Earlier this month, I stumbled on a news clip that broke my heart. When 2,000 parents in the United Kingdom were surveyed, it was found that 75% of kids spend less than an hour outside each day, less than the time prison inmates spend outside due to prison mandates. When I read that, they had my attention, I continued on to read that, of the families surveyed, 20% of the children didn’t even make it outside on a regular basis.
Since staring at those statistics, I can’t shake the idea that something has to change in my own home. My kids certainly aren’t spending their days in front of screens, or even in a classroom since they’re still so young, but they also aren’t getting hours outside each day. It’s easy to put play on the back burner with so many things tugging at my attention. With housework, my job and our social activities, our days are quickly filled to the brim. But being outside is important. I’ve read that time in nature is crucial because it reduces stress and fatigue in children, teaches the responsibility of being around and caring for other living things and encourages creativity and imagination.
If, like me, you’re ready to prioritize getting your kids outside, here are a few creative ideas for clocking more hours in nature each week.
1. Loosen the reigns
In my family, the biggest thing holding my kids back from more time outside is my to do list. In the past, time in the backyard only happened once I had finished up the housework and run any errands I needed to accomplish that day. Lately, I’ve been learning to loosen the reigns and quit over protecting my children—I’m letting them play outside alone. Now that I let them play in our fenced in backyard without me, they’re spending more time outside and I’m getting more done. I can fold laundry at the kitchen table or cook dinner, watching over them from our back windows while they color chalk or pretend to garden. It’s the best of both worlds, really.
2. Find a nature center
I know for our family, making the leap from limited time spent in the backyard to a full-on nature hike was a little intimidating, especially since my kids are young. We needed a way to ease ourselves into outdoor adventures and nature centers were the perfect way to accomplish that. With paved trails and wildlife exhibits grabbing their interest, my kids were hooked from the start and I felt like I could let them wander without fear of losing track of them or bringing them home covered in poison ivy. Once we got comfortable in that environment, we branched out to national parks in our area.
3. Put it in your schedule
Don’t expect for time outside to magically happen each day. Like any other priority in your life, it needs to be planned for and even scheduled into your days. I created a simple order of events for our day with outdoor play written in before lunch and after naps. Ever since I made it a priority for my kids to play, we’re all enjoying the freedom of outdoor play much more frequently.
Don’t simply plan outdoor time for your kids, either. Independent play is great, but it is also important that parents are getting some fresh air and setting the example for their children, too. Schedule times of family outdoor time, too. From a Saturday morning spent at the park, to short walks after dinner, these are habits we’ve really grown to treasure in our family.
4. Give them stuff to do
If you’re kids are begging to come back inside 15 minutes after they leave the house, they might not have enough options for keeping themselves entertained. Our backyard has a slide, some buckets and toy shovels for digging, plenty of chalk, a bubble machine and more. Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot, but giving your kids some ideas for outdoor play is a great way to encourage them to get away from screens and into nature more often.
5. Get rid of excuses
Living in the midwest, we experience a wide array of weather. From cold and snowy winters, to humid and hot summers. It’s easy to come up with excuses to stay inside when the weather is extreme but unless it’s dangerously cold outside or you’re under a head advisory, there really isn’t a reason to stay inside.
Instead, make sure you and your kids are appropriately outfitted for any weather that heads your way. We hit up the thrift store for boots and snow pants for the winter and always keep water bottles, bug spray and sunscreen handy for hot summer days.