Parenting is often rife with having to “force” children to do things they don’t want to do.
It’s usually for the greater good, right?
You must brush your teeth so you don’t get cavities.
You must put your bike undercover so that it doesn’t get rusty from the rain.
You must wash your hands before dinner because you’ve been playing with the dog.
There is a real sense of cause and effect with these examples and when children get to a certain age, it can be easier to explain the consequences of poor hygiene or not looking after your bike.
But, how do you get kids outside when you struggle, or can’t, explain the importance of outdoor time to them?
Or worse, when you try to encourage them outside, your kids beg to watch TV, play Xbox or listen to Baby Shark on YouTube.
Most parents instinctively know that kids should be going outside, so should we force them?
Forcing children outside sounds a little savage to me, but I believe we should be ‘strongly encouraging’ our children out into nature and the great outdoors.
If you’re struggling to get your kids outside and need some extra support, read or watch on.
Why should you get your kids outside?
There is no doubt that electronic devices can supply kids with hours upon hours of entertainment if we let them. With all the recent technological advancements, we are the first generation that has to navigate the amount of “screen time” that our kids are allowed. It’s often met with tantrums or frantic negotiating, which leads to bargaining and so on and so on.
But it’s difficult to speak to kids about the cause and effect of too much tech, particularly if your child completed their spelling test today at school on an iPad.
Technology is here to stay.
It is convenient, it makes life easier and it’s so ingrained in our culture that we have little choice but to accept it as part of our children’s lives forevermore.
Like so many times in the parenting journey, it is all about balance.
Children need and must have time outdoors every day.
The health benefits of outdoor play and the positive impact on their mental well-being demand it. As our children get older, we understand more and more that we must choose our battles; and getting our children outside each day is a war we must commit to, and win.
How can I strongly encourage my children outdoors?
Lead by example
Get yourself outside. Gardening, walking to school, sweeping paths or even an animal yoga session. Read your book outdoors in the breeze.
Make your backyard exciting
Set your children up for success by setting up a few items in your backyard to encourage independent outdoor play.
This in no way means a three-story treehouse with double glazed windows. Basic buckets, saucepans, spoons, and an old teapot makes a great mud kitchen. A ball or happy sack for catching and throwing.
Discarded rubber tyres are fantastic for outdoor play areas and a great way to keep them out of the landfill. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or buy brand new. Check out your local thrift stores or Facebook buy/sell pages.
Invite friends for a play date
I have finally found the time to start my own nature play club.
Every Friday my child’s friends, and their parents (now my friends), catch up for nature play after school. I’m blessed to live in front of a nature reserve, so all the kids run out and let their imaginations go wild for a couple of hours. The adults chat and relax on the deck with cheese and crackers, and sometimes a cheeky wine.
You certainly don’t need a house backing on to a nature reserve to start a nature play date though. Meet your friends at a local park, nature reserve, or a stretch of beach every week.
We’ve only just started our nature play club at my home, because it’s perfect, but we intend to venture out and check out other local recreational spaces too.
Explain that it’s outdoor time
This one is for the older kids… The “I’m Bored” and “There’s nothing to do out here.” The kids who are hungry again and run in the house. The ones complaining of the cold… Have them put on their coats, grab a piece of fruit and head out into the great outdoors.
It’s only a matter of time before someone finds a rock that looks like a dinosaur egg and they’re off on a journey to find the last surviving diplodocus.
Enjoy mealtimes outside
We love starting the day off with breakfast in the fresh morning air, and when the weather is perfect we often finish it in the same way.
You guessed it, outside.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine eat quickly while my husband and I savour our meal and chat. If you’re eating outside, kids tend to run off when they’re finished and enjoy some vitamin N time while you’re relishing the peace.
They have no idea that your plan was to get them outside all along. Sneaky!
Children have this funny way of knowing when you’ve just made a cup of tea and sat down to relax. Next time you sit down to enjoy a cuppa, sit down outside. The kids will not be far behind you!
If your children are smaller, or still toddlers, you may find you need to accompany them outdoors until they get comfortable with their surroundings and their confidence grows.
Having little ones help with chores like watering plants teaches responsibility, and I’m yet to find a toddler that doesn’t love a game of peek a boo in the sun.
Simple things in nature like water, leaves, bugs and ants mesmerize children at this age. Chalkboards and easels are great for creative minds, and small obstacles can encourage climbing and coordination.
Children playing outside will encourage independence and build resilience. It will give them a sense of freedom. If we don’t force our kids outside, they’ll never know what they are missing.
The wind whipping your face as you coast downhill on a bike.
Seeing a strange insect for the first time.
Growing something edible from a seed.
The sound made by splashing water against a tin fence.
So don’t be afraid to “strongly encourage” your child outside.
After all, it’s for the greater good, right?
Ineke Bams says
Good article. I was just planning to write an article about this topic myself. I will soon be giving a few workshops (in The Netherlands) on how to get children outside and give them nature experiences. You inspired me. Especially with the idea of meeting outside with friends with children. Thanks.
Penny Whitehouse says
You’re welcome Ineke. I’m so glad it was useful. x
Thank you for your article! For a long time my son refused to play outside, until we found activity that he loved, we started looking for unusual beautiful leaves, acorns, flowers, and now every walk is a reason to find and bring home something new!