How to Motivate Kids to Play Outside

Kids glued to the couch? Get them up and out with these tips

When kids play outside, the benefits are plentiful. Outdoors, kids are physically active, adventurous, and often social. They get fresh air and vitamin D. Playing in nature helps soothe stress and improve kids' moods, grounding them so they're able to tackle homework and even sleep better. And even brief periods of low- to moderate-intensity exercise can help prevent weight gain in kids.

So outdoor play is important. But sometimes it's hard to motivate kids to get going. Amp up the appeal with these ideas for active fun and frolicking, either in your own yard or at a park.

1
Phone a Friend

3 kids play outside with toy airplane
RUSS ROHDE / Getty Images

Kids will often have more fun and be willing to play outside if they're with other kids. This could mean siblings, neighbors, school friends, or sports teammates (great for team bonding!). You could even hire a babysitter or mother's helper if kids need active play time and you're unable to be a play partner. Or, try teaming up with another parent to take turns supervising kids at a park or in someone's yard. (And if all that fails, there are always games that kids can play alone.)

2
Make Puppy-Dog Eyes

If you have a dog, appeal to your child's love for her pet to get her outside playing with him. Toss a ball, go for a walk, or just play chase. Even pet guinea pigs and rabbits can go outside (in a large enclosure or fenced area) and will enjoy the fresh air and greenery.

3
Keep Track

Does your child have a fitness tracker? He'll get way more steps or activity points outside. Ask him how many steps he has today, and how many he thinks he can get. How many steps is one lap around the yard, or around the block?

4
Gear Up

Invest in a few tempting outdoor toys that will entice kids away from screens and out into the world. Pediatricians don't recommend trampolines, but kids will have lots of fun with anything on wheels, anything projectile, or anything that involves water! If they want to climb or bounce, how about a pogo stick or some climbing cleats attached to a tree? Risk is fun and helps makes kids more resilient, creative, and confident.

5
Be Challenging

Challenge your child to a competition (if that's her style). This could be a bike race around the block, a game of HORSE or badminton, or an obstacle course of her choosing. If you'd rather not compete against each other, ask her to help you learn something new, like a game she plays at school or a sport she knows better than you do.

6
Bring the Indoors Out

Make the ordinary a little more special by changing venues. Invite kids to take meals, homework, and even board games outside to a patio or picnic table. Eventually, they may be inspired to get up and play actively (even if it's just to take a break from their math problems).

7
Teach New Kids Old Tricks

What were your favorite games and sports when you were a kid? Did you play kick the can, or flashlight tag, or build forts with your friends? Did you play pick-up baseball or street hockey or go skating on a local pond? Explore the woods on foot? Whatever it was, share your childhood passion with your own kids.

8
Hunt for Treasure

What's more enticing than a search for buried treasure? Kids will be up and out in no time if they can go geocaching or catch some Pokemon. Or if you're really ambitious, set up your own treasure hunt right in your yard.

Sources: 

Brussoni M, Gibbons R, Gray C et al. What Is the Relationship between Risky Outdoor Play and Health in Children? A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(6):6423-6454.

Collings PJ, Westgate K, Vaisto J et al. Cross-Sectional Associations of Objectively-Measured Physical Activity and Sedentary Time with Body Composition and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Mid-Childhood: The PANIC Study. Sports Medicine. 2016; doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0606-x.

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