Are you looking for ways to encourage your child to go outside and play? Unfortunately, in our modern-day culture, playing outside has become less and less of a priority for families. But what parents need to realize is that playing outside is crucial for raising an emotionally and mentally healthy child.
It’s even harder for families when they live in a temperate climate and winter lasts for as long as 8 months! But be encouraged because even then, there is hope to get your child outside and experiencing the wonders that the great outdoors have to offer!
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How much time should a child spend outside?
Every summer when I was young, I left the house around 9am and didn’t come back until lunch, and then again at dinner. Food was all that really caused me to want to go inside. But more and more, this reality is becoming extinct with every generation.
As technology expands and people get busier, it’s challenging for parents to know how to hold a job and get their kids safely outside for playtime.
The current times have made it even more difficult. If two parents are working from home and need quiet time to accomplish their jobs, it’s challenging for them to find ways to get the kids outside, so they often turn to technology.
But what parents need to realize is even if it’s 30 min a day, it’s better than nothing. Studies have shown that kids who are outside at least 3 hours a day are much happier as children and then as adults.
And that’s the least amount of time that’s recommended. In an ideal world, kids should spend 4-6 hours outside. And as I know, that’s unrealistic for many families, especially if parents don’t have a safe space for their kids to be outside; it’s scientifically proven to reduce the likelihood of your child developing a mental health disorder when they’re older.
If you don’t have a safe space for your kids to be outside, you might want to consider making this a priority. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate! Just a space for your kids to be creative and get their hands dirty.
Here are 5 tips for encouraging your children to play outside more often.
1. Go on a walk as a family
I know this sounds so simple, but if you feel a bit lost as to how to get your family outside, especially during the winter months, starting with a walk will help you recognize how getting outside improves the entire family’s mood.
When we lived in a tiny mountain town at one time in our life, we would bundle the kids up and get outside as often as possible, even in the midst of a cold winter. It did wonders for our mental health. Even more so if you’ve all had a rough day.
Experiencing the outdoors together will be even better for your children. When you model for them that being outside is a positive and uplifting event, they will also crave this in their life.
2. Pick a fun outdoor activity to do as a family for every season
When you live in a temperate climate, finding ways to be outside when it’s cold can be challenging. But for example, we lived in Colorado most of our lives. In the spring, you can start hiking on the warmer days and continue your family walks. In the fall, you can go on a mountain hike and look at the changing colors of the leaves.
Make an event out of it and collect some leaves and make a wreath together. In the winter, you can sled or make a snow fort or snowman. You can bundle up and go on winter hikes (one of our favorites). You can even go further as to start skiing in the winter.
Perhaps you can start canoeing in the summer and fall. Try and have a different and exciting activity you do as a family for every season. And remember, when all else fails, there is always hiking, depending on where you live! The good thing about living in a climate that offers warm weather all year round is that the possibilities are endless. But this can often lead to boredom of the outdoors. There is no waiting for the warmer weather to get you excited about being outside. So even with a warmer climate, parents must seek out different activities that keep the outdoors exciting.
3. Teach your child a new survival skill every week
This year will be our first year to homeschool. As part of our recreational teaching, my husband and I will teach our kids a survival skill every week. One week we will build a shelter with the bamboo from our backyard (we live in Flordia, so this is possible). The next week we will teach fire-starting skills. And then, we will learn how to make a snare. Last week we invested in an archery set. Our 10yo loves it!
This book is incredible for getting your older child excited about learning survival skills.
4. Limit screen time
If your child is used to watching or playing a lot of screens, adjusting to being outside more will be a learning curve. You might have a few days of struggle, but eventually, your kids will adjust and start expecting it.
Kids have forgotten how to be creative and use their imagination because they aren’t given a chance to be bored and come up with a solution to their boredom–they are put in front of a screen! Parents have forgotten that it’s okay for their kids to struggle.
Obviously, use your discretion, but more often than not, if kids are allowed to experience boredom, they will use their brains to come up with something creative to occupy their time with. In the beginning, when they’re adjusting, parents can help them start a project, which brings me to my next point.
5. Teach your kids how to be outside
Sometimes, kids need a little guidance as to what to do outside. The best way to teach is to model. Show them that YOU love the outdoors. Go fishing, hiking, and camping as a family.
As it’s good to allow your kids to be bored and come up with something to do, you should also teach them.
Teach them how to make “nature soup” by collecting leaves and sticks and putting them in a bowl with water. You can start a game of soccer with them or start digging a hole and finding worms. Give them a space in the backyard that’s just theirs to do what they want with!
Start a garden, and involve them in it. If you’re trying to get them used to be outside more, you might need to show them first what is to be done, and then later down the road, they will get more independent. Parenting is all about teaching, even if it’s teaching them how to play!