In an age where toddlers use iPads and smartphones to watch Doc McStuffins, it can be difficult for parents to motivate their children to play outside. It used to be the case that kids would gather their neighborhood friends for cul-de-sac soccer and basketball games on a daily basis. Nowadays, the average child spends about five to eight hours a day in front of a screen, opting for video games and television shows instead of rollerblading down the block. And while technology isn’t necessarily bad for children, studies show that spending plenty of time outdoors helps kids and parents lead happier and healthier lives. If you’re struggling to get your kids off the couch, here are some helpful tips that might just do the trick.
Lead By Example
Many parents today are scared of their children playing freely outside, and for good reason. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, kids could run off with friends without their parents even questioning where they might be. There were no cell phones or Google to answer any parental questions. Instead, parents turned to Dr. Spock as the only guide to child-rearing. These days, the challenge is that parents know too much, and therefore are too afraid of letting their kids roam the neighborhood unsupervised. However, if you want to raise kids that aren’t afraid of going outside and getting dirty, you can’t be afraid of it either. One of the best ways of combating this fear is by exploring some of your favorite outdoor spots with them. Have a favorite hike? Take them with you! There are plenty of family-friendly outdoor activities you can do together. It just requires making that extra effort to find somewhere in nature that the whole family can enjoy.
Make It Regular
Much like making the bed or putting on a seatbelt, getting your kids into the habit of playing outside is essential for their well-being and growth. If you find that inspiring them to love the outdoors feels like pulling teeth, it might be time to sign them up for sports activities or nature clubs.
This can come in the form of rock climbing classes, horse riding lessons, or even signing them up for a little league sports team. Any introduction to the outdoors can be an eye-opening experience for a child, but it’s best if you can make it a part of their weekly schedule. If your kids are interested in horseback riding, we recommend getting them into an arena.
Join a Club
If your child doesn’t like sports, no need to worry. There are dozens of after-school activities that cater to every kid’s natural curiosity about the great outdoors. One of the most famous and fun organizations for young explorers are the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America. The best part is that parents can be involved in group activities as well, making it a great opportunity for you and your kid to bond while camping in the woods. The National Wildlife Foundation is also an incredible resource for parents stumped on where to find nature clubs in their area. They frequently host gardening and tree planting activities in different cities around the U.S.
There’s nothing more valuable than giving kids the opportunity to be responsible for something so they can see firsthand the impact of their efforts. When I was growing up, this took the form of caring for a caterpillar and watching it grow into a butterfly in my first grade class. At home, this can mean showing your child how to garden and take care of their plants. For tips on how to encourage your kids to get into gardening, be sure to visit this article from Country Living.
Demonstrate the Value
Parents can demonstrate the value of outdoor activities by making their kids feel like they accomplished something important at the end of each adventure. For instance, if you take a three mile-long hike with your 8-year-old, you can demonstrate the value in this by giving them kudos for navigating a trail at such a young age. Or if your kid tends to a vegetable garden and sees their plants growing tomatoes, you can show them the value of their hard work by using those ripe tomatoes in a delicious recipe. As we’ve noted before, garages and workshops are also the places where hands-on trades, collection-based hobbies or active outdoor lifestyles find their homes. It’s important to show your child that their contributions to nature matter, and discover new ways of incorporating regular outdoor activities that add meaning to their lives.
While it’s ideal for children to be involved in regular outdoor activities, sometimes the best kinds of activities are those that aren’t planned. As mentioned earlier, it used to be the case that neighborhood kids would get together for activities on the block, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be that way again. If a kid in the neighborhood asks your kids to play basketball, let them! It’s healthy for children to make connections with kids in the neighborhood. And who knows? Maybe that neighbor kid will turn out to be their lifelong best friend.