As a child, all I wanted to do was play outside.
I was born after computers were a thing. My family always had a computer for as long as I can remember. My parents used our computer to write papers and stuff because they were both enrolled in graduate programs when I was a kid. Then we became missionaries, and my dad used the computer all the time to write newsletters to our supporters and keep in touch with friends and family. My mom worked at a library, and she used a computer every day at her job.
I just wasn’t interested. The only time I can remember going on the computer as a child was to play games on the American Girl website during rainy days.
My family didn’t own a car. We walked or rode bikes everywhere.
It never occurred to me that there could be children in the world who didn’t like playing outside. I still can’t believe it.
But I have recently encountered several children who believe that the great indoors has more to offer than the great outdoors.
Outdoor play offers lots of important health benefits, including better fitness, lower stress levels, better eyesight, higher critical thinking skills, and improved social interactions (Source: National Wildlife Federation).
If your children are just not into playing outside these days, here are some ways to inspire a love of the outdoors.
Go somewhere interesting
Maybe playing in the backyard just isn’t exciting to them. It’s flat and grassy and… boring. It’s time to take your child somewhere interesting and prove to them that outside doesn’t equal boring.
Do you have a geographical feature nearby that could be fun to visit?
- A waterfall?
- A mountain?
- A lake or beach?
- A historical site?
These could be features of interest that let your child know how many different ways they enjoy being outside. Maybe hiking isn’t his thing, but swimming is. Perhaps the beach is too hot, but she can get down with spelunking (pun fully intended).
Go somewhere interesting and discover a whole new love for the outdoors.
Travel somewhere new
I don’t know about you, but I get tired of going to the same three parks day in and day out. Maybe it’s the nomad in me, but I love going to new places and exploring!
I wrote a post a while back about why you should travel together as a family. Travel is an excellent opportunity to get away from technology and other indoor distractions so that you and the kids can enjoy some much-needed outdoor time.
And right, along with my first point, travel provides lots of new points of interest.
Lure them with cute animals
What little kid doesn’t like animals? You don’t even have to take a zoo (although that’s an option!).
Go searching for deer, squirrels, and chipmunks at your local nature preserve. Take some binoculars and try your hand at bird watching.
If there is a lake or other water bodies nearby, see if you can spot fish or frogs.
If nothing else, going to the park or hiking trail will allow your child to pet a few dogs. If your kid loves animals, the promise of seeing them can be a great way to get them outside.
Invest in a bike
Maybe walking around gets a little dull for your kid. So change it up!
Investing in a bike, scooter, rollerblades, skateboard, etc. might be just what they need to motivate them. Take them places where they can use their new riding toy of choice. Who knows? It could be something they get into and become good at!
Set a good example
One of the very best things you can do for your child in EVERY aspect of life is to set a good example. Getting outside is no exception.
Children love being with you and doing the things that you do. If those things are healthy, outdoor activities, your kids will want to do them too!
Be sure to get outside regularly and show the kids how much fun you can have.
It’s incredible how much more inviting the backyard is when TV time is limited. Set guidelines for how much screen time kids get per day. They will be more inclined to give outside a try if they run out of fun indoor options. Especially on a warm, beautiful day.
Make it fun
If all your child has outside to play with is a patch of grass and some shrubs, it’s no wonder they aren’t interested in yard time. What can you add to make your property more enticing for kids to play on?
Start small. Add balls, digging toys, maybe something to ride on.
Do you have trees? Add a swing or a treehouse!
Are you good with your hands, or have a husband who is? Are you willing to invest a little extra money in your backyard? Add a playscape! A slide, swing set, and things to climb on will go a long way in convincing your children that playing outside is fun!
Have a good attitude
Have you seen that parent at the park? The one who doesn’t want to be there?
“Hurry up.” “Stop doing that.” “Be more careful.” “You can’t do that.”
Don’t be that parent. Having a right attitude makes outdoor playtime more fun for everyone involved! Let children explore, try new things, learn their capabilities. Don’t be overprotective. Don’t hover.
Instead, encourage them, teach them, and praise them for their successes. They’ll be much more likely to want more outside time in the future.
