How to Encourage Kids to Spend More Time Outdoors

outdoor activities for kids

Between cartoons, video game consoles, tablets, smartphones and portable gaming devices there are plenty of reasons for kids to stay indoors with their eyes glued to an electronic device. These days, it seems like there are fewer reasons for kids to go outdoors or to even want to go outdoors. It can be difficult to persuade kids to put down their devices in favor of in-person social interactions or taking their dog for a walk.

But it is not just about getting your kids to get a little sunshine or fresh air because we think it might good for them; there are real, quantifiable benefits children receive from spending time outdoors. Of course, it is not any easier to convince a kid to play outdoors if you tell them they may have a lower risk for heart disease 20 years from now. But if you can create inviting spaces and fun activities that make them want to go outside without being told to, you could have a significant impact on their health and well being.

Get Kids Outside: Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors

The National Wildlife Foundation has done a great job of synthesizing several research projects and creating a condensed list of some of the many benefits children receive from spending time outdoors.

These benefits include:

  • Increased fitness levels
  • Reduced risk of obesity
  • Improved distance vision
  • Reduced risk of nearsightedness
  • Reduced ADHD symptoms
  • Higher scores on standardized tests
  • Lower stress levels
  • Protection from certain health issues (due to higher Vitamin D levels)
  • Improved Social Skills

Child playing outdoors

11 Ways to Get Kids Outside

1. Take Away the Excuses

The Nature Conservancy polled more than 600 kids and found that 90% said that participating in outdoor activities and being in nature made them feel less stressed. However, 80% of respondents said that things like heat and bugs made it less comfortable to be outdoors. The poll also showed that 62% reported that they did not have a way to get to natural areas, and 61% said that there simply were no natural areas close to where they live.

If you live in the San Diego area, you definitely have accessible natural areas nearby, but it could still be true that the kids in your life do not feel like they have a way to get to them. For the simple purpose of getting kids outdoors more, you can make time to take your kids to parks, recreation areas, lakes or the beach more often. Additionally, you can create spaces at home that may not be the equivalent of a forest filled with wildlife, but will still be much better than them staying inside on their devices.

To take away the excuse that bugs or heat keep them inside, check out these articles that are sure to help:

2. Create Creative Play Spaces with Appealing Features

One of the easiest ways to get kids outside is to make the outdoors more appealing. This could mean buying a play structure that looks like a pirate ship, installing a kid-size climbing wall or setting out carnival games on the patio.

For lots of ideas about how you can create appealing play spaces to get your kids to spend more time outdoors, check out these great articles:


3. Get Them Interested in Birdwatching or Wildlife Watching

Getting kids interested in bird watching or wildlife watching may be a good first step, particularly since you can incorporate their favorite electronic device to look up information about different species or take pictures. You can expand on this by building a birdhouse together or taking your wildlife watching out of the backyard and into local parks or recreation areas.

4. Help Them Plant Their Own Garden

Getting children and teenagers involved in gardening is a great way to get them outdoors and to teach them where food comes from, how to care for living things and how to grow their own food. You can help them create a fairy garden, plant a flowerbed or plant a vegetable garden, depending on what works better to fit your space and your preferences. Focus on growing easy things at first, such as tomatoes or wildflowers, to pique their interest.

If you have the space and feel a bit more ambitious, helping them grow their own Halloween pumpkins is a great way to get them interested in gardening.

Here are four articles to help get you started:

5. Host Outdoor Parties and Play Dates

The Nature Conservancy poll mentioned above also found that 91% of kids would spend more time outdoors if a friend encouraged them to. So inviting other kids over for outdoor play dates and parties might help encourage your kids and those invited to start spending more time outside. Plus, it is simply easier to get kids outdoors when they have other kids to interact with and activities in which to participate.

Here are two articles filled with ideas for hosting outdoor parties:

Get Kids Outside with Family Bike Rides

6. Plan Outdoor Family Time

If you plan family movie nights, game nights or even just family dinners, you can take any of these activities outdoors. Weekend lunches can take place as picnics on the grass, you can get some more use out of your outdoor kitchen by grilling more, and you can set up an outdoor movie theater on your patio to take movie night outdoors.

