Getting your kids outside and away from the screens can feel like more of a chore than it’s worth, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is no activity more beneficial to children than physical activity and there is no better way to increase their physical literacy than by being outside. Physical literacy is the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.
Many kids are growing up in more urban environments and aren’t getting enough physical activity. When we live without “Vitamin N” (the “N” is for nature) and experience nature-deficit disorder we don’t live well. Plus, playing outside is an important way for kids to develop movement skills, social skills, and just have some fun.
But more and more parents struggle with getting kids outdoors especially when they have to compete with the expanding world of personal electronics. Here are some proven tricks that will get them outside and playing:
It’s important to let your kids take the lead by asking what they want to do instead of just telling them to “go play outside.” Sure, this is something we heard all the time growing up and we usually looked forward to it because it meant playing with friends, exploring the woods, playing in creeks, and all kinds of “old timey fun” that is no longer a common occurrence with today’s kids.
Indoor kids are much more likely to avoid an activity that gets them dirty because they’re used to being in the house where dirt and mud are things to abhor. So by telling them it’s ok to get wet, dirty, and messy you show them that being outside involves a completely new set of rules and experiences that they won’t get indoors. It’s even more effective if you not only tell them it’s okay to get dirt on themselves, but if you show them.
Go for a walk in the forest for an adventure and exploration. You might find tree stumps for jumping off, boulders to climb and sit on, logs to practice balancing or climbing … and plants, sand, gravel and wood for jumping over, walking through, and throwing. Nature encourages imaginative play and physical exploration. Nature play is often freely chosen, spontaneous, and unstructured.
With a few simple items, you can help them build a fort in the backyard. Encourage them to gather sticks to make walls and use leaves to fill in the cracks. An old sheet and some rope can be used to make a roof or front door. The possibilities are endless, and the end result is always a great source of pride for children.
If you prefer more structured play, consider creating an obstacle course outside with a playset. Ask them questions to stimulate thinking and exploring in nature: “What do you think we could use here? What animal does this remind you of?”
Nature deficit disorder is a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, meaning that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. So, while it may be a chore to get them outside, it’s also an essential part of a healthy childhood.