Girls on a playground

Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

Getting your children to step away from the computer or TV and instead play outdoors can be a difficult task for many parents. Katherine Johnson of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, says once you do get your children outside, they're going to have fun, burn calories and develop important social skills. She shares easy and fun ways to get children to enjoy playing outside.
Children walking on a trail

Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

Plan Interesting Places to Visit
The backyard may be the easiest option to get children playing outside, but by planning a little, you can find other interesting places to take your children. Katherine shares a few ideas:
  • Walk to a neighborhood park. Parks are usually the best places to go for throwing around a ball or playing group games outdoors.
  • Visit a nature center. Nature preserves, public gardens and arboretums welcome visitors to walk around and enjoy their sites. Some places even have special children's areas designed for kids to play.
Children flying a kite

Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

Have Fun While Moving Around
One of the great things about playing outside is that most of the time, your kids are concentrating so hard on having fun, they don't even realize how much effort and energy they're using, Katherine says. Easy ways to get children to burn calories include:

  • Flying a kite at the park. Children will need your help to get their kites in the air and keep them flying, so you'll all get some exercise.
  • Skipping stones at a local pond. Go to a pond, gather some stones and try to skip them across the surface of the water! You and the kids will so engaged with collecting rocks and throwing them that you won't realize all the activity your arms and legs are getting.
  • Playing games. Gather your child and his friends and teach them to play games you remember playing as a child. If this was not part of your childhood, look up Kick the Can, Shadow Tag, and Mother, May I? for the rules—or make up your own!
Children looking at a frog in a jar

Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

Investigate Nature
Playing outdoors is critical to a child's development because all of his senses are engaged and he's making decisions based on using those senses, Katherine says. Also, cultivating an interest in trees and other plants, animals and natural phenomena is a great way to motivate kids to get outdoors.

Try these fun ways to connect with nature:

  • Take a nature walk. Start the walk around your neighborhood or at a local park and share stories about things you remember about nature from your childhood—blowing dandelion seeds, finding a bird's nest in a tree, collecting fall leaves and making a collage.
  • Start a collection. When you visit new places, gather interesting stones, pinecones and other loose natural objects. You can also take pictures of flowers or insects you find.
  • Plan a family hike. Make it a point to visit a natural area and take a family nature hike. Nothing can stimulate your senses like a walk through a forest, field, wetland or other natural area. The experience promotes healthy cognitive, physical, emotional and social behavior in your children.
Man and child Rollerblading

Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

Smart Tips
Theses are some things a parent should keep in mind to if they want to make the most out of their time outdoors:

  • Enjoy yourself! You don't have to play with the children to model healthy behavior, but do move around a bit yourself and be sure to show them how much you enjoy being outside. This will go a long way to teaching them to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Go with the flow. Make it your goal to have fun, and the exercise will be an added benefit. If the kids aren't having a good time, don't push them to make sure they've burned lots of calories. Move on to something else and try again on another day, perhaps with a different activity.
  • Be on the safe side. It's a good idea to bring along a first aid kit (bandages and antiseptic wipes) and a small towel just in case there are any accidents.
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