If you’re a parent or carer, you’ll no doubt be well aware of the constant presence of screens and the internet in your children’s lives. And you probably spend quite a bit of time and energy trying to strike a healthy balance between screen time and other activities.
One really great way to achieve that balance is to encourage outdoor play. Getting kids active outside has so many benefits: it encourages imaginative play, helps keep them fit, combats stress, and gives them an opportunity to engage with nature. And of course, physically removing your children from digital temptation is a very effective way to avoid the distraction.
If you’d like your kids to enjoy playing outdoors more, but need some inspiration on ways to do it, here are some tips and tricks to help you encourage outdoor play and make sure they have fun.
Schedule outdoor time
This might sound like the opposite of creative play, but bear with me. Family life can be really hectic, and children are more timetabled than ever before, which makes it very easy to let outdoor play slip down the list of priorities. It’s not that we think it’s unimportant, it’s just that there are a million and one other things demanding our focus!
When family life gets really hectic, I’ve found that treating outdoor time as a must-do task, like everything else on my ‘to do’ list, means we’re much more likely to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a regimented time slot on the same day each week; just leaving an hour or two free here and there works really well for us.
Kit out your garden
If you’d like your kids to play in the garden more, it’s well worth spending some time making it a fun, welcoming space.
You don’t need to completely re-design your garden, it can be as simple as clearing some space to make room for garden games, or simply tidying up the outdoor toy box to make it easier and quicker to find something to play with.
If you’d like to invest in some play equipment for the garden, a wooden climbing frame is brilliant for physical and creative play. If you can incorporate a swing, slide or playhouse, this will help cater for a wide range of ages and extend the play value even further.
For younger children, I think a sandpit is hard to beat. There’s so much scope for creative play; my kids love digging, building, measuring, pouring, role-play and creating fantasy worlds. A sandpit doesn’t take up much space either. Outdoor play equipment experts Wickey have a great wooden sandpit range.
Get the adults involved
If you tell your kids they need to spend more time outdoors, then promptly park yourself in front of a screen while they do it, you’re not exactly setting a great example!
Outdoor play is a fantastic way to spend fun time as a family. We love homemade obstacle courses in the garden, family games of cricket or rounders in the park, and good old-fashioned water fights in summer. We also try to head outdoors as a family for at least one weekend day a month, this gives us a chance to spend some fun time together exploring our local countryside and outdoor attractions.
Exploring nature is one of the best – and cheapest! – ways to get the kids spending time outdoors. There’s a whole fascinating world of trees, plants, and creatures right on our doorsteps, and I’ve found that it really doesn’t take much to get my kids completely absorbed in nature play.
The other fantastic thing about exploring nature is just how easy it is to do it. It can be as simple as making a miniature garden or having a minibeast hunt in your own garden, or a stop at the local park on the way home from school, to investigate the types of trees that grow there or make a journey stick.
I would also definitely recommend finding out about your local nature reserves. They are brilliant destinations for a low-cost family day out, and often run children’s events such as pond dipping and den building in school holidays.
If you’d like more inspiration on ways to explore nature there are lots of great suggestions on the Wild Network website.
How about a spot of grow your own to keep kids busy outdoors? I’m a huge fan of getting the kids involved with the gardening, and we’ve found that having the responsibility of growing their own plants makes them really keen to head outside regularly and take care of them. Of course gardening usually involves getting a bit mucky too, which is also a big hit!
Sunflowers are always a popular option to grow from seed, and you can add a family competition into the mix to see whose plant grows the tallest. Sweet peas are good too, because the seeds are large and easy to handle, and the plants will tolerate enthusiastic watering by little hands.
If you’d like to grow something edible with the kids, salad is a great choice as it grows quickly and is ideal for smaller containers. It’s also a nice way to teach children about where food comes from, and explore the idea of healthy eating. Or you could have a go at growing your name in a courgette, this is a bit wacky but really great fun!
What’s your favourite way to encourage outdoor play?