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The Secret to Getting Kids to Play Outside

If you’re looking for some ideas to get your kids to play outside, we’ve got tips and tricks that should make it a little easier.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics has been urging the importance of play for a child’s development. It’s crucial for their health and emotional development. But you probably don’t need to hear that from a pediatrician to know that it’s beneficial for kids to play outside and have some fun. 

If you’re looking for some ideas to help increase your kids’ outdoor time, we’ve got tips and tricks that will make it easier. Familiarize yourself with the benefits of outdoor play and some of the activity ideas we’ve got to help keep this top of mind.

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Benefits of Outdoor Play

Let’s start off with some of the major benefits parents will see when children are playing outdoors more often. It’s physical, mental, emotional, and social, so it’s definitely something everyone should be considering.


Getting outside means automatic physical activity, which is crucial to fighting obesity and other health issues. Popular outdoor games involve running around and moving in ways that you might not do inside. Sports help develop motor skills and coordination. Even if the kids are just playing on the swingset or running around the yard playing tag, it’s burning up energy and helping them move their bodies in a new way.

Vitamin D and Sunshine

Spending time surrounded by fresh air is incredibly good for human health. It can benefit your immune systems in addition to the exercise we mentioned above. But getting a dose of Vitamin D is important as well. 

The sun provides an excellent source of Vitamin D which helps you maintain healthy and strong bones and controls infections. The human body converts a chemical in your skin into an active form of the vitamin. While too much sun exposure leads to other problems, like sunburns and skin cancer, being exposed to it in doses throughout the day can insure that your kids are getting that vitamin. 

It’s also a good idea for adults to get that same exposure to avoid weakening bones. So get outside and get some Vitamin D alongside the kids. It’s fun AND good for your health.

Boosts Creativity

Outdoor playtime provides a different kind of play structure for kids. They spend more time making up games and getting creative with the tools they have at their fingertips. You might find them using sticks and dirt to create masterpieces in the yard or playing games with acorns or nuts that fall off the trees.

Creativity is formed by changing the scenery and introducing children to new activities and situations. No day in nature is the same, so by encouraging that outdoor playtime, you’re helping to continue building their creative mind. 

Appreciation of Nature

The natural environment provides so much variety, color, and life. You might take some of it for granted, but kids love exploring. For them, spending some time finding new insects, frogs, birds, or even flowers is incredibly rewarding. They might want to take care of caterpillars and watch them become butterflies or grow their own plants in the garden.

Use the outdoors to help teach them some of the basic facts of life including the life cycle, how important it is to take care of the environment, and how to be gentle to other living things. The more time kids spend learning and asking questions about nature, the more they will appreciate the complexities as they grow up.


Child development happens in many ways, some of which we’ve already touched on, but developing social skills can be another benefit to spending time playing outside. If you live in a neighborhood with other children, you’ll notice that over time, they gravitate towards each other. They learn to start conversations with the neighbor kids and begin playing together.

If you aren’t in a neighborhood, you can experience the same thing by visiting a local playground or outdoor recreation area. Kids have less hesitation when it comes to meeting new people, so playing outside allows them to make new friends.


During those early childhood years, kids are dependent on their caregivers for everything. Once you have preschool-aged children, you’ll notice that they are starting to take on some independence. It’s a slow transition, but parents will start to gain some of their own time back as kids learn to play on their own.

Playing outside in a safe area is a perfect way to let kids gain a little independence. They will have to know when to come in and go to the bathroom, when they want a snack, determine how to entertain themselves with the tools that they have, and more.

Mental Health

Fresh air and outside time are essential for our well-being. You need to see the sun and give your eyes a break from screen time. It’s equally as important for kids, if not more so. As adults, we are able to understand a shift in emotions or the feeling of burnout. Kids don’t have the emotional intelligence to identify that, so they need a gentle reminder to put down the iPads and get outside for a while. 

Spending time outside each day will also help the body keep up with good sleeping routines. Our bodies are designed to sleep when the sun goes down, so if you haven’t seen the sun all day, how does your body know what it should be doing? The screens are stimulating and can suck kids in for hours, so breaking that up and enjoying a little fresh air will help keep their routines structured and healthy.

Tips and Tricks for Getting Your Kids to Play Outside

This next section will cover some of the tips that you can use when you are struggling to make the changes in the routine. These tips will help give you some ideas that will get everyone excited instead of forcing them to do something that they are fighting.

