Put Down the Controller: 15 Ideas to Get Your Child to Play Outside

As we end National No TV / Screen time week I’m looking for ideas on how to continue to reduce my children’s screen time as we approach the last School bell ringing for the year and my kids beginning their lazy Summer days.

Kids are playing more video games than ever before. Whether it’s on a pricey game console or on the computer, kids as young as three years old are playing video games. Sure, some may have educational lessons, but the vast majority are for mere fun and suck away the hours on a summer day. Get your kid outside and moving with these tips to get them away from video games.

  1. Go for a nature walk. Kids seldom know much about nature, outside of the basics they learn in science class. Take your kids to explore the outdoors by taking them on a nature walk. Don’t worry if there’s no national park nearby, you can go down a trail at your local park or in the neighborhood and spot bits of nature as they turn up. Check out birds and collect neat leaves and flowers along the way. It teaches kids to appreciate and respect nature and gets them in tune with the great outdoors.
  2. Share old school games with your kids. Today’s typical six year old may not know what Red Rover is. It’s too bad since the game is a blast! Share old school games with your kids that will make them want to get outside and start Red Rover games with their friends and neighbors. This is a great game to play at a kid’s birthday party too, since there are usually plenty of kids around
  3. Hit the beach. Appreciating nature comes with seeing the many parts of it. Showing your kids the beach will expose them to the sun and sand and you can incorporate a few lessons on erosion if the crowd is interested. Of course, if your kids are swimming the day away in the water, that’s fine too. Collect seashells and walk along the shore spotting crabs along the way.
  4. Go to the park. This one seems basic, but once upon a time, the park was where most families spent their weekends. Now we tend to spend the weekends running errands or at the modern day park, the mall (insert shudder here). Take your kids to the park and let them do what they want. This is a great place to let them run wild because it gives them an opportunity to interact with other kids and play on things they may not have a chance to play with otherwise, like the jungle gym or see-saw.
  5. Visit a public pool. If your kids don’t regularly get an opportunity to swim, taking them to a public pool one or two weekends a month during the summer will shake up their outdoor routine. Playing in the background can grow tedious, even for the creative bunch who love the outdoors, so get your kids in the pool swimming. Most public pools are free, so pack a lunch and go early and stay late.
  6. Go camping. This one is a little tricky because depending on where you live and whether or not you own a vehicle, it becomes more or less accessible. If you can go camping with your kids, take them! You’ll appreciate seeing them in new territory (and vice-versa) and it makes for a great bonding experience. Don’t forget to pack the camera, so you can take photos of the family fishing or swimming in the lake.
  7. Play baseball. Gather up a few kids from around the neighborhood (or invite school friends or cousins) and set up a game of baseball at a local diamond. It’s fun, cheap and many kids will want to play again and again. This one isn’t exclusively for kids either. Teams can be comprised of both adults and kids for a fun dynamic.
  8. Start a garden. This is one surefire way to get kids outside, day after day. Starting a small garden will teach kids responsibility and how to get friendly with nature. Your kids will watch their plant or fruit or vegetable grow and appreciate the process and hands-on activity that requires time in the sun, almost daily.
  9. Go for a hike. It’s similar to a nature walk, but instead of spotting things along the way, you’re more just enjoying the scenery as a whole. Kids can get some fresh air and take a look at what the outdoors, besides their backyard, look like. Hiking is an affordable trip if you live near a park with sizeable trails and small hills that kids can climb to the top of to appreciate the view.
  10. Play catch. No park or major yard is required! Find an empty parking lot and play catch for hours with your kid or a group of kids. Baseball gloves for kids are usually affordable at sporting good stores and can be had for even less during the off-season. Plus, the glove will come in handy when you set up that game of baseball.
  11. Take photos of your neighborhood. You’ll be surprised at how careful a kid is when trusted with a digital camera. We aren’t saying to hand over your $600 DSLR, but letting your kid toy with an affordable digital camera will make them see their neighborhood in a new light. It’s a great way to teach them about shadows, lighting and proportion. Hand the camera over and let them take photos. Then head home, upload them and pick out the memorable places you’re accustomed to seeing daily.
  12. Watch the clouds. This is a free, simple activity that younger kids will enjoy. On a warm day, head outside with a few snacks and watch the clouds dance by. Point out funny shapes that remind you of things and watch how the sun changes as the clouds make their way. In this setting, kids will usually organically start playing games of tag and running around, so be prepared to stay outside awhile
  13. Go stargazing. This can be at a park or in your own backyard. Set out a blanket and gaze away on a starry night. Use a constellation book to guide you through the stars you’re seeing or download Google Sky for a tour of the sky from your very own backyard. It’s a free activity that will open your kids to the world of astronomy and make them look up at night in a while new way.
  14. Shoot some hoops. Even young kids will enjoy yelling, “Brick!” as their parents attempt to make a basket. This is a fun way for any number of friends or family to get outside and start playing and working up a sweat. Plus, as long as you can see your kids, it’s a game they can go at alone without worrying about anyone getting hurt.
  15. Go bird watching. To do this, you can spot birds at random or take along a book to see if you see any of the birds on your journey. This works best if you’re in a park or wooded area where birds tend to gather. Bird watching is a fun family activity that many children take to because it gives them a closer look at nature than checking out plants and flowers.

Video games are tons of fun, but for youngsters, playing time should be limited to a couple of hours a week. If you show your child some fun ideas for getting outside and playing, they’ll be more apt to put down the video game controller and have some fun in the sun.

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