Outdoor Play – 15 Tips To Encourage Outdoor Play

I will be the first to admit there are definitely days when I would rather hibernate from the Swedish weather battering our island, or I am just too tired to tackle the issues that arise with dressing three small children for the elements (talking more about winters than summers here, and you can read a previous post here about those trials and tribulations).  However, outdoor play is something that all children need, and to be honest mine are easier to handle after using their energy up in the great outdoors, and we generally have a better day together as well.  This post is to give you some top tips on making getting out there a little bit easier for everyone, and more enticing for our little people.  This post is not to promote the benefits of outdoor play, but you could read these other posts I have written about the benefits nature play  and outdoor play.

15 Tips To Encourage Outdoor Play:

  1. Have basic things in your outside space to encourage play.  Water tables (mine even love just playing with a watering can that has filled with rain water), sand pits, and simple mud kitchens are all easy ideas.  For our mud kitchen we have an old table, some old pans, and some old spoons.  It’s not had any money spent on it, and they use the surrounding nature mixed with water the rain has collected in various places.  Also having basic tools is good such as little trowels.  
  2. Take the indoors outside.  In better weather (I’m all for limiting the clear up operation!) allow indoor toys in the outdoors.  Mine love making up small world imaginary games, such as hiding the dinosaurs in the bushes etc
  3. Invest in a basic night time star chart (the National Trust do a fab night time explorers kit) and go out looking for the star constellations.  This is a really good activity in the winter months when it gets dark so early, but you may not want to be cooped up inside for the rest of the day.
  4. Dress them appropriately, as if they get wet/cold they will not want to stay out in the colder weather, and also you’ll be faced with a pile of washing.  Weatherproof them from head to toe throughout the cooler months and you will be more relaxed about them wading and splashing through the deepest of puddles.  In the warmer months, use old clothes and try not to let them see how much the dirt issue is getting to you, or show you are thinking about the clear up operation!  (read here why it is good for them).  This, along with leaping around climbing trees, is one of the hardest things I find to bite my tongue about…
  5. Don’t let the little people hear you voice the weather conditions as an excuse for not doing outdoor play.  I would often rather stay indoors in the poorer weather, but until us adults start being negative about it, the children don’t have so much of an issue.  They will pick up on our vibes though and will learn habits of avoiding weather such as rain.  It is hard, but dig deep for that enthusiasm for a good old splash about.
  6. Get them into any nearby open spaces, and take their lead.  Don’t make suggestions or comments, just let them be and see what happens…..let the magic begin!
  7. Spotter books are a great accessory to outdoor play.  They can be for beaches, gardens, woods, the list is endless.  It can give some direction when enthusiasm from both sides is low, a focus and a talking point.  In the poorer weather we take a look at ours, head outdoors without them, and fill them in after with what we have spotted.
  8. Let them use what nature provides for their outdoor play.  Let them climb trees, play with sticks, take risks, and have a fantastic game of hide and seek.  Nature provides great props for outdoor play.
  9. Explore different outdoor areas as they all offer something different in terms of exploring and having fun.  Get out into woods, meadows, around ponds or lakes, and seasides.  Play parks are great too, and if they want to walk up the slide, let them (as long as it isn’t interrupting someone else’s play coming down!).  Let them use their imagination as to how the equipment should be used….you will be surprised with what they come up with, as well as the skills they are developing.
  10. A basic bug kit will keep little people amused for hours.  They can explore the undergrowth and lift stones and sticks and see what they can find.  Just remember to return the mini beasts back to their homes where you found them!
  11. Give them a little bit of responsibility in your home’s outdoor space.  Whether this is a small patch of soil they can plant and grow things in, or making a habitat such as a mini beast hotel, or even making a mini garden pond (see our post on this). My trio really loved potting the spring seeds 🙂 Children really thrive on being given something that is their own responsibility. 
  12. Make it a habit.  If you have a day less full of commitments than other days, make that your “outdoor adventure day”.  Fridays work well for us as all the children have finished school by around midday.  I realise this is not the case in the UK, but then we avoid Saturdays full of swim classes, and we can squeeze another one in on a Sunday if we want to.  But by heading out every Friday, we have a designated outdoor adventure/explore time. And then for the rest of the week we just squeeze in mini outdoor sessions, that are not so long or ambitious.
  13. Don’t interrupt the children (unless you need to go home or they are in danger!!).  Let them get on with it.  Make sure you have packed the thermos, listen to the play, and let nature and being outdoors work its magic on you too.
  14. Make it a social occasion.  We usually try and have some food, but apart from packing a picnic, you could take an afternoon snack and drink.  You don’t need to whip up a whole gourmet meal on a camp fire.  A thermos of hot chocolate and a snack will add just as much to the outdoor adventure.
  15. Arrange to meet others.  You are more likely to keep to your plans if you are meeting others out and about as well.

There has been many a time when I have not felt that I had the energy to bundle three children up and get them outdoors, but once we have been out and returned I never think that I wished I hadn’t bothered.  I feel refreshed from the time outdoors, they need me less, and I seem to get a bit of a break to enjoy just being and watching them.  There are less arguments, and when we get back home they seem to settle better into play indoors as well.  I brace my self for the initial moans and groans of getting out the door, but then they never want to come back once out!

I hope these tips give you some ideas and help you to get you little people outdoors to play.  Drop any more ideas I have missed into the comments below 🙂

Outdoor Play, 15 tips to encourage outdoor play, nature play, children outdoors, get outside, www.mammasschool.co.uk

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  1. These are great tips and ideas – my sister is a teacher so I might pass some of them on! I think getting outside (dressed or the weather of course) and making mud pies and playing with sand and water will always be fun for kids. I used to like collecting flowers and pretending to make perfumes and potions!

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  2. Love this tips! Getting kids outside to play is so important. My girls have been fond of taking their dinosaur figurines into the snow and building snow forts for them lately!

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