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Encouraging your kids to play outside

Posted on 18 June 2018

When you think back to your summers as a child, what do you remember? Seemingly endless evenings riding the streets on your bike? Water pistol battles in the back garden? Playing with real, reach-out-and-touch-them friends outside in real life?

Research has shown that kids today spend about half the time playing outside each week as their parents did. Another terrifying survey found that three-quarters of UK kids spend less time outside than prisoners. Further research from the government showed that only one in nine children had set foot in a natural environment in the last year.

Yet 96% of parents surveyed by the National Trust felt it was important that their children developed a connection with nature by playing outside.

Child psychologist Dr Sam Wass says that playing outside helps children develop creativity and imagination in a way that playing on computers or watching TV cannot match. Of course, the health benefits of decreasing sedentary activities go without saying. Those who are regularly active in childhood are far more likely to maintain this as adults.

However many parents have said they don’t feel their kids have the same access to safe parks and streets to play on that they did growing up. 

It is up to you the parent to lead your child’s behaviour. Research shows that sedentary parents are more likely to have sedentary children

So, what can you do to encourage your children to spend more time outside? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Set-up outdoor play dates for your younger kids – get your little ones connecting socialising with playing outdoors. Set-up plays dates with other kids and meet in a park, at a local lido, or go for a walk in the woods.
  2. Plan family trips to national parks – in the UK we’re blessed with a wealth of natural beauty. Plan a mini family holiday or even a day trip to a national park, like the Lake District or the New Forest. Encourage your kids to bring a friend along so they associate their time in nature with socialising rather than ‘boring’ family time.
  3. Make use of the National Trust – the National Trust is about more than just stately homes. It works to preserve and share 775 miles of coast line and over 248,000 hectares of land, in addition to more than 500 historic houses, castles and gardens. They also run hundreds of fun events throughout the year, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, helping your kids get in touch with their natural environment.
  4. Get your kid’s school involved – speak to your child’s teacher and see what they’re doing to teach about nature, or ask if there’s anything more they could be doing. Perhaps they could plant a garden in the playground? Or take a school trip to a nearby forest or National Trust site?
  5. Keep them active on a bike or scooter – there was once a time when a bike was the must-have toy, not a games console. Get your kids excited about being active outside by putting them in control. Take them to the bike shop and let them pick what they want (within reason!), they’ll then have a toy they love and can’t wait to play on.
  6. If you have the luxury, walk them to school – this may not be possible for all families, but if you can you should make the effort. Walking to school will help make it a habit later in life and it’s a great opportunity to get some exercise, fresh air, and vitamin D on a daily basis.
  7. Invest in some outdoor toys or play sets for your back garden – not everyone has the space or the finances for this one, but if you can, bring outdoor fun to your kids. Whether it’s a swing set or a paddling pool, having toys as close by as the back garden will make outdoor fun as convenient and accessible as screen time inside.
  8. Join a local sports team – schedule in regular outdoor fun by signing your kids up to a local sports team or outdoor activity (like kayaking or horse riding). You’ll usually find adverts for these in the park, at school and around town, but you can also find a directory of activities in your area at What’s on 4 School Kids.
  9. Go for walks as a family – make walking a regular activity for your family, whether it’s a stroll around the block after Sunday lunch, or a longer weekend hike. Making walking a regular activity in childhood should help maintain this habit into adulthood.
  10. Get to know your local parks – if you live in an urban area or have recently moved, it can be tricky to know where your nearest park is. If you live in England or Wales you can use this tool from the government to find your local park. Once you know where it is don’t forget to go there!