Chances are, you’ve recently heard or read something about the importance of your kids having more outside time. And you don’t disagree. But have you had the chance to look at the research behind it all? And do you have a practical plan to make it happen?
Because even though giving your kids more time outside can seem like a simple change (with a big impact), sometimes the right knowledge can really help to motivate us to do things better.
So, let’s jump in and look at why kids should play outside more… and then how we can make that a reality in practical terms.
Here’s What the Experts Say
Aside from the obvious benefit of moving your body more and getting more exercise when you play outside, there are a few other cool health benefits.
Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem for most children today due to lifestyle changes. This leaves kids at risk of bone fractures when they get older. Playing outside in short bursts without sunscreen (the length of time will depend on your child’s skin and the climate they are in) can help increase their Vit-D levels naturally.
Another issue that is becoming more common among children is eye problems like near-sightedness. This makes sense when you think about the increase in screen time for young children. Studies have identified a direct link between increasing your child’s outdoor play time and reducing the risk of preventable eye problems in children.
Outside play isn’t just great for your child’s physical health – their mental health can also greatly benefit from spending time outside. A bit of extra outside time can help children be more resilient, and better manage stress, while increasing their attention span. The physical movement and exploring helps kids feel more confident in their own abilities. In addition, outside time helps kids fight mental fatigue and sleep better.
Children who play outside have all their senses stimulated in a way that cannot happen even through the most immersive technologies. Their imaginations can blossom as they creatively explore the possibilities in their environment and cultivate a sense of wonder about the world.
Playing outside with others is also a great platform to learn social skills, as they learn to negotiate, share, respect one another, and more. Open-ended play allows children to experiment and learn so much – playing is very serious work. Learning by doing actually creates more connections in the brain, rather than just seeing something on TV or reading about it in a book.
Why Outside Time Is Declining
Unfortunately, despite all these amazing benefits, outside time for kids continues to decline. It’s worth exploring the reasons why this is happening so that we can identify how to start making changes, so let’s take a look…
Shrinking backyards: Standard blocks are about half the size they were just three decades ago, and more people are choosing to live in apartments and townhouses. It’s becoming common for children to grow up without an accessible backyard or safe outdoor play area.
Safety: Parents are concerned about safety issues in their neighbourhoods, with rising crime and increased traffic. It’s not always a good idea for kids to play out on the street or in their neighbourhoods. Other safety issues include sharp objects, machinery, potential for falls, as well as animals/insects that could cause harm, like snakes and spiders.
Ease: As humans, we naturally gravitate towards whatever is easiest. It’s hard work to go outside when the weather isn’t ideal (too hot, cold, or rainy), it takes some effort to put on sunscreen, and we don’t want to deal with the aftermath of wet kids and muddy footprints. It’s much easier to set everybody up with indoor activities, including technology, TV, tablets, and apps.
Busyness: In many households, both parents work long hours to try and bring in enough money to keep up with rising costs. When they’re at home, they have to spend their time catching up with the housework/cleaning/food prep, and don’t always have time to supervise outdoor areas during play time. Plus, many parents are doing side hustles or working from home, which takes up even more time at home.
It’s not surprising that all these factors add up together to result in less outside play for kids.
How to Increase Outside Play Time
Now that we know how important playing outside is for your kids, and why so many kids are failing to get enough of it, let’s talk about some practical ways you can make sure your kids get as much nature play as possible.
- Lead by Example
Anybody with children knows that kids love to copy their parents. If you go outside, your kids will likely follow you. If you stop spending so much time on your phone, your kids might forget how much they want to watch TV. If you’re short on time, work on changing little habits and routines in your day to include more time outdoors, like eating your meals or snacks outside or walking somewhere instead of driving or catching public transport.
- Join a Group
There are loads of organisations and groups with activities for kids that are based outside. This could be a weekly team sport or a volunteer-based group. Either way, being involved in a regular activity that is based outside is a great way to add more outside time to your week.
Most Australians are blessed with plenty of beautiful locations and bushwalks within a short driving distance. Make time on your weekend to go and explore some of them together. Bushwalking is a wonderful activity because it helps you appreciate the unique landscape, get exercise, and make memories as a family.
- Start a Mission
Give your child a mission for their outside time – a special purpose will help keep them motivated to stay outside longer. They could create some art, water a planter, grow their own garden, start a collection, or maintain a bird feeder. Or they could embark on a project to watch birds, identify plants, or photograph interesting things outside. Making sure they have access to safe and practical outdoor tools like age-appropriate shovels, a pair of gloves, and a bug catcher, will give them hours of fun.
- Choose Outdoor-Focused Childcare
If your children attend Childcare, keep outside play in mind when you’re choosing which centre is right for your family. Ideally, your child’s Daycare should include a mixture of organised activities and free-play in a safe, supervised outdoor environment. This will be hugely beneficial to their development, especially as they learn and play alongside other children in their age group. A great example of this type of centre is Rose Cottage Childcare!
Rose Cottage Childcare has a wonderful outdoor area with loads of natural elements for the children to explore! They incorporate natural grass, trees, stumps and even have wooden elements such as a mud kitchen with pallets! To see more of this wonderful service, click here.
So, are you ready to help get your kids outside more?
Evaluate where you’re at – if you’re not happy with the current level of outside play, what do you want to aim for? Be realistic and set a goal, then start putting small changes in place right away to help your family achieve it.
It is important that you are firm, because children will test the boundaries (it’s their job!). If you decide to do an hour of outside play before dinner every night, you should stick to that rule.
At first, it won’t be super easy. You and your child will need to learn new habits together. But you’ll find that both of you benefit from the extra outside time in ways you’d never expected. In the end, you’ll both look back on this time and be glad you did it.