Encourage Kids To Play Outdoors

by | Jul 14, 2021 | Family, Parenting with Purpose, Tips

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Outdoor play!

Do your kids play with other kids outside, in your neighborhood?  Is there a group of kids that roam the neighborhood asking others to play? Does this happen without adults interfering or trying to control the play happening between the children?  How awesome if this is happening in your neighborhood! It is beneficial for your children to play outdoors.

kids on bikes play outdoors

Exploring the neighborhood

Physical activity, social interactions, a sense of belonging, and nature are all essential to healthy child development. Letting children explore their neighborhood and play outdoors gives them:

  • A chance to use their imagination.
  • Allows them to learn how to socially interact with others their similar age.
  • Gives them the chance to run around and burn energy.
  • Will improve their overall fitness and self esteem.
  • Provides a healthy dose of Vitamin D from the sun. 
  • Allows the opportunity to make connections with kids and form close relationships for years to come.

Benefits of outdoor play

Playing outside with other kids will help your child develop social interactions that are appropriate for life. In a world where kids are over-scheduled with structured activities, it is even more important for them to get out and play with other kids in the neighborhood. Having friends to play with in the neighborhood provides children with opportunities to socialize more frequently, explore and be creative more freely, and learn the skills to problem solve. 

Steps to Encourage Play in the Neighborhood

1. Be outside with your child.

2. Go on a walk or bike ride and meet the neighbors.

3. Ask or plan an activity for families to get to know them.

4. Provide ideas on what to do at first. Then let the kids choose.

5. Set up dates and times for kids to have play dates.

It is important for parents to be seen in the community/neighborhood in order to promote friendships in the neighborhood. 

3 kids playing by trees and rock

Setting Boundaries and Expectations

Expectations and boundaries are important to the success of playing with others. Simply let your neighbors know what the expectations are when kids play outdoors in your yard or house. Be clear and allow for your neighbors to share what their expectations and boundaries are too. 

For example, state that these are expectations so that all kids feel safe and have fun. Some of these could include:

  • Treat others with kindness.
  • Treat others with respect.
  • Respect others’ property.
  • All kids check in at home first.
  • Have a set time for kids to go home for dinner.
  • Have a set time for kids to go home for the night.

More importantly it is important for parents or the adults to let the kids play outdoors without supervision in the neighborhood. Kids need time to be together without an adult telling them how and what to play. They learn how to choose teams, make up the rules, decide on how the game will be played, and winning and losing. 

Kids Learn Lifelong Skills

  1. How to Socially Interact
  2. Ways to Problem Solve
  3. How to Work as a Team
  4. Creativity
kids running through the woods

Outdoor play improves Socially Interactions

Kids learn how to socially interact with others through unstructured play. For example, when my kids were young they played with neighborhood kids all the time. They came in to get a snack after school and then were off on their bikes or scooters until dinner time. My kids knew their boundaries. They could not cross the busy street, but could pretty much go anywhere else. They knew they needed to follow the bikes rules and road rules. If there was a stop sign they had to stop and such. My kids also knew that they had to stay outside to play unless they came home to ask permission to be in someone else’s house. 

Outdoor Play promotes Problem Solving

Problem solving is also an important skill that kids learn from playing outside with neighborhood kids. So for example, when kids decide to play baseball outside they need to choose teams, review the rules, and make the calls whether someone is out or not. By doing this they learn how to problem solve by communicating among one another. This is another lifelong skill.

outdoor Play helps kids Work as a Team

In life everyone at some time or another needs to know how to be a good teammate and work together. This is another important skill kids learn when playing with other kids. They learn the different roles that are part of a team. It might be that they are the leader one time and then maybe they are the person that supports the leader by being the person to go get items for the team. 

Outdoor play increases creativity

An exciting thing to see is how creative they can be with one another when playing with neighborhood kids. Instead of being on their device sitting at home, they are using their creative juices – that’s what we call it- and having fun.

Boy in bucket on top of skateboard

I remember when my boys were younger and playing outside. Darby was in fifth grade and Luke was in second grade. I recall looking outside to see the kids pulling my Luke in one of our large buckets. He was sitting in the bucket that was taped to a skateboard. They had a rope tied to a bike that was pulling him in the neighborhood. The only thing I could see was his head. They did actually have him wear a helmet that said “killer” on it. I am not sure why it said that, but they were having so much fun. They did this all on their own. It took them a while to put it all together. How fun!

My kids also built a lot of forts back in the day. They used cardboard, sheets, boxes, and anything else I would let them have. They even used a hammer and nails. I was a little nervous about it, but showed them how to use a hammer and nail and told them to be careful. They had built a huge fort with friends and then played in it for the next week. They played house, store, and school in that fort. It was fun to watch and listen. They were being very creative.

Unstructured play outdoors

Kids today spend less time just playing both indoors and outdoors. Many kids have scheduled activities and devote a considerable amount of time to organized sports or activities. Others spend a lot of time on computers or devices. Over the last two decades kids have lost eight hours per week of free unstructured, spontaneous play. 

Kids riding bikes - play outdoors

The benefits of play are great. It helps kids to develop empathy and promotes happiness. This is unstructured play without adults. These benefits include:

  • Learning to self regulate
  • Promoting 
    • Intellectual well-being
    • Emotional well-being
    • Physical well-being
    • Social well-being
  • Learning to share
  • Practicing ways to negotiate
  • Learning to resolve conflicts
  • Speaking up for themselves

I do believe one of the best things we can give our children is time to play. I am guilty of over-scheduling my children in structured activities. If I had it to do over I would definitely do some things differently.  Giving them more time and opportunities to play freely in the neighborhood would be one of those do-overs. There are so many important life long skills that kids learn from one another when playing in the neighborhood with other kids. We just need to give them the opportunity, time and space.

by Dr. Kim Grengs Ed.D., Parent Coach

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