It’s something that drives many parents crazy – the struggle to get their kids away from the television or computer screen. Studies have shown that children who spend time playing outdoors tend to be more confident and have better social skills – but even when we know the benefits, it can be hard to persuade our offspring!
It’s frustrating, especially when many of us have our own happy memories of days spent playing outside. Don’t worry, though – here are our top ten tips to encourage your kids to get off the laptop and out into the fresh air.
1Let them know it’s ok to get dirty
Some kids are mud-magnets the moment they step outside, but many are wary of getting their clothes wet or dirty. As parents we often perpetuate this – how many times have you warned them to try and stay clean?
It’s time to change your approach. Encourage your kids to enjoy messy play, and don’t make a big deal about dirty clothes or shoes.
Life without Netflix or being able to chat with friends online is unimaginable for today’s kids. It’s true that the internet can be fun, educational and useful – but that doesn’t mean kids should spend all day on it.
Set a time limit for each child when it comes to screen time – that goes for telephones, tablets, laptops, television and any other device. It’s up to them how they ‘spend’ their allowance, but once it’s up, it’s up.
3Teach them to make the most of what’s available
As a child, I can remember spending whole days in the nearby woods with my friends. We’d climb trees, dam small streams, use tree stumps to play leapfrog.
Because they spend so much time indoors and rely on commercial toys or electronic devices, many of today’s children just don’t realise how easy it is to entertain yourself with what you can find. Revisit your childhood and show them.
4Foster a love of nature
Show them how rewarding it can be to grow things outside. Set aside a small patch of garden that’s exclusively theirs, then choose what to grow together. Teach them to take care of the emerging plants, and examine the wildlife they attract – bees, butterflies
5Go for walks together
First, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be met with “Do I have to?” if you suggest your iPad-fixated child joins you on a walk. But persevere – it’s worth it.
Discover new places in your area, check out local attractions or historic sites, go for a picnic in the park. Make outings interesting and fun, and they’ll start to look forward to them.
6Encourage them to play outside
Invest in some outdoor equipment – a basketball hoop or football goal, trampoline, bicycle, bats and balls. Spark their imaginations – we once used pebbles to create a mini road network for my son’s toy cars. If you’re nervous about letting your kids play alone, make sure you can keep an eye on them – for example, if you can see them from the kitchen window, suggest they play in the garden while you’re preparing food.
7Allow them more freedom
This doesn’t mean you turn your kids loose and leave them to it, but there’s nothing wrong with gradually extending their physical boundaries. You might let them play just in your front garden at first. Then, it might be ok if they go alone to a friend’s house just along the street. After that, they’re allowed to walk to the closest park. They’ll soon get a taste for spreading their wings.
8Teach them to build a fort
Save old sheets, curtains, blankets and pillows – or buy some cheaply from a charity shop – and show your kids how to make an outdoor den. They’ll love the idea of their own private space away from the grown-ups so don’t be surprised if they decide it’s more fun than staying inside!
9Organise a scavenger hunt
Give your kids a list of items to track down, either within their boundaries or somewhere you travel to together. (Suggest they take pictures of any flowers or wildlife, rather than bring them back to you.) Inviting their friends along too means you can split them up into teams – there’s nothing like a competition to get them enthusiastic! Award small prizes or plan treats as a reward.
10Eat outdoors when you can
You don’t need to leave home to have a picnic – spreading a cloth on the grass while you eat lunchtime sandwiches together counts too! Make the most of good weather and enjoy meals outside as often as possible. Plan barbecues with friends or even order in some takeaway and spend an evening stargazing while you eat.