Summer soon because Mama needs some vitamin D!
To be able to leave the house without having to budget 40 minutes for everyone to get their gear on!
It’s also that time of year where we’re all starting to plan out our summers. I’ve registered my kids for two summer camps, one of which is an outdoor survival camp.
Why is it so important for our kids to be spending more time outdoors now more than ever?
It’s time to get our kids used to being outside more and for a lot of parents, that feels like more trouble than it’s worth.
Do you remember playing outside as a child?
Exploring the great outdoors, getting dirty, and running around with friends?
Not only was it fun, but it also had a tonne of benefits for our physical, mental, and emotional health.
However, in today’s society, children are spending more time indoors than ever before, and that’s causing some problems.
As a parenting coach, I often hear from parents who are struggling to prioritize outdoor play for their little ones.
They may feel guilty about taking time away from structured activities or worry about the risks associated with outdoor play.
Explore the numerous benefits of outdoor play and provide tips for those of you looking to incorporate more of it into their child’s daily routine. From local parks to nature hikes, there are endless opportunities for children to play and explore in the great outdoors.
The Benefits of Playing Outdoors and Why is This so Important?
I’ve had parents tell me that they, personally, just don’t enjoy being outside and therefore they really have a hard time getting their kids to go out because it feels mean.
If I don’t want to go spend time outside, why would my kid?
While I get that- believe me, I’m definitely indoorsy myself, being outside is not only enjoyable for kids, but it also offers numerous benefits to their physical, social, and emotional development.
1. Improves Physical Health
Playing outdoors allows children to engage in physical activities that are not possible indoors, such as running, jumping, climbing, exploring, and getting dirty.
These activities help children develop their gross motor skills, coordination, and balance, which are essential for healthy physical development.
If you’ve got a child who is like a whirling dirvish, who is constantly crashing into things, running, jumping on the couch, hanging off the side of their bunk bed, spinning, chances are they could really benefit from more time outside that’s unstructured and gives the illusion of being unsupervised.
There’s no right or wrong way to move your body outside!
Spending time outdoors gives children that increased opportunity to explore and test their body in ways that they really just can’t inside.
2. Boosts Mental Health
Outdoor play has been linked to improvements in mental health and well-being in children.
Time spent in nature has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression in children.
It also provides opportunities for children to develop their creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills.
All of these factors can have an incredibly positive impact on a child’s outlook on life, their growth mindset, their willingness to keep trying new things.
When children are playing wizards or fairies or superheroes outside.
They’re able to explore feelings of power and themes of good and evil, it’s like a dress rehearsal for life!
There’s so many nooks, crannies, and ambiguous supplies outside like sticks and dead leaves and flowers, being outside is really the perfect setting for children to explore and work through all of those really big ideas.
3. Enhances Social Skills
Outdoor play provides children with opportunities to interact with others in a natural setting, which can enhance their social skills.
Playing with other children can help develop their communication skills, empathy, and cooperation, all of which are important for healthy social development.
There’s so many opportunties and unstructured play themes to explore outside, it can lead to some very real opportunities for conflict resolution, for learning to negotiate.
I found my kids outside the other day negotiating with our 4 year old neighbour who was going to be Harry Potter, who was going to be Ron, and who was going to be Dumbledore. Once that got sorted out, then they had to agree on which corner of the backyard was hogwarts, which was the quidditch pitch, and on and on. There was a lot of conflict and a lot of joint decision making.
More than once more than one of them stomped off and had a good cry and got very frustrated, and then calmed down and came back and was able to re-integrate into the game.
Practice makes perfect is a cliche because it’s true.
None of which would have happened inside because they would have been wearing costumes and had actual toys to imagine with, which isn’t bad, but it’s just one kind of play and interaction.
4. Increases Exposure to Nature
Spending time outdoors exposes children to the natural world, which can help develop their appreciation for the environment and the importance of preserving it.
Children who spend time in nature are more likely to become environmentally conscious adults.
It also helps them to develop survival skills and flexible thinking skills.
I remember as a child who grew up in a very rural setting going on a nature hike with one of my highschool classes, and those of us who had been playing in barns and creeks and woods our whole lives were climbing up trees, we all came with appropriate first aide supplies and shoes and clothing.
We were pointing out animal tracks and edible plants and all kinds of things that our more urban peers just didn’t have the skillset for. We were very comfortable in nature.
When someone hurt themselves we knew how to deal with it.
We were much safer in that environment because of our comfort level.
You can’t manufacture prepardness, children need to be exposed to these elements on an ongoing basis over a long period of time to build that comfort, to see the benefits, to build the skills.
