Walk down most streets on a warm summer day, and you may expect to see kids playing: in their yards, in their neighbors’ yards, or in the park. But if the streets and parks seem quieter than they did when you were young, you’re not imagining it. Kids really aren’t playing outside as much as they used to. Where have they gone?
Technology often gets the blame, but that isn’t the only reason kids aren’t playing outside as often these days. Yes, TV, video games, and computers are a draw. But also, many schools send home more work than they did in the past. Kids need to spend more time studying at home to stay ahead. And, justified or not, a lot of people cite safety concerns that keep their kids playing indoors instead of outside.
The bottom line is that staying inside has become a lifestyle. But it’s not a positive change. Kids need to move, and they need to play outdoors. It’s fine and nice to say as much, but what if they don’t want to get off the couch? How can you get your kids playing outside?
Why Active Play Is Important for Kids
Getting your kids outside is more than just getting them out of your hair. Play is beneficial to children. We all know about the physical benefits, including lowering the risks for high blood pressure and cholesterol, along with reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes. Outdoor and active play also improve mental health. And playing with other children teaches kids how to interact socially and helps them develop the social skills they will use throughout their lives.
And active play benefits parents as well. Outdoor play helps kids discharge their excess energy. It helps them to calm and focus themselves. And this makes everyone happier.
Make Play Attractive
While you recognize the benefits of outdoor play, your kids may not be so keen on it. You have to make it attractive to them. You need to spark their interest and make them want to go outside and play. Doing this may be easier said than done, but there are some things you can do to make it easier to get kids playing outside.
Make it fun
You have to make outdoor play fun. Provide them with a variety of activities. You want to give them options, so they don’t have the excuse of not wanting to do a specific activity. Find what they like to do. When you give them options of things to do, they are more likely to find something that grabs their attention. You can get creative, too. Even a change in environment, such as going to the park, can spark their creativity and get kids playing.
Make it a habit
You also need to make it a habit — but don’t make it a chore. If they feel like you’re forcing them outside, they’ll rebel. Instead, motivate them by going outside every day with them. Do things as a family outside. Make it a time to focus on each other and spend quality time together. This will help them look forward to this part of the day instead of dreading it. Once you engage them, it really will make the task of getting kids playing outside easier.
Make it comfortable
It has to be comfortable as well. If it’s very cold or hot, you’ll need to make adjustments. Provide shaded areas to keep them cool and warm areas for cold days. Consider doing activities with water on really hot days. Build a snowman on a snowy day. Make the weather work for you. It can be a great motivator to get kids playing outside. What kid doesn’t love jumping through the sprinklers or having a snowball fight? Let the weather draw them outside naturally.
Play Ideas for All Ages
Structure play so it suits your child’s skills, abilities, and developmental stage. A child will have more fun when the activities are something they enjoy and can do easily. They don’t want to have to work too hard when they’re supposed to be having fun.
Under age 5
From birth, children explore the world around them. Infants focus mainly on learning about their own bodies and quickly move onto learning about things in their environment, including other people. They need activities they can understand, so play cannot be too complex. But even simple play will help them learn and grow. For example, taking a baby outside to lay on a blanket in the grass is a simple thing, but it equals play for this age group.
Toddlers love to play. It enables them to burn off energy and learn how to use their bodies. Their motor skills develop a lot during this time. They also discover how to play with others. In addition, they build language skills, so any activities that allow them to interact with others work great. They love to explore everything, so anything that lets them learn something new or to discover new things is also a good choice. You can easily try any of the following:
- Scavenger hunt (for older kids)
- Playing in a sandbox
- Parent/child swim classes or the kiddie pool
- Your public park
From age 5 to about 12, kids spend more time inside — specifically in school. They need to burn off energy once they’re outside those walls. Kids in this age group are actively learning all the time. Play should allow them to explore their creative sides. However, this is also the age group where you can introduce sports, and when kids start to find interests that they will focus on in the coming years. Consider trying the following activities:
- Roller skating
- Hide and seek
- Backyard sports like kickball and soccer
- Organized team sports for their age group
Preteens and teens
Active play time decreases as kids get older. The preteen and teenage years are a time of independence. They really won’t want you pushing them to play outside. Kids playing at this age is much different than the younger age groups. You will have to guide them toward activities that take place outside, if you want it to happen. Many kids already have a sport they focus on, which is great, but don’t forget to allow time for fun, too. Popular sports choices include baseball, softball, football, basketball, and tennis, but you can also introduce other sports, such as bowling, golfing, and swimming.
