There are lots of reasons why children might resist playing outside these days. Partly it is a question of habit and culture. Many families live in areas where access to green spaces is limited. There always seems to be more time pressure on parents and on children to spend more time and work, and to pack in extra-curricular activities. And of course, an explosion in digital media and entertainment, from TV to phones, computers and games consoles hoovers up our kid’s attention and offers a world of compulsive distractions, all without ever having to leave their bedroom or the sitting room. The problem only gets worse when this trend keeps potential playmates inside, making the outdoors seem less inviting. Our lifestyles simply don’t revolve around nature or intersect with it as regularly and naturally as they did at one time.
With all that in mind, how can we as parents take an active role in overcoming these obstacles and inspiring our kids with a passion for nature-play? Here are just a few suggestions:
Family life can be busy, but giving our children the time and space they need to develop is worth making a special effort. If outdoors play doesn’t happen naturally in your family, you might want to set aside some time each week to encourage it. Try to think of some times that would be suitable, and look to make the outdoors part of your family routine. in the week, you might want to encourage your kids to play outdoors, in the garden, around the house or in a park. Be aware of spaces that are safe and suitable. If there’s no-one outside to play with, you could try getting together with other local parents and setting up regular play times during the week. On evenings and weekends, trips to national parks, woodlands, heritage sites and natural landmarks are all excellent ways to get out.
Be a role model for your kids by leading the way into the world of nature! Your kids will be more likely to respect the value of nature if you demonstrate that respect yourself. Embrace the outdoors as a space for to connect and make memories with your children. if you’re enthusiastic about running, diving, jumping and mucking in head-first, they are much more likely to follow suit. It will be hard to change your kid’s perspective if you yourself are stuck indoors and always glued to a monitor screen. Perhaps this is a great time to try a new outdoors hobby – perhaps sports, an interest in heritage, or photography.
Getting kids back into the outdoors is about giving them the opportunity to test their limits and discover their capacity for independence. Why not nurture that process by giving them a say in the way that you divide up your indoors and outdoors time as a family? Work together on a play schedule, and give them options about how to spend the time they have allocated on the computer or the TV. You might want to set up a system whereby they can earn digital play time based on a certain amount of outdoor play time. When they are outdoors, help your kids to test their limits safely. Will they be excited by a challenge, a dare, a reward? Another way of building trust and confidence might be to let your kids walk to school on their own, take the bus, or send them to the shops for groceries.
Exploration can begin in your back garden! Why not give this space a make-over, and turn it into a place of natural enchantment? Re-design the space for outdoor play – can you make a mud pit, a dirt pile, a sand box? Build a den in the trees or shrubs? Plant a flower bed, a herb garden, or a vegetable patch? Let your kids become observers and investigators of nature. Start a project with them a like a nature journal, so they can learn the name of birds, trees, flowers and animals. Let them start collections of different kinds of leaves, rocks (and shells if you visit the beach!). There are lots more ideas about outdoor projects your kids can engage with here.
Spending time outside with your kids can be an opportunity to see how they respond to a new environment, the kind of playing style they enjoy, what naturally fascinates and intrigues them. Notice what catches their attention, and use points of interest to ask questions to encourage them to think about the world and their surroundings. A great way to make your adventures in the outdoors meaningful is to think about they can enhance important events and occasions. Do you go away camping at a certain time of year? Do you ever take a picnic or have a meal under the stars, or when the moon is full? What kind of family rituals and traditions do you observe around important dates like New Year, Easter and Christmas? Do you greet the start of each new season? Taking time out to get in touch with the changes in nature can be a perfect space to reflect on life, love, hopes and dreams.
No garden? Little green space near you? Or just looking for more? You might want to look around and see if there are any allotments, city farms or conservation projects you can volunteer for in your local area. If your kids respond well to the idea of getting outdoors, you might want to design your holidays around outdoors activities as well. Camping, youth hostelling and home swaps can all be fun and cost effective ways of exploring the British countryside or coastline. Plan your adventures together, and involve your children in the decision-making: take a vote on where to go, or put them in charge of planning for a particular day. Be prepared, and pack an explorer’s kit. You might go somewhere different on every vacation, or find a place that stays close to your family’s heart!