From global communication to cutting-edge medical treatments, rideshare apps, and mobile game cameras, the argument can be made that technology has been a net positive for humanity.
However, just because it has positives, doesn’t mean 21st-century technology is perfect. One of the biggest struggles with modern tech is the temptation to use it too much. It’s a problem that plagues everyone — especially children.
Excessive Screen Time Can Hurt Kids
Studies have found that children now spend between 5 and 7 hours per day in front of a screen. This can have a plethora of negative effects. It can impact the quality of their sleep, cause them to gain weight, and lead to a higher risk for attention concerns and even anxiety and depression.
If you’re a concerned parent that wants to combat this rise in screen time, it’s important that you do more than simply take away your children’s gadgets. You need to go a step further by encouraging them to embrace other activities — especially playing outside.
When a child plays outside, they don’t just avoid screens. There are also many positives to outdoor play, such as:
- Getting exercise.
- Improving fine motor skills.
- Expanding creativity and executive function.
- Socializing with others.
- Developing an appreciation for nature.
If you agree, but you’re not sure how to convince your child to get off the couch and go play outside, here are eight different ways that you can encourage your offspring to spend more time in the great outdoors.
1. Connect with Friends
One of the key benefits of outdoor play revolves around socialization. In addition, when kids play together, they learn to communicate, share, compete, and work with others.
Of course, you need more than one kid to socialize in the first place. If you have a single child or there’s a significant age gap between your children, consider having friends over to play outside together.
2. Visit the Great Outdoors
Playing “outside” is different for everyone. It can consist of heading out into a sprawling rural backyard, a cookie-cutter suburban plot, or even right into an urban alley.
If you don’t have the luxury to live in the great outdoors, you may want to schedule in time to specifically take your kids out into nature. Letting your children splash in a creek, play in an open field, or travel through a dense wood can dramatically increase their appreciation for the wonders of nature. It can also help to spark interest in a variety of different hobbies, like hiking, hunting, or camping.
3. Try New Activities
One reason that a child may find they don’t want to go outside is because of a lack of structured activities to participate in. While encouraging creativity is an essential element of outdoor play, when you’re encouraging your child to overcome an aversion to the outdoors, you may want to compromise by engaging in some more structured outdoor activities as well, such as:
- Playing tug of war.
- Going on a treasure hunt.
- Training your hunting dog.
- Setting up an obstacle course.
- Cooling off with a pool or sprinkler.
- Riding a bike.
- Practicing shooting a bow.
- Going skating or rollerblading.
- Playing pickup soccer, football, or street hockey.
You don’t have to invent dramatically new ideas nor do you need to spend much money to come up with some genuinely fun, engaging outdoor activities.
4. Get Dirty
Whether you subscribe to the Hygiene Hypothesis, the concept that exposure to germs at a young age builds your immune system, or not, there’s no doubt that getting dirty can be fun.
If your kids are attracted to the dirt, you may want to steer into the skid. Let them jump in mud puddles, run around barefoot, or just plain roll around in the grass. The ability to let loose and get dirty can add a layer of attraction and anticipation to an outdoor escapade. Just make sure that, depending on how far from home you go to play in the dirt, you are prepared for accidents with a first aid kit — and possibly some extra towels and hand sanitizer.
5. Balance Structured & Unstructured Play
Structured play consists of an organized activity that has a purpose or an end goal. Basketball, Red Rover, and Simon Says are good examples of structured play.
Unstructured play consists of child-led, free play activities that are not necessarily structured or designed to reach a goal or objective. Unstructured play may sound less useful, but it actually has been shown to significantly increase self-directed executive functioning — that is, mental skills like flexible thinking, memory, and self-control.
Structured play can encourage your child to go outside in the first place. Balancing that out by letting them shift to unstructured play once outside enables them to embrace a more independent, creative mindset.
6. Play with Them
Your children may not be the only ones that need to get some fresh air. Unless you’re fortunate enough to work an outdoor job, there’s a good chance that you could use some more outside time as well. If your kid won’t head outside willingly, consider setting an example for them.
The best part is, heading outside with your child can be as beneficial for you as it is for them. It helps you to get more exercise, gives you a break from your own screens, and generally allows you to bond with your child.
7. Ask Their Opinion
Sometimes the simplest way to encourage your child to head outside is to give them some control over the situation. Rather than simply forcing them to go out, ask what they would like to do once they’re outside.
If you shift the tone from a required activity to one where they can choose what they are going to do, it may help them engage with and enjoy the activity more thoroughly.
8. Make It a Habit
Unstructured outdoor play, in particular, can be difficult to simply expect children to instantly learn. This is especially due to its flexible, undefined nature. However, one way that you can naturally help your child adjust to and ultimately embrace unstructured play is by turning it into a habit.
If you schedule unstructured play into your daily routine, your child will begin to expect it as a matter of course. Over time this will solidify into a habit, which will likely decrease the amount of resistance you get each time you announce that it’s time to turn off the screens and get their shoes on.
There are plenty of ways to encourage your child to head outside. The important thing is that you, as the parent, take the initiative.