Help them find a hobby
Maybe they don’t do so well with free playtime outside. Try getting them involved in an outdoor hobby!
This can be an outdoor sport such as soccer/football, baseball/cricket, rugby/American football, track, frisbee, volleyball…
There are lots and lots of outdoor sports options for every season.
If they’re not particularly athletic, try a different hobby. If they’re into technology, what about geocaching or Pokemon hunting with the Pokemon Go app? If they’re into science, what about bird watching or rock collecting?
There’s something for everybody. Help your child find out what works for them.
Set up playdates
Social influence is a huge factor in getting children outside. These days, a lot of children get together to play games and watch shows.
Talk to some parents and make a plan to get children together OUTSIDE. Bring some water guns or water balloons on a hot summer day. Take a trip to a river, lake, or beach and splash around in the water. Go to a zoo or outdoor museum together.
Making fun memories outside with peers can drastically influence your child’s perception of the outdoors.
Buy outdoor gear
When kids get presents, they love to try them out! New remote control car? Have to drive it all over the house. New doll? It’s going to get dressed and undressed at least fifty times on the first day. New hiking boots? Must try those out and see if they’re waterproof!
Buying hiking gear, sports equipment, and outdoor toys will probably see your child running out the door to test them out.
Going camping as a family is like a reset button, taking a break from day-to-day activities, and enjoying nature. I have wonderful memories of camping as a child and still enjoy camping with my husband.
Sometimes it takes a little push to get us into better habits. Your kids might not welcome a technology-free weekend up in the mountains when they first hear about it. Still, after making enjoyable memories together as a family, they may feel differently.
Remember to have a right attitude, and try a variety of activities that appeal to different members of the family.
Learn about nature
Studying plants and animals can turn outdoor adventures into a treasure hunt. Take turns identifying nature along the trail, asking questions, and making observations. Bring along a guidebook or phone app to make discoveries.
Make it a field trip (for homeschool families)
Sure, being outside might not sound fun compared to watching their favorite TV show, or playing games on the Wii. But if you make it an alternative to doing schoolwork.
Well, let’s just say the outdoors got a whole lot more exciting!
Craft outdoor trips that relate to what children are studying at home. Kill two birds with one stone by getting children some active outdoor time and solidifying the lessons they are learning in a highly memorable fashion.
Create outdoor habits
Be intentional with your outdoor time as a family. Make it part of the daily schedule.
This will ensure that other things don’t pop up and get in the way, and it will remind you to spend time outside every day. Children will also be less opposed to doing something if it’s part of their routine because children thrive on predictability and stability.
Make a trip to the park every day before naptime. Take a walk as a family every day after dinner. Have an established backyard playtime in the mornings when it’s cool.
Whatever works for your family and fits into your schedule.
Learn about health
Explain to children the benefits of fresh air and exercise. Talk to them about how their bodies get strong and prevent sickness when they run or swim or swing across the monkey bars. Children are more motivated when they know WHY they should be doing something.
You can pick up some books at the library that talk about health and exercise to understand why outdoor play is essential.
Have a picnic
Make mealtime interesting by packing a picnic lunch and spreading a blanket on the grass. Studies show that just being surrounded by nature improves mood and provides a healthy vitamin D (Source: Cornell University).
You might also spark some exciting mealtime conversations by changing settings and getting out more.
In the United States, we tend to drive EVERYWHERE nowadays, even when we don’t need to. Kids are hardier than we think. When they develop active habits, children have great endurance. Don’t worry about them not being able to walk a mile to the playground. They can do it, and so can you.
Next time, instead of reaching for the car keys or consider how far away your destination is, could you walk? Is your child old enough to ride a bike alongside you? Change the way your family does transportation and create healthier habits.
Spending a week outside doing tons of super fun activities with a group of friends might be just the thing your child needs to spark their enjoyment of the outdoors!
Whether you choose a day camp or a sleepaway option, make sure that the camp you choose has lots of activities planned outside so children can run around and get all that energy out. Many churches have summer camps, but there are other community options if you’re not religious.
One good idea is to find out which of your child’s friends will summer camp and see if your child can go to the same one. They will be more excited if someone they know is going with them.
And who knows? They may just come back home with a newfound love for the outdoors!