I had the fun the other day of spending the day with a friend from high school and her children. We spent the day outside and the kids played the entire time without prompting from us and didn’t want to leave when it was time to go. Looking back, here are some things that I think worked.
1. Novel environment – We went to a place that they had never been before. Therefore they were excited to explore and play on the ‘new’ things (even though I’m sure they have seen many playsets before). I know finding a brand new environment isn’t always possible but look for ways to switch up where you go with the kids outside. Maybe its even as simple as taking turns with friends and neighbors to have the kids play in their back yards. Other people toys are always so much more exciting than their own. If you have parks nearby try out a new one that you don’t usually go to.
2. Appropriate toys – Since we had a large area that they could play in the kids brought their bikes. They were so excited to ride out ahead of us and then circle back to see what was taking us so long (we also brought dogs along so they had fun making the dogs chase after them). If you are going to an area that has paths, bring kids bikes or scooter. If you are going to the beach, bring sand toys. If you are going to be at a grassy area, bring some ball games and maybe even a kite. Plan ahead for what may engage your child where you are going to be.
3. Have a playmate – If your child has a friend or a sibling that is fairly close in age it makes it easier to engage in play. We were lucky that my friends kids had fun hanging out with each other this day. I think part of it is that we had the above two factors going for us as well! We found that when one started to lag behind or complain of being tired, they often only needed a minute before they realized the other one was still having fun playing and they were being left out.
4. Don’t try to have their answers for them – We didn’t try to dictate how they played. We let them come up with ideas and just made sure they were safe. We would take many breaks from the bike riding to explore the leaves, or throw rocks into the lake or even play on the play structures. The ideas they came up with for fun things to do were great when they were given the opportunity to use their imagination.
I am sure there are many great factors that can encourage playing outside but these were ones that I came up with when I looked back over what made this outing so much fun for the kids and so successful in terms of encouraging outdoor play!
I would love to hear any ideas you have that work.