How Being at Home Can Help You Teach Your Kids to Appreciate Outdoor Time

kid and mom outside

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Most of what’s come out of living through the coronavirus pandemic, from quarantining to social distancing, has been challenging. But if you look hard enough, there are a few silver linings to all this time spent at home with your children—day after endless day. 

One of the biggest positives was the chance to spend more time outside, whether that meant hanging out in the backyard, walking to a nearby playground or trail, or taking a road trip to a national park. You can keep the love affair with nature going—even as "normal" life resumes.

If your family fell into more sedentary patterns during the pandemic, don't feel bad—you're in good company, as the stresses common during this time pushed exercise to the back burner for many people. Just know it's never too late to start getting your kids moving and enjoying the outdoors.

Kids (and adults) need regular physical activity. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends kids get 60 minutes of exercise each day, whether it’s through sports, hiking, biking, or good ol’ fashioned running around outdoors.

Spending more time outside doesn't come naturally to every kid, though. If this is true for your family, appreciating the great outdoors can feel like a daunting effort rather than an uplifting experience.

Thankfully, showing your kids the joy of going outside to play doesn’t have to be a battle. There are easy ways to teach them that the outdoors is a great place to be—in fact, if you do this right, the real battle might be getting them to come back inside once in a while.

Start Slow

If you’re an indoor family, you won’t be able to make the leap to Swiss Family Robinson in one day. Putting pressure on your kids to start spending huge amounts of time outside when they’re not accustomed to it will probably just create a power struggle.

Instead of announcing that 2 to 5 p.m. will be "outside time," start with 30 minutes a day. When kids can do that without complaint, start looking forward to outside time, or start naturally staying outside longer than 30 minutes, increase the time by adding another 15 to 30 minutes. 

Give It Structure

It’s easy for us adults to say, “Go outside and play!” But booting your kids out the back door with this directive when they don’t know how can lead to frustration, which leads to whining and complaining, which leads to everyone giving up and going back inside to stare at the TV. 

Instead of assuming your kids know how to entertain themselves outdoors, start by providing them with some basic activities. Kids love to be invited to:

  • Blow bubbles
  • Create obstacle courses or relay races
  • Compete in challenges, like jump rope or hopscotch
  • Draw with sidewalk chalk
  • Help with gardening, like watering plants or measuring garden beds
  • Ride bikes or toy vehicles

Sometimes, half the battle of getting your kids to spend more time outside is the assurance that they won’t be bored. When they have a specific activity or task, it gets them out the door with a purpose. With any luck, they’ll be blazing their own trails after a while with little or no direction.

Take the Indoors Outdoors

Still struggling with ways to get motivated? Try taking an activity you normally do indoors outside rather than inventing outdoor-specific play. 

If you think your kids are up for it, you could try challenging them to spend as much time as possible outdoors over the course of a weekend. You could even get competitive with it and offer a reward to the winner!

Got dolls? Set them up around a kiddie pool and throw a beach party. Trucks or matchbox cars? The railing around the deck would make an awesome road. Meals, crafts, iPads, reading time, and even schoolwork can all be done outside. And in the meantime, your kids will be slowly adjusting to the rhythm of the outdoors and acclimating to spending part of their day outside instead of inside.

Adapt to the Weather

When you only allow your kids to go play outside when the weather is “nice,” you set limitations on what can happen out there—or, in other words, what your kids could be doing, exploring, and learning in situations that aren’t picture-perfect.

Instead of reserving outside play for days that are 70 degrees F and sunny, make sure your kids have some outdoor gear that allows them to go outside no matter what the weather is like. Waterproof boots, pants, and parkas make rainy days a blast, and cold weather-rated accessories (like hats, gloves, and socks), can keep your kids comfortable outside in the winter, even when it’s below freezing. 

There’s a difference between embracing less-than-ideal weather conditions with the proper gear and going outside when the weather has the potential to actually be dangerous. If there are weather advisories in your area—such as severe storms, high winds or heat, poor air quality, to name a few—you should keep your kids indoors.

Go Outside With Them

You may already know that one of your most important jobs as a parent is to model the behaviors you want to see in your kids. And if you’re constantly nagging your kids to go outside more while you stayed holed up indoors, it can send the message that outdoor time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be... or as important as you’re telling them it is.

Make it a group activity whenever possible. Announce that you’re going on a walk over the weekend and ask who would like to come with you. And when all else fails, simply shout “I’m going outside to make a phone call, please don’t follow me!”

(Spoiler: They will totally follow you!) 

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2 Sources
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  1. Farah BQ, do Prado WL, Malik N, et al. Barriers to physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic in adults: a cross-sectional study. Sport Sci Health. 2021;17:441-7. doi:10.1007/s11332-020-00724-5

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans - 2nd Edition. Published 2018.