Let Grow Presents: PRACTICAL TIPS TO GET YOUR KIDS TO PLAY OUTSIDE

Part 1: Inventing errands, tolerating mess, hiding from the neighbors.

Recently we posted a note from William Fugate, the Ohio dad of a girl, 5, and toddler son. He’d just read Free-Range Kids and now wanted to encourage his daughter’s curiosity and independence. So he asked for practical tips on:

  • How to get his daughter to play outside – and were playsets worth the money?
  • What to play with inside?
  • Suggestions about appropriate tablet/computer games. And —
  • Recommendations about discipline methods. “Is there any consensus on those within the Free-Range community?” {Short answer: nope.)

We turned to you, the Let Grow community, for some boots-on-the-ground independence-building ideas and — wow! You overwhelmed us with an outpouring of great advice, especially for getting kids to LOVE THE OUTDOORS! We’re talking practical tips any parent can use starting this very afternoon!

In fact, your tips were so varied and helpful and clever that we are turning them into a whole series. So today we present Part 1 of: LET GROW’S PRACTICAL TIPS FOR GETTING YOUR KIDS TO PLAY OUTSIDE.

We kick things off with the advice we gleaned from a single letter, below. Stay tuned for lots more tips as the days and week go by. And thanks to all who contributed insights and ideas!

Say yes to the mess.

Steve Gibson writes:

This may sound counter-intuitive, particularly in today’s world of parent-managed childhood, but do not try to cultivate, or curate, or otherwise manage your children’s creativity.

Rather, focus on your own patience, namely to let boredom run its course and your child’s curiosity to take its place, as well as flexibility, so that when they ask if they can “use the power drill” or “borrow a big tarp,” or “have that big bottle of dish soap” you can find a way to say yes. 

And yes, those all came up in my house, and no, I did not choose to ride the shockingly effective slip-and-slide that resulted. But it sure was fun to watch.

I think a large issue modern parents have in getting their kids outdoors to play is lack of playmates. When I was a kid, someone was usually riding their bike up and down the block, and I just had to go out and join them. My kids are often the only ones outside. When a neighbour does come out, they can’t seem to find a mutually agreeable activity, and everyone ends up back inside. I don’t have a solution for this. [HERE LET GROW MUST INTERRUPT TO SAY: WE DO HAVE A SOLUTION! ASK YOUR SCHOOL TO START A LET GROW PLAY CLUB BEFORE OR AFTER SCHOOL, SO THERE’S A CRITICAL MASS OF KIDS TO PLAY WITH.]

…..Introduce Pippi.

I recently started reading “Pippi Longstocking” to my kids (5 and 4). Pippi is the ultimate Free-Range Kid and is never short of ideas for how to spend time. In an early chapter, Pippi goes outside to be a Thing Finder.

I immediately closed the book and sent my kids out to be Thing Finders. I was shocked at how quickly they complied—shoes have never been located and applied to feet with such alacrity. They found a pile of gravel and were outside for a solid 45 minutes climbing it, sorting rocks by size, and picking the shiniest ones for their collection.

…..Invent some errands.

Sometimes I invent errands. My son has been asking for “Old Enough” style errands, but he is not old enough to cross the avenues to get to a store. So, I sent him to deliver some empty egg cartons to a neighbour with chickens. She has kindly volunteered to be the destination for random future errands, and even offered to let him have a “job” related to caring for the hens. I also send them outside to check if the tomatoes are ripe or if the bird feeder needs filling. If I’m lucky, they forget to come back inside.

…..Keep neighbors happy.

We try to encourage outdoor play with open-ended toys. We have a simple “mud kitchen,” a pile of bricks, pvc pipes, gutter pieces, a plastic doll house, and typical sand toys, all conveniently adjacent to a pile of sand. The sand is seeded with oyster shells and other “treasures.” I grow tall flowers around it so the neighbors don’t have to stare at our junkyard, but I’m prouder of the junkyard than the flowers. Getting the kids into the sand pile can take some arm-twisting, but once they’re there, they usually stay a while.

Can’t wait to see what other great ideas parents have!

LET GROW HERE: Yes, there’s a lot to look forward to! Coming soon, Part 2 in our series, this one asking parents to “Consider Containers.”

And if you, dear reader, try any of our tips — let us know how it goes! Drop a note to [email protected]!