According to a survey by Play England almost two-thirds of children in the UK say they would rather be playing on their computers or watching the TV rather than playing outdoors. If you are the same generation as the kids’ parents, you might well be as sad as we are about these findings. Surely kids are meant to go outdoors and get a bit muddy. Aren’t they supposed to love building dens and climbing trees?
Of course, we live in an age where playing outdoors is more restricted by concerns about stranger danger and increased traffic etc, but the more we encourage our children to spend time outdoors, the better it is in all kinds of way.
Benefits of outdoors play
Being outdoors and playing is a great way to burn off energy and calories and stay in shape. With childhood obesity at a high, spending more time in the great outdoors has to be a good thing. It could be as simple as heading to the local play park, kicking a football around with friends, jumping on the trampoline or riding a bike.
Outdoors fitness has also been linked to a boost in people’s self-esteem and confidence. In fact, one study in Glasgow has found that walking or cycling in green and natural places outdoors will cut your risk of depression by 50%. It’s not only adults that suffer with depression, and so your kids will benefit from improved mental health by playing outdoors.
Socialisation skills come from play. Many children, who spend time indoors even when playing with pals, will most often be amused by computer games, consoles or simply watching the TV. Outdoors play requires a great deal more imagination and requires interaction among friends.
How to encourage kids to play outdoors
- Family time: If parents lead by example, children are more likely to follow. You could try to send your kids out to play alone but if they are not used to this they might not be too happy. Instead, why not head off for a family stroll, bike ride or to try an outdoors activity, such as hiking? Or how about organising a family treasure hunt or giving orienteering a go.
- Kids get muddy: Check out the Mud Runner Race Series, which has introduced a Junior Mud Runner race. It’s the UK’s biggest timed junior 5km mud race for children aged between five and 15 years old. The event sees kids running through water-filled pits, up muddy banks and through thick mud.
- Chalk: Allowing your children to play with chalk can bring out their creative side, they can colour, draw and express themselves. Driveways, back garden tiles are perfect for this as there is minimal mess for you to clean up (besides their clothing) and they can enjoy the fresh air. Make sure you have a bucket of water handy so they can have a blank canvas for the next day.
- Sports: A little competitiveness is good, whether it's kicking a football around or a quick game of cricket, your little one will tire out with all the running and most importantly they'll enjoy spending time with you. You could either go to the local park or have fun in your garden. You could also arrange somewhat of a 'sports day', place different activities in different sections of the garden and make it a race. For instance you could have an egg and spoon race in one corner, a skipping rope in another corner and a space hopper in the other, first one to finish will get a prize.
- Gardening: Ask your mini me to help you with some gardening, it could be a small task of watering some plants with a watering can, or helping you to de-weed the garden. If you have some seeds handy you could give them the responsibility of planting their own flower/fruit/veg. Not only will this keep them outdoors but it will teach them how to look after a plant.
- Water activities: As the weather is starting to get warmer, it is about time that you bring out the water guns, paddling pools and slip'n'slides. Having your kids outdoors, in the sun, playing with water balloons and water pistols is a great way to pass time, not to forget, an easy way to cool them off when its warm!
- Outdoor Den: All you need is a rope/chair for support and a large bed sheet, you should probably assist them with the frame and leave the decorating to them - if you have a few kids' sleeping bags knocking around along with some cushions/pillows, they'll have plenty to decorate with. Not only will this keep them outdoors but it will provide them with hours of fun and give them their own little space.
- Scavenger Hunt/Family Treasure Hunt: Many children find that if they are busy thinking about where to go and reading a map they do not moan so much about the exercise, as they are distracted by the 'fun'. All you have to do is hide items around your garden, create a map of where the items are located and send them on their way.
- Picnic: Organise a picnic for lunch or dinner. Allow your little one to set the 'table' or the mat, let them organise where to put the places, glasses and the food. This will keep them entertain and also make them feel as though they have arranged the picnic themselves.
- 50 outdoors things to do: A campaign by Young Scot has been launched on Facebook. Young people aged 11 to 26 are encouraged to tick off a list of activities, from easy to challenging, and then share their activities with others on Facebook. The activities include such things as collecting fossils, taking a boat trip to an island, spotting one of Scotland’s Big 5 wild animals, taking a photo of a sunset and many more great ideas. There are prizes to win if you take part.
Take a look at our Garden Playtime Collection for clothing and furniture inspiration. Do you have any great ideas for encouraging your children to play or spend more time outdoors?