How do you get your kids to play outside for more than a few minutes? A friend asked me this the other day – and I replied with “what do you mean?” With the gorgeous weather arrived, and the backyard ready for adventure, the kids don’t really have a choice to get out there, enjoy it and build those crucial development skills that come with backyard and nature playing.
I’ve got one kid that loves being outside, pulling her in at the end of day is a feat – and one that would much rather build her Minecraft world, or show me the latest unboxing video on Youtube. She loves it once she’s out there, engulfed in a world of pretend, but getting her out there can be tricky. Here’s how we do it –
Take Away the Toys
I was so tired of hearing how boring the back yard was. Picture a pool, a play castle, every toys from the Toys R Us flyer and then try and resolve in your head how a five and a two year old could be bored back there, free to play, invite their friends over, while Mom did ‘Mom stuff’ inside. Constantly bored, we took away everything but the play castle and brought out tires, 2×4 pieces of wood, a couple of pallets and now they spend more time out there than ever before.
Get Color Creative
Make sidewalk chalk paint, make spray bottles filled with colored water that they can spray each other with, give them a couple of glasses of water and a box of chalk and show them how they can color their entire bodies – getting creative and giving them reign of what to do helps to get them outside, and off of the iPad. Plus, when it’s warm enough they can just wash of it off in the pool.
During the summer, we eat lunch outside, every single day. It’s even easier when Olivia decides that she is going to make sandwiches, and Violet roots through the pantry for snacks. Eating outside makes it simple for them to get outside, and stay outside.
Don’t Give them a Choice
For Violet, it’s a quick scooter around the block while I’m walking along with her in the morning after Olivia has left for school. For Olivia, it’s bike rides with one of us, and for both of them it’s at least two hours playing outside when it’s nice out – you know, when it’s not winter (because when it’s winter I can get ten/fifteen minutes tops and I call it a good day if we’ve been outside a couple of times). Set the timer, put it inside, in the window and tell them they’re not allowed to come in until it goes off.
Give them the Tools
Even the most imaginative kid is going to have days when they’re just not feeling it and they want to sit with the iPad and watch Youtube videos or Netflix for the entire day. Give them somewhere to start, a pile of blankets to create a fort, set up the tent in the backyard and let them pretend that they’re camping, give them chalk, paint or something else that’s going to keep them outside. Sometimes, they just need the right rools.
The No Rules Illusion
Don’t direct their play. Don’t dictate what they can do. As long as they know the rules (you know, like don’t pile the chairs to unlock the gate and leave the backyard) leave them to it. Give them the freedom to come up with games on their own. Outside they can scream as loud as they want (sorry neighbors). Outside they can be in charge, they can yell, they can work things out on their own and they can decide what they want to do.
Bring in Reinforcements
Bring in friends to play in the backyard, to come along on biking trips, and even join you on weekend excursions. Kids are more likely to play if they’ve got someone to play with, right? Skip the high maintenance friends that are going to leave you actively breaking up whining arguments though, because you’re not going to be able to take advantage of the outdoor playtime and get things done.
Get Our there Yourself
Get out there with them and become their playmate. Help them make a fort out of the things in the backyard or teach them how to play Kickball or some other kind of game. Getting out there yourself is something I reserve for when they are very, very bored or being high maintenance and don’t want to play alone – because I honestly feel like being out there in the back yard and playing alone is an invaluable skill.
Ditch the Driving (Beyond the Backyard)
Now that it’s nice enough, we’re biking most of the places that we go. Within Sherwood Park, everywhere we go is within five kilometers or so, something that Olivia easily biked last year, and something that she’s going to continue this year – easier now that we’ve gotten her a real bike that can keep up, and not some Disney Princess-ified, hard-to-ride bike. It’s not only good for them, it’s good for me. During the summer, we happen to do a lot of day drinking and with two of my besties on maternity leave this year, oh lord, I’m going to need all of the biking that I can get in.