The more our children understand nature and feel comfortable with it, the better stewards of our planet they’ll be.
By prioritizing outdoor play, parents can help their children reap these benefits and set them on a path towards healthy development.
However, there are some factors that may be holding parents back from prioritizing outdoor play.
Generally when I speak to parents it’s one of these:
1. Safety Concerns
Parents may worry about their children’s safety while playing outside, especially in urban areas or near busy roads.
We want to make sure that we’re providing safe space for our children to be outside.
Now, if you live in the country like me this is likely not a concern of yours but if you’re in an urban setting it can definitely be more difficult to find these safe spaces.
Some options are:
- Local Parks and Playgrounds
Many communities offer public parks and playgrounds equipped with a variety of play structures, swings, and outdoor games. Many are fenced.
Generally once we teach our children the boundaries we don’t even have to necessarily be in the park with them.
In the winter I’ll often take my kids to a playground and once they’re aware of where they can and cannot go, I’ll go sit in my car and work on my laptop.
It can be really fun to go explore new and different playgrounds and some cities even have apps that detail the different features of each park.
- Backyards and Outdoor Spaces
Families with yards or outdoor spaces can create their own play areas with equipment such as swings, slides, and climbing structures.
Again, if your children are young you may want to fence those spaces in or use visual cues to alert them to the boundaries.
If you don’t have your own back yard or fenced space your child can play in, hook up with some friends for outdoor play dates!
I loved having kiddos over to play who didn’t have back yards because they thought it was cool and different and wanted to STAY outside.
- Nature Trails and Open Spaces
Hiking trails, beaches, and other natural settings offer opportunities for children to explore and engage in unstructured play.
Most areas have websites that detail the trails and beaches locally.
My kids love nothing more than for us to take a very short hike down to a local creek and they will play in that creek till they are cold and blue.
I generally do some work, I’ll bring a small folding table and sit in the hatch of our car so I can watch them while I get some work done.
I also bring a change of clothes so that I don’t have to put them back in my car soaking wet.
2. Another concern is Screen Time
The lure of electronic devices can be strong for children and may make it difficult to motivate them to spend time outdoors.
I’ve found the best way to solve this problem is to schedule outside time into their day so they know when it’s screen time and when it’s time to play outside.
Generally when kids can see that their electronics will be available at a later time, or that they already got their electronics, it’s a much easier sell.
3. Time Constraints
Busy schedules can make it challenging for parents to find time to take their children outside to play.
I get this I really do.
As I’ve said I like to bring work to do while my kids are outside if I can.
When we’re home they play in our yard by themselves and it actually frees up my time because I’m not constantly in their field of vision.
Obviously it takes more time if you have to drive somewhere or seek out natural spaces than if you have some of your own but in general, I’ve found that at first teaching kids to play outside takes a lot of time and effort, but once they’re comfortable.
There’s a lot more free time in it for me.
4. Weather and Seasonal Restrictions
Harsh weather conditions or seasonal limitations can make outdoor play less appealing or even impossible at times.
I get it, it gets very cold here, we’re talking -25 to -30 degrees celsius.
I know in places like Arizona and Texas, it gets dangerously hot and obviously, if you live in an extreme climate, you have to take that into consideration.
At the peak of summer might not be the best time to expect your child to spend 2 hours outside in Texas.
Just like I can’t expect my children to play outside for the recommended 180 minutes a day outside when it’s -30 in the dead of winter.
Nowhere does it say those 180 minutes need to be consecutive.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.
If your child has sun protection and water or a snowsuit and good mitts and hat and gloves, they can totally be outside in 10-20 minute increments, we just space them throughout the day.
Ready to get your little ones exploring and playing in the great outdoors but not confident in nature yourself?
My colleague Joshua Johnson has created a simple course called Get Them Outdoors just for you!
Our community of like-minded parents is dedicated to encouraging our young ones to embrace the beauty of nature, while having fun and learning along the way.
With expert advice, helpful tips, and plenty of inspiration, you’ll have all the tools you need to make outdoor play a regular part of your family’s routine.
It’s clear that outdoor play is essential for children’s growth and development.
The benefits are extensive and include everything from improved physical health and academic performance to increased creativity and social skills.
While factors like weather, safety concerns, and busy schedules can make it difficult to prioritize outdoor play, it’s important to make an effort to get children outside whenever possible.
Whether you have a backyard, a park nearby, or even just a small patch of grass in front of your building, there are plenty of opportunities to encourage outdoor play.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how much time children should be spending outside, aim for at least a few hours a day if possible.
Why not pack a picnic, grab some sunscreen, and head outside to explore the natural world with your little ones this summer?