Here are some more ideas for family activities you can do outdoors:

  • Take a walk
  • Walk the dog
  • Go to a park
  • Go to the beach
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Teach them active games you loved as a kid
  • Plan a backyard family camping trip
  • Walk to a local store or ice cream shop for a special treat
  • Build a fort in your backyard
  • Start a rock collection and plan excursions to add to it

You can find more ideas here:

7. Plan Outdoor Crafts & Activities

Bury a prize in the sandbox and make a treasure map to help your kids find it, teach your kids how to pick flowers and dry them for craft projects, plan a nature-based scavenger hunt, or simply take indoor crafts outside to do them on the patio. You do not have to find outdoor-specific crafts or activities, although it is nice to use this opportunity to also teach your kids about nature and encourage them to care about the environment.

Here are two articles to help inspire you to come up with your own creative outdoor activities and crafts:

8. Plan Outdoor Reading Time for You and Them

Sending them outside to read while you are inside answering emails or posting on Facebook might not be incredibly effective, but if you join them outdoors for reading time, it will normalize it for them and they will see it as an activity you also enjoy. What is great about this option is that it encourages both reading and time outdoors. Remember, you do not have to stay in the backyard for this. While that might be most convenient, you can also switch things up by having reading time at different parks or beaches.

Get kids outside with gardening

9. Give Them Outdoor Chores

Giving your kids outdoor chores is one way to make sure they spend more time outside. However, you want to try to keep them fun, since you do not want your kids to equate being outdoors with working or activities that they do not enjoy. One way to make outdoor chores more appealing is to incentivize them by allowing your kids to earn something for each chore they complete, such as more time on their devices or an allowance.

You can also relate them to other activities they enjoy. For example, the patio probably needs to be swept before you can set up the carnival games, and the weeds need to be pulled to keep their flowers or tomato plant healthy in their garden.

10. Make Sure You Have Kid-Friendly Landscaping

If you want your kids to spend more time playing in your backyard, you — of course — want to make sure that they will be as safe as possible. While you cannot avoid every skinned knee or bee sting, you can take steps to create a kid-friendly backyard that encourages play and reduces the risk for injury.

Start your safety assessment and adjustments from the ground up. For example, you might start with removing tripping hazards and work your way up to trimming low-hanging branches. You may want to consider installing artificial grass in your play areas or as your backyard lawn. One of the bonuses for you is that your kids will not track in mud or wet blades of grass if they play on the lawn after it rains. One of the bonuses for them is that synthetic turf provides a smooth, even, level playing surface without the common tripping hazards found throughout natural grass lawns — such as holes, clumps and mounds.

You may also want to consider replacing concrete slabs with paving stone patios. Slip-resistant, skid-resistant paving stones are often a better choice where children play, particularly around swimming pools or water features.

You will also want to make sure you have a fence that is tall enough and sturdy enough to keep them in your yard and to keep unwanted guests out.

Read more about artificial grass and whether it is safer for play areas:

For more tips on how to create a safer, kid-friendly backyard, check out this article:

children swimming

11. Normalize Being Outdoors

It is not just the kids who spend more time indoors these days. Adults are also glued to their computers and devices, and our busy schedules seldom leave time to curl up on the patio with a good book or walk our dogs as often as we would like to. Because of this, we have normalized spending the majority of our time indoors. We make it a special occasion when we barbecue or when we invite friends over to hang out around the fire pit. This is what our kids see, so this is what they think is normal.

In order to get kids outside, we need to normalize being outdoors so they will see it as a part of daily life and not just something you do when hosting a party or when family comes for the holidays or a weekend cookout. In order to accomplish this, you need to create outdoor living spaces that you want to spend time in and start spending more time outdoors with and without your kids. This may mean going outside when making phone calls, enjoying your morning coffee on the patio, spending more time gardening or making it a point to take some of your regular activities outside.

Your Turn…

What are your favorite tips and tricks that you use to get your kids to spend more time outside?

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