Looking for ways to give your kids’ mental and physical health a boost? One simple way you can do this is by taking your kids to play outside. According to Harvard Health, it’s important for your kids to spend time outside because:
- Time in the sun helps kids produce vitamin D.
- Outdoor play keeps kids active.
- It inspires creative play and helps develop other executive-function skills.
- Unstructured time improves their socialization skills.
- It teaches them to value nature.
Despite the many benefits of time outdoors, technology and other indoor entertainment make it difficult to motivate kids to leave the house. So how can we teach kids to value time outside?
How to get your kids to play outside
Maybe you wouldn’t consider yourself outdoorsy, or you’re wondering what you’d even tell your kids to do if you managed to pry their devices away. Here are four tips to help you encourage your kids to play outside.
1. Show them what there is to love about being outside.
What do you love about being outside? Are there outdoor activities you’ve been meaning to try? Do you have bikes or kayaks collecting dust in the garage? Show your kids you believe going outside will be a good experience … not just a “good idea.”
If you’re wanting to relax and wind down, you could have a picnic and read on a blanket (I have fond memories of this growing up). Another idea is to go on a walk and point out landmarks, animals, or wildflowers.
If you’re needing to run off the kids’ energy, try a water balloon fight or a game of capture the flag. You can be part of the audience, but remember … you’re never too old to play outside.
If your kids don’t like spending time outdoors, you may want to talk with them to see where the hesitation is coming from:
- Do they feel safe outside?
- Is it too hot or too cold for them?
- Are they getting bored?
- Do their devices just seem more exciting?
If you can, talk with them and try to alleviate their concerns. Perhaps certain places or times of day feel more comfortable to go out. Maybe they need that extra reminder to wear sunscreen and bug spray. Or they may just need fun ideas that work well with their environment and help them cool down from being in the sun.
2. Emphasize the importance of getting away from the noise.
Let’s face it, the world can be LOUD. From the actual noise of traffic and crowds to the metaphorical noise of a busy schedule—it all can add up. Kids are still learning to process the world, to identify their needs and find healthy ways to meet them.
Research has shown that noise pollution can inhibit childrens’ speech perception and listening comprehension, as well as performance on reading, verbal tasks, and even nonauditory tasks like memory recall.
According to Nationwide Children’s, stress can cause a number of short- and long-term physical and psychological health problems in children. Keep in mind, stress can be caused by good and bad events. Maybe you’ve got a son or daughter who’s been dealing with a bully this year. Or a kiddo who’s been staying awfully busy with sports practice or another extracurricular.
For all these reasons, it’s important for kids (and adults) to get time away from the usual environment—to be somewhere unstructured where they can be carefree and creative.
And speaking of that last point…
3. Encourage their creativity as often as you can.
In an overstimulating world of endless shows, video games, and music to stream, going outside is going to seem boring at first. As someone who enjoys the fun and excitement of adventure movies and video games, I know they can make it more difficult to stay present in real life.
But if your kids play outside with an open mind and a few ideas, they can make their own adventure.
Bring some chalk to draw on the sidewalk. Build a “lean-to” by leaning sturdy sticks up against a tree. Or give your kids some options to try on their own (with age-appropriate supervision): bubbles, water balloons, jump ropes, a ball—whatever you have.
They may need some encouragement to get started, but kids are naturally creative. When you see your kid engaging more with his or her creative side, try to pause what you’re doing and interact with them.
4. Help your kids find a healthy balance.
Talk with your spouse or any other guardians about how much time would be good for your kids to play outside. Consider limits for technology when they’re inside.
While TV shows, movies, video games, etc. are typically viewed as a distraction, they can also be used for good. They can be great ways for a kid to bond with parents, siblings, and friends. They can educate, create laughter, or reflect the gospel. But it certainly depends on the content as well as the frequency of use. Media is often used as an escape and a distraction—by kids and adults.
Spending time outside provides a different kind of escape, one that can leave kids feeling more connected to family, friends, and God. It can also give them the space to process their own thoughts and feelings. Being outside removes many of the distractions that can keep kids from being fully present and appreciating their surroundings.
When you get out there, remember…
As you and your kids get used to spending more intentional time outside, you’ll learn what works for your family and what doesn’t. Who knows? You may all come away with new activities you love and new ways to get away and relax. However your time out there looks, your kids will experience long-lasting benefits when they play outside.
Need more tips for what to do with the kids this summer? Check out our Summer Game Plan here.
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Alex McMurray is a content writer for FamilyLife at Cru headquarters in Orlando. She graduated from Cedarville University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a concentration in child and family studies. She grew up in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania with her parents and older brother. In her free time, she enjoys having deep conversations over coffee, playing board games, and adventuring outdoors.