’s we did not think anything of being outside with the other kids on the street for hours on end. In summer, I don’t think my parents saw me until it was time for dinner and then with daylight savings we were gone again soon after to fit in more playtime before the sun went down. It’s hard to believe that some 43% of children, apparently would rather stay indoors on technology than be in the fresh air.
Benefits of Outdoor Play in the Early Years of Childhood
Before we jump into ideas, here are a few points as to the importance of outdoor play in childhood years:
- Playing outside allows children to learn their physical limits and challenge them
- Exploring natural areas, especially unstructured play time allows children the opportunity to experience nature in their own way
- With more space, comes the ability to burn more energy (less chance of running into furniture too!)
- The use of their imagination and sense of adventure switches on, which is really important for their development
- Playing outdoors will also improve their fitness and physical development
- Being out in the sunshine will help in receiving a good dose of vitamin D (of course being aware that sunscreen and hats is encouraged in hot conditions or for long periods of sun exposure to avoid sun burn on young skin).
I’m not going to lecture anyone here because at the end of the day we are all doing the best we can, so here are my tips to help you encourage and get your child/ children outdoors more. The following list is also suitable as outdoor activities for toddlers.
7 Quick Ways to get my children to play outside
- Arrange a play date with friends
Having a friend over always makes playing outdoors so much more enticing when they can entertain each other
- Make your backyard interesting & fun
If the weather is warm, having the sprinkler on for the kids to run around entertains them for quite some time and waters the lawn at the same time
- Lead by example
Spending time yourself outdoors is the best way to encourage children to also be outside. We usually have a list of jobs that need doing around the garden or yard, such as weeding, mowing the lawn, raking leaves, pruning and so forth. Every time we are outside, our kids follow. When the weather is warm I also love to do a small yoga routine in the sunshine or under the tree, and my toddler jumps at the chance to mimic me on her own yoga mat (and it’s incredibly cute!).
- Spend time relaxing outside
We are regular morning tea type of people and love to have a cup of tea mid morning (or the afternoon) and if the sun is shining you will always find us outside on the patio. Taking time to fit in small moments to enjoy the outdoors for eating is wonderful as it is a relaxing time for all of us.
- Eat meals outside
Summer evenings are the best time to have dinner and we all feel so relaxed afterwards and will often chat longer with each other. Without even knowing it they are being exposed to the natural environment to a degree.
- Create your own outdoor activities
Encouraging children to find insects in your yard, the street or a local park generally captivates their attention for ages. We often will look up the variety of bugs found on plants (usually eating our veggies!) as to identify them. It is surprising when you take the time to look around your neighborhood there are some wonderful critters to investigate and toddlers love nothing more than moving bugs!
- Plant a garden or some seeds
Sowing seeds for the next season of herbs or simple tomato plants has always intrigued our youngest. Whether you have a small patio space for a few pots or a larger yard, growing your own food is also valuable for young children to appreciate how food grows and where it comes from (not just the supermarket!), not to mention how convenient it is to be able to pick your own basil or tomatoes for a tasty summer salad.
- Assemble a tent
Pretend camping time is always fun for children of all ages. Small tents or play tents are a winner, especially when you encourage them to set up with a few pillow and blankets as if they are setting up for a proper camp sleepover!
- Have a basket of outdoor equipment easily accessible
In our shed door entrance we have a big basket filled with all sorts of sporting equipment ready for action. Sports gear such as Frisbees, hula hoops, bottles of bubbles, sidewalk chalk, tennis balls, a mixed selection of balls, whiffle bat and balls, plastic golf clubs, badminton set, totem tennis set, etc. When we’re looking for a small game the kids are more than happy to select a game they are in the mood for. Even just 15 minutes play time seems to relax them and I have noticed a greater connection with each of my children when I allocate the time playing something.
- Set up a make shift mud kitchen
A mud kitchen does not need to be extravagant by any stretch. It can be a small area with a couple of bricks or pieces of wood for the children to play and create mud pies. A couple of old pots, bowls, wooden spoons and so forth will be enough to encourage their imagination for mud cakes and pies sweetly decorated with leaves, seeds, flowers and sticks! Wearing old clothes is a must as mud tends to stain. That way, your child can relax knowing they can play to their hearts content and they won’t be in trouble for getting their good clothes filthy.
How can I encourage my children outdoors more?
Camps are a wonderful way to get your child outdoors over the summer break, especially if they are homeschooled (you can read more on that here in the article on ‘5 Reasons why Summer Camp for Homeschooled kids is so important‘.
Small but regular moments of outdoor play can lead to longer periods and wonderful activities that your children will love. The benefits of outdoor play in early years is definitely worth encouraging your little ones to engage in outside time. We are fortunate to have wonderful homes that protect us but for our mental sake, connecting to the outdoor environment is all part of a healthy balance in life. Start with 15 minutes a day and see where it takes you!