Do you have fond memories of playing with other kids outdoors in your neighborhood growing up? Many people do, and those memories are often a source of nostalgia for parents.
Outdoor play is a great way to encourage your children to explore their imaginations and to benefit from being outside. However, not all kids are fans of being outdoors, so finding ways to encourage outdoor play can be tricky. It can be hard to imagine finding time to do another activity when your family is already busy, and lots of times children want to play inside anyway if that’s what they’re used to.
Why is outdoor play important for children?
Playing outdoors is a staple of many people’s childhood for a lot of reasons. Not only is it a lot of fun to play, being outside can promote creativity and help your child use their imagination. There are infinite possibilities for play outside, and finding ways to have fun can help your child practice being creative.
We all spend a lot of time in front of screens these days, kids included, so spending time playing outside can also provide new forms of sensory stimulation. Playing outdoors can also:
- Encourage physical activity
- Teach children to appreciate being in nature
- Support building relationships with other children in the community
- Inspire curiosity about the natural world
- Increase engagement in learning
- Improve impulse control
- Build confidence
- Reduce stress
Are you wondering how to encourage your child or children to play outdoors? Here are 6 things to try.
Make their outdoor play area comfortable
Try to have a place outside where they can participate in activities they already enjoy to get used to being outside. Some kids might prefer having things to climb on, while other kids would prefer to have access to a space to chalk or run around.
Try to think of what they’re already interested in and find a way to bring it outside. If they already like to play with blocks, bring the blocks out to the driveway or the yard. If they like to play games, try playing them outside instead.
Take baby steps
Don’t expect them to go from indoor kids to outdoor kids in a day. It will take time. Try a little bit every day instead of aiming for large stretches of time outside right away. By taking baby steps to get your kids interested in outdoor play, you’ll give them time to adjust to the change.
Try going outside one or two days a week and slowly working up to more outdoor time as your children adjust to their new routine.
Mix it up
There are a million ways to be outside. Maybe your kid doesn’t like playing in the backyard but loves to go for a swim or to play kickball at the park. It might take some time to figure out what outdoor activities your child enjoys and looks forward to, but it’s worth some trial and error to find something they’ll really look forward to.
Here are some ideas for outdoor play to try:
- Jump ropes
- Water table
- Sand play
- I Spy
- Hide and seek
- Finger painting
Try incorporating sensory play to get your kids interested in playing outside. Use things like water, sand, leaves, pebbles, sticks, or paint to stimulate the senses of your children and get them excited to be outside.
Let them choose
Children love being able to make their own choices, so let them choose what they’d like to do when they play outside. Give them lots of options and let them drift toward what draws their interest to help build their enthusiasm for playing outdoors. You can also make a jar full of popsicle sticks or slips of paper with outdoor play ideas on them and have them pick one to choose a new activity.
Lead by example
What do you like to do outside? If spending time outdoors is important to you, you can lead by example to show your children why it’s fun to be outside.
Do you like to garden or read outside or hike or bird watch, or something else? Bring your kids along next time you go and let them participate. Lots of times children want to be involved in what you’re doing, so inviting them to join in your outdoor hobbies can make them feel excited about spending time outside.
Prepare for the weather
When the weather is nice, it can seem even more urgent to have your children take advantage of playing outside.
Sometimes the weather gets in the way of having fun outside, but there are ways to prepare for the weather so outdoor play can be a part of your routine most of the time. Dressing for the weather is important. Make sure to have proper rain gear or cold weather wear to protect against the elements and make being outside more enjoyable no matter what the weather is like. In the warmer weather, make sure to have sun protection and easy access to water.
Outdoor gear can be expensive, so check out places like thrift shops, resale websites (like Poshmark or Depop), Facebook marketplace, or local buy/sell/trade groups for supplies at a lower price.