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5 Ways to Ensure That Your Kids Get Out to Play

By Suz Lipman, Blogger and Author.

The ideas and suggestions written above are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about our products. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health and nutrition related activity.

Many summer plans have been cancelled or altered this year, and lots of families are social distancing. But there are still plenty of safe and kid-sanctioned ways to get outside to play and make memories in “nearby nature”, whether that means bird-watching in a backyard, or chalk-painting in front of your house.

In many cases, all that’s required is your curiosity and imagination.

Why play outside?

After spending weeks sheltering in place, you likely don’t need any studies to tell you to get outside. Most of us remember running around as kids as a way to experience unscheduled time and unbridled joy, while letting off important physical and mental steam.

You might not know that outdoor play has been shown to be beneficial to every area of child development–physical, psychological, intellectual, social, and emotional. Kids who engage in outdoor play get along better with their peers, perform better in school, display greater imagination and creativity, experience less depression and stress, and are physically healthier. Outdoor pretend play is especially important for kids’ development.

With so many summer camps and other programs moving online, and with some parents concerned about summer learning loss, it may be more important than ever to ensure that your kids have some free play in their days.

Try these five ways to ensure that playtime becomes a reality.

Girls playing in rope obstacle course

1. Foster a rich imagination.

Imagination and play go hand-in-hand and help kids release stress. Here are some more ways to let kids be kids.

Create a fairy garden, to invite imaginary creatures to your play space. Make a fort or hideaway with sticks, an old bedsheet, or a tent.

Fill cups with water and make “magic potions”, using food coloring, glitter, flower petals, and small found objects.

Bring old kitchen items outdoors and pretend to prep and cook over a stump or other landform. Make mud pies and decorate them with leaves, petals, and rocks. Or pretend you’re on a construction site and use cups, shovels, and buckets to move and build with dirt. Bring plastic dinosaurs or action figures outside to take play to the prehistoric past or into another realm.

Consider loose parts–like twigs, logs, blocks, fabric, milk crates, or paper tubes–which encourage kids to use their imaginations because there is no set way to play with them. Even a cardboard box can provide hours of fun. The Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, found that out when an exhibit designer tossed some large empty boxes into an exhibit space between shows and returned to find kids crawling, drawing, and role-playing in or on them, and creating skyscrapers, houses, and forts. Box City went on to became one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.

2. Leave unscheduled time for free play.

There’s nothing like free play to stir kids’ imaginations and get them moving and having fun. If your kids need a nudge, give them costumes and props for outdoor play, suggest or help with a scavenger hunt, or have them lie on their backs for a cloud race.

Maybe it’s time to brush up on some old-time summer activities like skipping stones, catching fireflies, whistling with a blade of grass, or blowing gigantic bubbles. Teach others your brand new skills.

3. Get your discovery on.

Most kids are naturally curious and observant. Use all of your senses to experience discovery and wonder. Here are a few ideas:

Check out the bugs that crawl on garden plants or swim in puddles, and the wildflowers that bloom on the side of the road. Bring a journal or camera on a discovery walk and record your observations.

Remember, the night sky is ripe for observation, too. Go outside to look at the moon each night and keep a diary to record the moon’s phases.

Make a nature bracelet. Place a piece of masking tape, sticky side out, around a child’s wrist. Go for a walk or hunt and look for twigs, seeds, acorns, and other small items that can be stuck to the masking tape.

Play Listen, Do You Hear? Lie down outside, shut your eyes, and raise one finger for each new sound you hear. Make a wind chime by hanging recycled tin cans, jar lids, muffin tins, measuring cups, and more from tree branches.

Create a mud play area and use old cups and kitchen items for filling and dumping. Make rubbings from trees and leaves.

Go on a scent hunt and see how many smells you can find. Grow or pick ripe fruit and make summer jam and desserts.

4. Take your learning further.

Learning doesn’t stop in summer, and it certainly doesn’t require a classroom. For outdoor learners, nature is one big laboratory.

Make a bird feeder. Cover a pinecone or toilet paper tube with vegetable shortening or nut butter. (Punch a hole toward the top of the cardboard first.) Roll it in a pie-tin filled with birdseed, let it dry slightly, and hang with string.

Take part in citizen science. Because scientists can’t be everywhere, they rely on help from everyday people to track things like weather and wildlife and share their data and experiences. Whether you’re interested in ladybugs or stream selfies, there is probably a project for you.

5. Make your garden grow.

You don’t need a big space to garden. Even a patio, deck or windowsill can yield a harvest. Try these tips to grow your own vegetables, fruit, and flowers.

Have a seed race. Choose two or more types of seeds. Plant them at the same time, in the same conditions. Water and watch which one emerges first and grows fastest. Measure their progress with a yardstick.

If you have the space, plant a pizza garden. Determine a large circle and plant ingredients in it that you’d like to see on a pizza­­– tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, spinach, basil, oregano, onions, or garlic. Top a pizza crust with them later in the year. Or grow flowers in pizza colors–red for tomato sauce, yellow for cheese, pink for pepperoni, and green leafy plants for spinach or green peppers.

Those are just some ideas to get started. Have fun getting out to play! Some of the above activities were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains these and 300+ fun family activities.