Making Outdoor Play a Priority: A Guide for Parents

In today's electronics-focused world, getting kids away from the TV, video games, and screens can be difficult. Outdoor play is the best thing for active, growing children, but getting them outdoors can be easier said than done.

We are living in an age of electronics, where kids are exposed to screens more than ever before and often spend less time outside on bikes and playing on swing set accessories. For most adults, technology is an important part of our work and personal lives -- we love our phones, computers, streaming video and other gadgets and technology. As a tech-loving parent, however, it can sometimes be hard to know when to say no to your children -- and when to send them outside.

Lack of Impulse Control

We all know adults who spend way too much time on their phones, in front of the TV, or playing video games. Smartphones have made this problem exponentially worse and something we can all easily struggle with. Yet adults generally have better control over their impulses and can set limits for themselves. Impulse control is an important skill that requires practice and helps us manage our time. Sure, many of us would love to veg out, scrolling Instagram, or sitting in front of the TV all day, but we know we can't or shouldn't. Most kids haven't mastered the ability to think that through, so it's up to us as adults to tell them when enough is enough, and give them better things to spend their time on.

Growing Bodies, Growing Minds

Just because kids don't know when enough is enough, doesn't mean that they don't need the benefits of outdoor play. Think of it like sleep: your kids may need to get a certain amount of sleep, but you still have to tell them when to go to bed. Likewise, most likely you will need to set restrictions and usher them outside when they've spent enough time in front of the TV.

Playing outdoors may seem like "just play", but in fact it does many great things for your children. First and foremost, it provides the exercise their growing bodies need in order to be healthy. Weight problems are becoming more common for children, partly because each generation spends more time in front of the TV or using screens than the generation before. Active play also helps kids to develop large and fine motor controls, and hand-eye coordination.

In addition, the games kids play outside help them to learn other important skills. For instance, playing team sports helps teach kids how to work together in order to accomplish a goal, as well as the thrill of competition. Excelling in sports, whether in teams or as an individual, can also teach children self-confidence.

Tips for Getting Kids Outside

As you can see, getting your kids to play outdoors is important, but it can be easier said than done. You cannot order your kids to go outside and have fun, but there are other ways to make them more likely to want to play outside. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Make outdoor play fun. Your kids won't want to go outside if there's nothing to do. You don't have to put a whole park in your backyard, but a fun swing set is a great start. Think beyond the basic two-swings-and-a-slide type of swing set, though! You can make your backyard more enticing by getting some different swing set accessories. Bikes and a variety of types of balls and equipment are other necessities.
  • Go places where your kids can play outdoors. Why do we like to go out from time to time?  Because staying in the same place all the time can get boring! Changing things up by taking your kids to the park, to the pool, or someplace where the whole family can ride their bikes together can rejuvenate kids' interest in playing outside.
  • Play with your kids. We know it's hard to do, but try to arrange time to play with your kids from time to time. Play ball in the backyard, push them on the swings, or build a fort together. Kids enjoy playing with their parents, and sometimes that's all you need to do to get them away from the TV.
  • Schedule play dates with friends. You've probably heard the saying that variety is the spice of life. This is even true for kids. Doing something different, having someone different to play with, can easily rekindle a child's interest in doing activities outside -- especially when they have an extra cool backyard to show off to their friends!
  • Set daily time limits for TV and screens. Enticing kids into playing outside needs to be backed up by rules and firm guidance. Your kids need to know, in no uncertain terms, what you expect of them! Set a time limit for TV and video games -- for instance, 30 minutes on weekdays, and only after homework is finished -- and stick to it.
  • Make outdoor play part of your routine. Kids thrive on routine. They like to know that this is what time we get up and eat breakfast, this is what time we go to school, this is what time we read stories and go to bed. Just as routine makes some of these chores easier, it also makes it easier to get kids outside if they expect it as part of their daily routine. For instance, for younger children you could just schedule a time to play outside every day, such as in the late morning before lunch. Older children easily get into a habit of going outside to play with neighborhood friends after school.

By all accounts, outdoor play is extremely important for children. Their bodies and minds are still growing and developing, and they need the activity as well as the physical and mental skills it teaches. But with the right attitude, a fun clubhouse and swing set accessories, and the right amount of variety, you can help your kids to make outdoor play an integral part of their young lives.

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