Join your children outside.

Lead by example! Your children aren’t going to respond as well if you’re sitting on the couch flipping through channels and telling them to play outside. Sure, that can be the case every once in a while, but if you head outdoors with your children, you’re going to have a better response.

Children pick up on the habits of their parents. Move your exercise outdoors. Invite your own friends over to hang out on the deck and grill some food. Take on your kids in some of their favorite lawn games or take family hikes at a nearby state park. The more you go outside with your children, the more likely they are to continue to do it on their own as they grow up.

In addition, you can take advantage of all the benefits that your children will get from the outdoors. Enjoy that Vitamin D, mood boost, and exercise alongside the kids.

Set a timer.

Kids have a hard time stopping suddenly in the middle of an activity. If they are enjoying screen time or talking to friends on the phone, let them know that you’re setting a timer. Give them a specified amount of time to finish up that task and then let them know the next activity will be something outside.

If they want, you can set a timer for the time outside too. Tell them that they have to do something outdoors for 30 minutes and most of the time, they will be having so much fun that they will try and negotiate a longer amount of time for the outdoor games.

Invite friends over.

Older kids love spending time with their friends, so why not put together some fun outdoor activities that they can do with their friends. Set up some tie-dye stations for the kids to make their own summer outfits or set up a volleyball net. If it’s winter, set up a skating event or an afternoon of snow sports.

Not only will you be able to get your kids outside for some fun, but you’ll be helping out other parents at the same time. It’s easier for younger people to stay engaged while they are surrounded by their friends. Everything is more fun with a group. 

Informal gatherings are fine too. Even if you don’t schedule an entire planned out activity, you can encourage your kids to call a neighbor friend to come over and then send them outside to play and hang out in the yard or at the nearby park.

Move routine activities outdoors.

When you want less time inside, think about the day-to-day activities that you could possibly move outside as a family. Making small changes to the routine can make things new and exciting (even if it’s something totally normal.) 

For example, when the kids need to do some reading for school, have them get cozy on the patio or on a blanket in the yard to read their books. Consider moving meals outside as a family to enjoy dinner or breakfast. If you are playing games, there are many things that you can do at an outdoor table instead of inside or even switch up the games to do something more active.

Consider the chores that you give to each member of your household and see if you can swap any indoor chores for outdoor chores. Have your kids pull weeds, mow the lawn, or shovel the sidewalk instead of doing dishes or laundry. 

Sign up for community activities.

Check the community Facebook pages and bulletin boards to find fun and engaging activities that your children can do or that your entire family can sign up for. You don’t have to create all the fun in your own yard. 

Public libraries, schools, and community centers offer a huge variety of activities for people of all ages. Take advantage of the offerings to try out new things as a family. You might find a selection of sports, nature walks, walking tours, field trips, and arts and crafts. This is a great way to meet new friends and gain new experiences, plus you’ll be supporting your local community group and the work they do to put these events together.

Have layers and safety gear.

It’s important for your kids to feel safe and comfortable being outside. You want to keep them protected from the basic elements. Keep a stock of sunscreen, bug spray, and a simple first aid kit on hand so you can have it super accessible for the moments when the kids want to get outside.

If they are going to be riding scooters or bikes, have helmets and protective gear that fits and keeps them safe. This is important because kids need to set those habits while they are young and you don’t want there to be an accident that scares them away from trying anything new in the future.

For those of you who live in states where the weather does some wild things, keep layers somewhere in the house they can easily be grabbed. You don’t want kids to be deterred by some cooler weather when they could just grab a jacket or hat and be back outside. Same thing if it’s hot out, they should have a water bottle and hot weather clothes and shoes so they can enjoy the sunshine and warm weather without overheating.

Explore new destinations.

Each community has its own system of local parks to explore, plus there are thousands of state and national parks to include. Take advantage of the parks in your area. Don’t just go back to the same playground each time you take the kids. Explore new lakes, ponds, rivers, mountains, and wildlife areas. 

With each new destination, children will learn a little something new about nature and their surroundings. Changes in scenery will spark new questions and discussions. Think about how fun it is for you to wander around a new spot and then consider how much better it is for them! They’ve seen so much less of the world than you. Kids will learn to be more adaptable as they navigate new locations. 

Build up a network.

Caregivers of all kinds are constantly trying to come up with new ways to entertain children and make sure they are getting enough exercise and enrichment. Consider partnering with other parents in your community and taking turns taking the kids on adventures. This helps the kids socialize and builds up your network.

