If we were able to travel back in time just a few decades and ask most children what they felt was the funnest thing they could possibly do, most would say go outside and play. Recess was the highlight of the school day. If for some strange reason recess was extended by 15 minutes, it was the best thing in the world.
Now, many parents feel like it is pulling teeth to get their children to go outside. This is especially true for children who grow up in city environments. The childhood memories that parents enjoyed being active and playing with friends outside are not being replicated in their children. Modern children are living a life that is dominated by screen time. Understandably, parents are concerned about this. The following are five ways that parents may be able to get their kids to go outside.
1. Let Them Know Getting Dirty Is Okay
Children go through their life being told by their parents and other responsible adults that they need to keep clean and need to keep their things clean. Parents want their children to keep their clothing clean, to wash their hands before they eat, and to tidy up the room.
Children in school are told to keep their desks and the classroom clean. If they wear uniforms, their uniforms need to be spotless. As a result, many children grow up feeling that getting dirty is wrong. Subconsciously, they may develop a negative view of being outdoors. Inevitably, if a kid is outdoors and is playing in the grass or in the dirt, they are going to get dirty.
Parents can take away the trepidation their children might feel about getting dirty by letting their children know that when they go outside to play, it is okay to get muddy and to get dirty. Parents may even set up an area in the house where their children can go to change their muddy clothing right when they come in from the outside so as not to track mud into the house. Check out this great article by NPR all about why getting dirty is important for optimal mental and physical health.
2. Minimize Screen Time
The biggest competition for your children’s time and attention is likely their screens. Movies, video games, social media, and video sharing platforms are especially attractive to young people.
As a parent, you have the right to set a maximum time limit for being in front of a screen. When that time is up, encourage your children to go out and play. Some parents have even gone as far as saying that if their children do not go outside and play for a set amount of time, they are not allowed to use their screens and watch movies or play games.
From time to time, why not incorporate being outdoors with watching a movie or playing video games? Setting up a projector outside is pretty easy. I recommend using a portable projector unit that is both cost effective and also allows you to setup your screen anywhere. Choosing a model with an integrated audio system is a must for easy setup. This will allow you and your children to enjoy the beauty of nature and at the same time give your kids their much desired screen time.
3. Do Not Allow the Weather to Be a Deterrent
Some parents feel that outdoors time is only possible during the spring, summer, and the early part of fall. However, in many states winter is almost half of the year. As a result, children become accustomed to coming in from school, curling up on the couch, and watching Netflix or playing video games. But a big part of beating the winter blues as a family is getting outside and being active even during the winter months. There is a Scandinavian saying that parents can apply, “Bad winters do not exist, only bad clothing.”
There are a number of enjoyable winter sports that children and parents can engage in together. Some children whose parents encouraged them to engage in winter sports took a liking to them and continue to participate in them as adults.
4. Give Kids the Space They Need to Enjoy Being Outside
There are many parents who say that they want their children to get outside and have fun. However, once their kids get outside, they treat them as if they were in a cage. It is understandable that parents want their children to be safe. However, they should avoid hovering too close, especially when their children are out exploring.
The benefit of children being outside is that it provides them with an infinite space to be adventurous, imaginative, and creative. It allows children to get out of their comfort zone, learn from nature, and learn from their mistakes. Sure, there will be a scratched knee or a bruised elbow from time to time or the occasional unwanted run in with an insect, but that is what it is all about.
To really become outdoor living children, kids need freedom to test their own boundaries. It can be difficult for parents to let go, but it is a must if they want their children to grow up and be confident and courageous adults.
5. Foster an Interest in Nature in Your Children
Parents can encourage and inspire their children to want to be in nature by reading books that are full of nature and adventure. Better yet, read these books to your children while outdoors. There are a number of books that you can read with your children on these topics, depending on their age level.
If you read a book about planting a garden, plant a garden with your children. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. It could just be a small garden that has plants that will grow quickly, such as beans and peas. Or if you read books about stars, take your children somewhere outside of the city at night and take along a blanket, binoculars, or a telescope and gaze at the stars.
We hope that you have enjoyed our simple tips for getting your children outside. We would love to hear from you. What have you been able to use to successfully encourage your children to get outdoors? Share your tips with us in the comments section below.