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It’s a struggle that every modern parent knows too well: getting kids away from screens and into the outdoors. When kids have endless entertainment at their fingertips, it’s not easy to convince them to spend time outdoors. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.
Time outside has a lot of important benefits for a child’s development. When kids spend time outside, they absorb the vitamin D they need to grow healthy bones, a strong immune system, and balanced moods. Time outside also promotes physical activity so kids maintain a healthy weight and develop good habits. And, of course, playing outside is a wonderful way for kids to make friends, develop self-confidence, and learn about the wonders of the natural world.
As parents, sending the kids outside is also worrisome. What if they get hurt — or worse? It’s normal to feel anxious about letting kids play outdoors unsupervised, but as long as you teach your child basic rules, playing outside is very safe.
Encouraging Kids to Spend Time Outdoors
If you want your kids to love the outdoors, start young. Let your kids get their hands dirty while they’re babies and toddlers, and they’ll develop a love of nature that lasts for years.
Despite early childhood efforts, kids’ love of the outdoors tends to wane as they reach adolescence and become active in the digital world. However, there are still things you can do to encourage kids to set devices down and go outside.
- Limit screen time. Some rules are for our kids’ own good. Set a reasonable screen time limit per day, taking homework time into account, and let your kids find other, more creative ways to entertain themselves.
- Assign outdoor chores. Helping with chores is an important part of your child’s development. If they’re not enthused about the dishes, why not ask your teens to mow the lawn or weed the garden instead?
- Lead by example. If you spend most of your time indoors, your kids will be inclined to do the same. Spend time outdoors yourself and encourage your kids to join you.
Family-Friendly Outdoor Exploration
Speaking of leading by example: Spending time outside as a family is by far the best way to raise active kids. It’s easy to get in a rut with your family activities, so use these ideas for some healthy, family-friendly outdoor fun.
- Plan a backyard treasure hunt: Backyard games such as treasure hunts are perfect for tots just discovering the outdoors. Hide trinkets around the yard and send your kids off to find them. You can even draw a treasure map!
- Attract local wildlife: Kids love bugs and critters, but there’s not always a lot to see in a suburban backyard. You can draw birds to the yard with a homemade feeder or build a bee hotel for native pollinators, then have fun identifying your backyard visitors together.
- Start a garden: Gardening with kids might not be the most efficient use of your time, but it does amazing things for their overall development. You can read about all the ways gardening is good for kids’ health at Today’s Parent.
- Go camping: Pitching a tent in the backyard is a great way to foster a love of camping in your kids. Once they’re comfortable in the backyard, try a local campsite or venture out to a National Park — for only $80, you can buy a pass for all the US parks for a year.
As parents, we often complain about how much time our kids spend indoors, looking at smartphone, tablet, television, or computer screens. But how often do we lead by example and make an active effort to get our kids outside? When you make outdoor exploration a family activity, you raise healthy kids who love to get outside and get moving.
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