Older kids also love group activities as they start exploring relationships more. You can also encourage them to learn new things. Have them try something they never have, such as skiing or watersports. Always give them choices and encourage their interests.
Some older kids may have a lot of objections to outdoor play. To these kids, playing outside is a little kid activity, so you need to approach it differently. Instead of playing, encourage them to do volunteering or a job that involves outdoor work. A couple of examples include lifeguarding and landscaping.
Outdoor play can be a family activity. It shouldn’t always just be the kids playing outside. You can get out there, too. It is a great time for everyone to come together. Of course, when the whole family is playing, you have to find things to do that everyone can do. This may be a challenge if you have children of different ages, but there are plenty of great activities that work regardless of the different age groups.
There are some things you can do that combine chores with play. Things like gardening and walking the dog don’t seem like much of a chore when you involve everyone and keep things lighthearted and fun. Washing the car is a chore that can be a blast when you all work together doing it.
You can also take a bike ride together. This is nice because it’s a change of scenery, too. Being outside in the same space all the time gets boring for kids playing. Biking, even if you just ride down your street, provides something new and different.
There is a range of activities to do together as a family, such as flying kites, blowing bubbles, and hula hooping. You can even just go to a playground and play. Again, the change of scenery adds some excitement to an otherwise normal activity.
Finally, try something new and different, like playing in the dark using glow sticks and flashlights or setting up camp in the backyard. Head to a fair for the day. All that walking is great exercise, and it’s a nice choice for any age group because there is something for everyone. Try to vary your activities, so you keep the interest of all your kids.
Keeping it Safe for Kids Playing Outdoors
Accidents are inevitable, but you can cut down on their frequency and severity by observing a few basic safety rules. There are three areas you want to focus on to ensure playtime is fun and not dangerous.
You should create a safe space for outdoor play. This means removing anything that could pose a hazard or putting up barriers around dangerous things. For example, if you have a pool, make sure it’s fenced off and has an alarm so children cannot get into it without your help. Everything from holes in the ground to hazardous items needs to be cleaned up and fixed to provide a safe space for play.
Also, watch out for additional dangers due to weather. Make sure ice isn’t going to lead to falls or that the sun beating down on metal equipment won’t lead to burns. Remember, bugs are more active at certain times of the year, so watch out for bees and wasps. In addition, use sunscreen when needed to avoid sunburns.
Anything you use for outdoor play needs to be kept in good condition. If you have a playground set up, make sure all the pieces work and nothing is broken. Check equipment often. Pump up balls and bike tires, make sure the badminton net is secure, and fix the broken slide to prevent accidents and injuries. You also need to continuously monitor equipment. Do a quick check before kids play with anything. Replace worn equipment as needed, too.
You also have to prepare the kids. Make sure they understand and follow the rules. Give them boundaries. Provide them with safety gear as needed and insist they use it. Teaching them to play safely will prevent a lot of accidents as well. For example, if you have swings, make sure everyone knows not to walk too close to someone who is swinging. Put the older kids in charge of younger kids playing. Older kids can watch out for the safety of younger children, who may not always understand danger. But never leave children of any age to play completely unsupervised.
Some last notes
To keep your kids playing safe, always ensure they have adequate supervision. Make sure older kids understand how to get help in case of an emergency. And lead by example. Wear safety gear yourself and follow safety rules. If kids see you taking safety seriously, they will as well.
Get Out and Play
Getting kids playing outside does not have to be a hassle. You can make it a fun and enjoyable activity that your kids look forward to. It is important to remember how beneficial outdoor play is. Kids need to get outside on a regular basis. It will do them and you some good to make play a habit. Once you start outdoor play time, you will soon find it becomes a great time for everyone, and that it makes your kids happier and healthier. So, don’t hesitate. Get those kids playing outside today!