No Child Left Inside

Nature is good for children. Children are smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier when they have unstructured outside play.  Though most parents get this and recall how much they loved being outdoors as a child, it can be a challenge to make this a reality for our kids.  Here are some practical solutions to common obstacles to getting kids outside regularly.

Obstacle:  “It’s Not Safe”
The media has overblown the “stranger danger “phenomenon.  Research shows that child abductions are decreasing and that the vast majority that  occur involve someone the child knows, often a family member.  "There are things outside that can be risky, but keeping kids under house arrest has risks, too,"  according to Richard Louv, author of  The Last Child in the Woods.  One in three children are overweight and at risk of developing high blood pressure, heart  disease, diabetes and other weight- related health problems.  Kids with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivy Disorder) concentrate better after a 20 minute walk in the park. While we should definitely be aware of the potential — but usually rare — hazards of outside play, we also need to pay attention to the much more common dangers of not letting them play outside.

Solutions to safety concerns
  • Set age appropriate ground rules.  Let kids know how far they can go and under what circumstances. 
  • Use cell phones to stay in touch.   Ask children to call you when they arrive at their destination or change plans.
  • Ask neighbors to be on the lookout.  Talk with neighbors about a cooperative plan to watch out for the kids.
  • Parents go outside too.   If you’re not comfortable with your kids being outside on their own, be close by.  Do some yard work, take a walk, sit on a lawn chair and read or visit with other parents so you can be in earshot.   Families can take turns being the designated outside parent in the vicinity.
  • Encourage kids to play  in groups.  

Barrier:  “There’s nothing to do outside!  It’s more fun to be inside.”
This is a sign your kids have been inside too much!   Research shows that kids are more creative in outdoor settings.  Once they start to be outside regularly, they’ll naturally figure out how to make their own fun.

Solutions to  indoor  preference
  • Limit non-homework screen time to no more than 2 hours a day.   Set limits on electronics or they’ll take over childhood!
  • Make the backyard child- friendly.   Build a bird feeder , potato cannon, fort or a tree house.   Add balls, nets, Frisbees and jump ropes.  Get creative.
Barrier: “There’s nobody to play with.”
If a few kids start gathering outside, others will put down their Play Stations and join them. If there aren’t any kids close by, you may have to get more creative.

Solutions to lack of playmates
  • Create a neighborhood schedule.  For example,  start a tradition that Saturdays at 11 am and Tuesdays at  5 pm  kids convene in the park, the biggest yard or the apartment courtyard.   
  • Invite friends over as playmates.
  • Join active outdoor groups—Boys Scouts, Girls Scouts, Sierra Club, Hiking Groups.
  • Sign kids up for outdoor camps.
  • Start a dog walking business.
  • Create a Nature Club for Families: a network of families that create fun outdoor experiences for kids.  
  • Download the Nature Club for Families Toolkit.
Barrier:  “We are just too busy.”
This seems to be the mantra of most people in the U.S.   It’s worth examining closely. When you’re kids are grown up, what are they going to remember their childhoods? What will you want to be able to say about your time together when they were growing up?  Are you living your values?

Solutions to busy schedules
  • Limit the number of outside activities family members can be involved in, parents included.  You may decide that two activities are the maximum.  Do less, enjoy it more.
  • Prioritize outside play.  Play has so many cognitive, physical, social and emotional benefits for people of all ages that it’s worth putting at the top of the ‘to do’ list.
  • If your kids aren’t old enough to play outside on their own, get some of your work done while you monitor outdoor play. Read, plan, talk on cell phone, get some exercise or do some yard work.