Practical Tips to Get Your Kids Outside: Part 2

Go on a scavenger hunt...for other families.

Recently we published the first of our reader suggestions for how to get your kids outside — to play, to explore, to draw, to not think the only fun place is inside, on the couch. (Outside, on a mattress? See below!)

They were inspired by a dad who wrote asking for practical tips to sort of “Let Grow” his 5-year-old daughter. You know — encourage her independence. Nurture her curiosity. Ignite a can-do spirit. We got so many lovely ideas, we hereby present Part 2 — of 4 (so maybe more!). Starting with:

Get some planks.

Mom Dixie Lane (great name!) writes:

Hands down, the best thing I have ever done to encourage outdoor play (other than modeling loving the outdoors) is to purchase a stack of 8-foot 2″x3″ pine boards. Lots and lots of them. I cut some into shorter lengths of 3 feet or 2 feet. My children use them like life-size Lincoln logs to build cabins and lean-to’s and obstacle courses. Every few days there is a new cabin in our yard, and visiting children always make a beeline for the boards. I bought the wood 5 years ago and it is still in almost daily use year-round. My kids build and play with them solo (one kid) as well as together. 

I would love to see other families try this. It has led to so, so many hours of outdoor heavy work for my kids and their friends. Buy some boards!

Pitch a tent in the yard.

Nancy McDermott, author of The Problem with Parenting, writes:

It depends on the kid of course. My inclination would be to read any sort of adventure story, especially anything with a fort. Favorites at our house were Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson. Island of the Blue Dolphins and Holes.

One of the best things we did was to pitch a small tent where the kids could hang out. They took out old junk from the attic, including an old crib mattress to kit it out.

They would hang out there on summer evenings with their flash lights and once they spent most of the night (they decided to come back in the house around midnight).

Are they old enough to watch Stranger Things? There’s a very cool little house in that.

I think a lot of it is to have friends involved. Everything is more fun with friends

Help find local friends.

A mom named Laura writes:

I would say to not worry about finding the “right” objects and instead dedicate a few hours yourself to helping your daughter find neighborhood playmates who will want to play inside or outside with her. Even one kid will do wonders!

I have a daughter who just turned 8 and we live in a neighborhood in Salt Lake City that is probably like a lot of other neighborhoods these days, in that people keep to themselves and are wary of letting their kids walk down the street to find and play with other kids.

…Find chill parents.

So my husband and I have accompanied my daughter in walking around the neighborhood to knock on doors and ask if kids can play. We have hints about which houses have kids because we see/hear them or see outdoor toys. We introduce ourselves to the parents and swap phone numbers.

In most cases, the first few interactions end up being play dates (because I have to arrange via text message for a kid to come over). But for a handful of kids we’ve met, their parents eventually became comfortable just letting their kid wander over and knock on our door (and vice versa). The kids usually play outside and there aren’t any adults out with them (though I periodically look out the window or step outside to check on them), so they’ve had to make up their own games and have their own adventures.

I’ve noticed that children just don’t wander up to each other anymore, so my daughter would not have made friends in the neighborhood without my husband and I providing some initial help with finding kids and introducing ourselves. It’s not always easy: some kids don’t jell, and some parents remain too wary to let their kids out to play. Nevertheless, my daughter has made good friends with four neighbor kids and that’s enough.

I think the time spent meeting neighbors and encouraging the kids to play has been an excellent use of my time: my daughter gets to play and explore with other children, and the rest of my family benefits just by knowing who the neighbors are, which fosters a sense of community.