Ground Work for Enjoying the Outdoors
Tue July 25th 2023
Playing together in nature can encourage creativity and imagination, as well as a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world and its intricate beauty.
It’s all too easy to venture outside when the weather is good. Summer weather puts an extra skip in your step.
Children are keen to get outside, they enjoy the fresh air and the warmth of the sun on their skin. As summertime disappears in the wake of a fresh Autumn, many families are preparing for ‘inside’ days, and cabin fever.
But as the weather turns to cooler temperatures, it takes a conscious effort to venture out beyond the four walls of your house. It’s not always easy to initiate outdoor play, especially when there are many distractions at home. But the effort it takes is worth it! Being outside is beneficial for your child’s health and development. What's more, playing or exercising outdoors provides plenty of opportunities to explore, learn and bond as a family.
Encourage play and activities they enjoy or find interesting
Every parent or caregiver understands the uniqueness of their child. Even within a family of siblings, there are wild contrasts in demeanour, preferences, and play styles! Be on the lookout for outdoor activities that your child shows an interest in. There’s no point sending them out with a skipping rope when just last week they spent an hour immersed in collecting leaves and putting them in piles. Children are often reluctant at first, but once they get outside and find something they enjoy, the minutes fly by! If you need help with suggestions for outdoor play, a quick internet search produces a plethora of ideas.
Playing outside is not only fun for children, but it’s also fun for parents! Taking the time to play outside with your child shows them that you value and prioritise their play and learning, which can have a positive impact on their sense of security. Joining in with your child helps build a stronger parent-child bond while providing you both with the opportunity to experience new things together. Playing together in nature can encourage creativity and imagination, as well as a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world and its intricate beauty. Often as adults, we quickly forget how just 15-20mins of fresh air can do wonders for our mental health.
Give it a go!
Make the backyard fun and entertaining
One of the simplest and most convenient ways to enjoy the outdoors is by playing in your backyard. Whether you have a spacious backyard or a tiny balcony, with a little creativity, you can transform your outdoors into a sanctuary for your family. Bring in some outdoor furniture such as chairs, garden benches, and colourful cushions to invite you out the door. Add some planters filled with flowers or herbs. Set out a fun spot for your children to dig in the dirt, plant, and care for plants. If you have space, consider installing a swing set, a trampoline, or a playhouse. These can be bought new, or picked up second-hand. A trampoline or even a rope tied to a tree can provide hours of fun, and exercise.
Invite friends to play outside
Inviting other children over to play can be a great way to get your kids outside and having fun. Whether it’s an afternoon with a school friend, or some neighbouring children that are a similar age, having others to play with outdoors makes games like tag, chase, and hide-and-seek all the more enjoyable.
Make sure the area outside is safe, and that there are rules around how far they can venture out. This is a great way to encourage relationships, and keep up social interaction, as well as getting out in the fresh air.
Plan outdoor adventures
Going for a family walk, bike ride, picnic, or even a longer day hike is another fun way to enjoy the outdoors together. Going on outdoor adventures allows children to explore a wider scope of nature and learn about the environment. It’s a really good way to spend time together as a family. You could walk to a destination for an ice cream treat, or do a loop track, observing interesting wildlife and plants along the way. For younger children, consider going on scavenger hunts, gathering plants, or looking for animals in their natural habitats. This keeps their little minds busy and encourages their curiosity about the outdoors. If you’re unsure, speak with other parents about any good walkways or cycling tracks in the area that they have come across. There are many hidden gems of walking tracks in New Zealand, and asking for first-hand experience is a great way to find them!
Try an outdoor activity jar
“But there’s nothing to do outside’” - we’ve all heard it. The enticement of entertainment on a screen has diminished creativity and innovative thinking among children. Instead of sending them outside with no purpose, create an ‘activity jar’ together. Write down lots of ideas of things to do, and each day make it something to look forward to to ‘pick’ out of the jar. Ideas such as; going to the local playground, spotting 10 birds, pick flowers and arrange into a bouquet, drawing on the concrete with chalk, find 5 different animals in the clouds. There are plenty of ideas on the internet if you get a bit stuck.
Minimize distractions and unplug!
The beauty of nature and all the benefits of being outside is somewhat lost when your head is still craned over a screen. Creating fun and interactive activities outside also requires minimal digital distractions. Encourage children to leave devices inside and challenge their imaginations to find other ways to explore, learn and enjoy the environment. It might even be worth considering outside play a technology-free zone, so they don‘t get distracted and miss out on all that being outside has to offer.
Connect with nature
Spending time outdoors is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and learn about the environment. As mentioned earlier, going on adventures and scavenger hunts can be a fun way for children to explore different habitats. Nature can also be appreciated even when you’re not on a specific adventure. Take a walk in your neighbourhood and point out unique trees, animals, and plants. Sit in the backyard and watch for birds, insects, or other wildlife that may pop up. This type of engagement encourages curiosity, observational skills, and an appreciation of nature’s beauty.
Move everyday activities outside
Most people think of common tasks and hobbies as reserved for indoors only. Try switching things up and move a task or activity outdoors for a change. Have a ‘homework outside’ day, read a book on the trampoline, sit on the deck, and draw a tree. Venture out with blankets on a cool evening with an easy-to-eat dinner meal. These are the things that kids will grow up to cherish and have fond memories of ‘that time’ we ate dinner outside when it was only 8 degrees!
Teach outdoor skills
Being outside not only has health benefits, but outdoor skills provide children with essential knowledge that they can use for the rest of their lives. Outdoor skills vary depending on age and interests. For younger children, skills include building sand castles, learning to throw and catch, finding shelter when it rains, or knowing the difference between a weed and an edible plant. For older children, skills may include fishing, hammering a nail, or setting up a tent. Learning skills develops confidence as children learn and achieve new things. Ultimately, these skills develop an appreciation for the outdoors and open their eyes to all it has to offer.
Spending time outdoors is healthy, and an excellent opportunity for bonding, exploring, and learning together. Weather plays a big part in how often, or how long we can spend outside, and of course, it’s more difficult in the colder months. If it fits into your schedule, see if there are any local outdoor clubs, classes, or teams to join that will help with outdoor endeavours. Regardless of what outdoor activity you choose to do, make sure children are safe, and know the limits of where and how far they can venture. With a little creativity, you’ll soon notice how much good being outside does, and how much better you feel with some fresh air in the lungs. Eventually, heading out the door as a family will seem normal and you’ll soon look forward to little outings and adventures together.