The products and services mentioned below were selected independent of sales and advertising. However, Simplemost may receive a small commission from the purchase of any products or services through an affiliate link to the retailer's website.
If you struggle to find ways to motivate your children to get outside and play, you’re not alone. You may have fond memories of enjoying endless hours of outdoor play, perhaps even unsupervised by your parents, but the options for play inside the house are much more tempting today than they were back then.
Research shows that technology has played a major role in the reduction of outdoor play by today’s children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which concluded that kids ages 8-18 spent an average of 7 1/2 hours in front of some kind of screen every single day. This screen time does not factor in instructional time spent on computers during school hours, so the real figure may be even higher.
How Much Outdoor Play Should Kids Have?
The CDC recommends children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Other experts don’t believe that an hour a day outside is enough.
In her book, “Balanced and Barefoot,” pediatric occupational therapist Angela J. Hanscom encourages parents to triple the CDC’s recommendation for outdoor play.
“Ideally, kids should be playing outside three hours each day, and that doesn’t include organized sports,” Hanscom told the Huffington Post. “Of course, some of that should be in school, where recess has to be revived and expanded. But in the meantime, parents should do all they can. My kids have only a half-hour recess, so as soon as they get home they go outside. Ask yourself if your kids can walk to school, go out before school begins, and after school before they start homework.”
The 1,000 Hours Outside movement takes this a step farther. Citing studies that show today’s children get less than 10 minutes of outdoor play each day, organizers with the group are challenging families to work toward getting outdoors for 1,000 hours every year.
“We did some research and read that striving for a goal of four to six hours of outside time within a day (what!?!?) was an ideal amount of time for children to spend, well, outside,” writes founder Ginny Yurich on the organization’s website. “This seemed excessive to us and quite frankly, way too long — most children’s activities are, at most, an hour (like a library program) and, many times, much less. BUT, we tried it. And you know what? We have not looked back. Our greatest times as a family, and my most successful times mothering almost exclusively point back to these fully immersive nature days.”
Taking The First Steps To Outdoor Play
Hours of unsupervised outdoor play may seem impossible, especially during sports seasons and the school year. However, with summer break just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start thinking out of the box (and the house) for ideas to motivate your kids to play outside.
Going from minutes to hours of outdoor play won’t just happen on its own. Screen time habits are hard to break, even for adults. As parents, we need to encourage our children and sometimes even join them in the fun.
First, set realistic expectations for introducing more outdoor play. Start with 30 minutes, if necessary, and go from there. It shouldn’t take long for kids who are having fun to extend their time outside. To help start that habit of unplugged time, we have 10 ideas to help get the kids excited about putting down their devices and getting outside.
1. Print Off A Progress Chart
There is something about an incentive chart that even gets grown-ups excited to try a new challenge. The 1,000 Hours Outside website has a collection of free printable charts that kids of all ages can color in as each hour outside is complete. There are charts designed like mazes, solar systems and mandalas ready to print and decorate.
2. Take Beloved Toys Outside
We love this simple idea. Every kid has some favorite analog (or, at least, battery-powered) toys that keep them occupied inside. Encourage them to take those toy cars and dolls outside to play for a little while. Maybe they can build a city with Lego bricks or building blocks like this Moontoy STEM Toy Building Kit.
3. Don’t Forget The Classic Outdoor Toys/Games
If you don’t want to keep track of all kinds of pieces, don’t forget about the classic outdoor games that require minimal setup and play. What about sidewalk chalk, bubbles, pails and shovels, and jump ropes? You may already have some of these around the house and if you don’t, the investment is small with a big return on fun.
4. Allow Them To Get Messy
OK, this one might be a tougher ask for the adults because they have to get the kids cleaned up and the clothes in the washing machine, but children need to be allowed to get dirty (or soaking wet) when they play outside. Whether it’s digging in the dirt, playing with water balloons or on a splash pad, a little mess is a lot of fun. Of course, if there’s water play, make sure there’s adult supervision, especially for young children.
We like this 86-inch splash pad from Berrys Paradise on Amazon for just $30.99 as a great way to cool off on hot summer days.
5. Explore Local Walking and Biking Paths
There’s more to outside play than going to a playground. Many communities have local park systems which include a variety of trails to explore. Do a quick Google search for your area or download the AllTrails app to find kid-friendly trails just waiting for you.
6. Go GeoCaching
Geocaching is a bit like treasure hunting, except the treasure stays where you find it. Only photos allowed! In order to geocache, you need a GPS-enabled device (yes, this is a small exception to the no-electronics rule), some geocache locations that can be found at Geocaching.com, and a willingness to go out and explore! Kids who love video games will especially like the way this activity blends the virtual world and the real one.
7. Create A Family Garden
Another way to get the family outside and everyone’s hands a little dirty is to create a garden. You don’t need a big plot of land to get the job done. There are lots of starter kits available for beginners, including the Melissa & Harry Kids’ Gardening Kit at Amazon. Check out our list of Amazon products that will make gardening a lot easier, too.
8. Have Kids Create A Bucket List
A bucket list is a collection of activities or accomplishments someone wants to do by a certain time. Summertime is the perfect opportunity for kids to sit down and dream big about all the things outside they might want to do before school is back in. Some ideas to add to a summer bucket list include catching and releasing fireflies, swimming a certain number of laps in the pool, going fishing and lots more.
Need more inspiration? Generation Wild has a couple of different lists filled with amazing activities to add to your child’s own bucket list.
9. Enjoy Meals Outside
When’s the last time you went on a picnic? Get kids more comfortable being outside regularly and lead by example by surprising them with periodic picnics. Grab a blanket, fill a thermos with some fresh lemonade, put some sandwiches, fried chicken or taco jars(!) into a cooler or basket and enjoy some quality time with each other.
10. Start An Outdoor Playgroup
We’re sure there are other parents in your community fighting the same battle to get everyone outside. Reach out on social media or at community events to connect with other families to set up some outdoor-only playdates. Maybe a few of you can even set up a weekly playgroup that meets at a local park for some screen-free fun. Kids love having others to hang around with and the parents could probably use a little adult conversation, too! A win-win.
It might take a little extra effort to begin a new outdoor play habit, but the benefits for our children’s physical and mental health are well worth it!