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We allow fear to get in the way of positive things.

Even though our kids don’t know it, parents are afraid sometimes too—afraid that the children we love will get hurt, won’t like the ideas we run by them, or will waste all of the effort and hard work we put into them. Most of us know that we need to get our kids outside, it’s one of the best ways to combat the scary rise in obesity, but we avoid doing so for a variety of reasons, most of which are founded in fear.

But getting your kids outside can be easy—if you pick the right activities—and studies are now showing that even risky outdoor play contributes to health child development.

Here are five tried and tested ideas that will motivate your kids to get outside and reduce the barriers to a healthy, happy future:

1. Unstructured nature play:

It may seem counterintuitive—in fact, I can almost guarantee that for most parents it does—but there is actually value in NOT telling your kids what to do. Children learn through unstructured free play, which means that the more freedom you give them (within a safe limit), the better off they will be.

Meet up with some of their friends, get them all outside, and then allow them to come up with their own games. All you have to do is act as the facilitator.

2. Unhiking:

Adults are so goal-driven that we often forget the value of getting lost. For us, a hike has a destination, but for kids, a hike is simply an excuse to explore. Take your kids unhiking—start them out on a “hike,” then allow them to take over, and follow their agenda instead of yours. It might not make sense to you, but it makes total sense to them.

Adults are so goal-driven that we often forget the value of getting lost. Try Unhiking.

3. Outdoor treasure hunt:

If you start an outing by telling your kids what they might find that day—whether it be interesting plants, rocks, animals, or even streams and mountains with fun legends associated with them—you will turn an ordinary walk in nature into an exciting treasure hunt. Plant the seed of discovery, then allow your kids to grow.

4. Just add water:get kids outside children and nature network parenting

Kids love water! Not much gets them more excited than something they can swim, splash, or throw rocks in, especially on a warm day. Integrate bodies of water into your days out—lakes, rivers, ponds, even tiny creeks—and let them explore and splash to their hearts’ content. Just remember to bring extra clothes!

5. Bouldering:

Many people worry that heights are dangerous and bad for kids, but the reality is that most kids love climbing on things and getting high above the ground, and it actually helps them to build skills and confidence. Invite a few of your kids’ friends to come along on an outing, then take them somewhere that has rocks available to climb. Inspire and spot the climbers, but allow them to explore gravity on their own impetus. Not only will they get a great workout, but the will discover a new world of adventure!

Getting your kids outside doesn’t have to be difficult.

By offering them novel experiences and showing them that you are excited about the adventures you are going on—just as excited as you are about work, adult play, or digital time—you will communicate to them how fun being outside can actually be.
So go on, get out there.

Once they have learned that from you, you’ll be surprised what they will discover next.

Grab a copy of Jason’s new book!

  • ‘Value of getting lost’ I love that. Just four words, but there’s so much meaning behind it. In the early years we did make the mistake of structuring our little person’s life, but then my husband’s mother helped us see the bigger picture. Earlier we focused on schedules, Mensa puzzles and preschool games, ballet classes, painting lessons etc., but then we changed direction and started enjoying our child’s growing years. We threw away structure and built in flexibility. The end result is more calm at home thanks to happier people. Great article again – thanks!

  • This is just great. The idea of outside treasure hunt really works. Whenever I want my kids to enjoy nature all I say is “Kids, how about a scavenger hunt weekend” and they are all so excited. I love it when I see them so enjoying and happy and I don’t even have to sweat to get them to the nature!!

    • Thanks for sharing, Barbara! I love that idea!! My family even does scavenger hunts for birthday presents…a scavenger hunt makes life more fun 🙂

  • It so true – us adults keep our eyes on the prize while children want to live in the moment. Put away the phone and play in the dirt, hop some rocks, splash. You’ll all remember that afternoon over what apps were downloaded and the trip to Costco.

  • From Therese, via email: I was both versions of parents. Didn’t tell my boys what to do, but over protected my daughter.
    My daughter, until recently was my heaviest child. Now she has a bike and helmet and is encourage to just hit the road.

  • These are all so correct. It’s great that we have this type of resource today. I find it difficult to get my child to come inside the house and keep him inside the house. From experience I can say these things work 100 percent. Children learn to love the outside as soon as they experience it. As adults we forget this! Thanks for reminding us!

    • I recently finished reading Simplicity Parenting, by Dr. Kim John Payne, and loved his message about creating opportunity by limiting opportunity. Basically, if we say let’s go, we go. If we say, let’s map this out, bring this, do this, plan this….do we ever get there?! When it comes to getting outside, anyway! 🙂 Thanks for reading, Kate, and glad to see you have a son so willing to enjoy the outdoors!

      • I love Dr. Kim John Payne – we just went to a talk of his a couple of weeks ago and he has many profound insights to share and is SUCH a funny, wonderful, enjoyable speaker. We see him every time he tours in our area, like visiting the mechanic to get a parenting tune-up.

        I agree children learn to love outside immediately, especially if adult-agendas can be tempered back a bit to give the children the opportunity to explore following their own urges. In my early fathering experiences, I tried to get my kids to “summit” with me, and failed pretty spectacularly on hikes where we pushed hard to achieve specific goals. And thus was born Unhiking 🙂

        • I would LOVE to see him speak. His book is a game-changer, that’s for sure…I wish it was handed out at hospitals instead of birth class pamphlets! 🙂

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