Having other parents that you can talk to with kids the same age as yours, or even older or younger, will give you an outlet to bounce questions and ideas off. You can make playdates at the park and have other adults to chat with while the kids are running around. It’s great for everyone’s social activity. 

It’s also extremely helpful to have the contact information for the other neighborhood parents as the kids are running between houses. You want to make sure you have as many adults looking out for your kids as possible and be able to reach out if you need some help. 

Use nature for fun.

Some kids might gravitate towards the basketball hoop and the blacktop when they head outside (and many city kids only have that option). Whenever possible, try to incorporate greenery and nature into the fun. Scavenger hunts are a fun way to do this. Make a list of the flowers, birds, and yard decorations that might be found, and have the kids race to see who can find them all first.

You’ll also be pleasantly surprised how much fun kids have learning about things in nature. From bugs to birds to plants, they will have so many interesting questions about how things fly, why things turn certain colors, what the babies look like, etc. You can take a nature walk and just write down all the questions you come up with and then go home and learn more about it. You can also bring one phone along to look up the answers as the questions come up. It will be a fun and educational outing.

Embrace boredom.

Free play, or unstructured play, is when kids really start to get creative. If you are constantly putting specific toys in front of your child, they are going to play with what they see. But in the moments when they are presented with time to find their own entertainment, you can learn a lot about how they see the world.

If you send your kids outside to play without any ideas or specific supplies, you’re giving them the authority to make that decision. While it’s not always recommended because you want to make it fun and exciting to play outside, this gives them the opportunity to figure out how to make things happen without someone’s help. Maybe they will discover their own creation of a game or activity that becomes their new favorite. Some kids might even sit outside and take a moment of quiet time, but I wouldn’t count on that.

Add toys and equipment to your outdoor space.

Whether you have a backyard or a small driveway space or balcony, you can make the most of the space you’ve got. Add some fun toys that will help them get excited. Many young families spring for a swing set or jungle gym of some kind. There are many sites with used options that are incredible and get to have a second, third, or fourth life with a new family.

If you don’t have the space for a playset, think about various natural elements that can be used for play. Boulders, sticks, tree trunks, and items like that can be used to climb on, build forts, and play games. You can also keep it really simple and put out sidewalk chalk to see what the kids come up with for drawings and games.

For kids that have shown some interest in certain sports, you can use big holidays, like birthdays, to surprise them with some sports equipment they can use at home while playing outside. Basketball hoops, roller skates, scooters, golf clubs, and other fun items from a sporting goods store make great gifts and the whole family can benefit.

Introduce new games and activities.

As kids grow, their interests change and shift. They might outgrow certain toys or games that they have historically enjoyed. A twelve-year-old might not use a baby swing anymore, but they might love it if you switch it to a rope swing that they can climb and swing on. 

Updating the toys and games will help keep things interesting and keep the attention of your kids. The way they enjoy their leisure time will continue to change, so it’s important that you have at least one or two new options to offer to keep the momentum going even as they get older.

Prioritizing Outside Play

Alright, so you’re convinced that you need to prioritize outdoor playtime and you have the tips to get started. Now, what activities should you start with? Classic outdoor games like tag, capture the flag, and hide-and-seek works for kids of any age. If you are just working with a blacktop or concrete sidewalk, you can use sidewalk chalk to create a game of Hopscotch or an obstacle course. Toys that make movement fun like jumping rope or badminton paddles are perfect for sneaking in that physical activity.

Whatever games and activities you settle on, you will notice an improvement in your child’s demeanor, energy levels, and sleep over the next few weeks as they spend more time playing in the fresh air. 

What is the secret to getting kids to play outside? You’ll have to try a few things, but after reading this list, you have all the tools you need. When in doubt, go have fun yourself and the kids are sure to follow.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I encourage my kids to play outside?

One of the best ways to encourage your children to play outside is to make it part of your typical routine. Move meals and reading time outside, take family walks, and invite friends over for outside time.

Should I be forcing my child to play outside?

It’s very important for kids to play outside, but forcing them will sometimes backfire. Try changing your methods, set timers, get new toys and play equipment, and join them in their games.

What are some fun family activities to get us outside?

When you’re looking for new family activities, grab a copy of Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition. It offers 50 unique suggestions with a handy key to help you choose the right activities.

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