Getting kids off the couch and outside is not always easy. With busy family schedules and the accessibility and draw of technology, many parents are looking for ways to encourage their children to play outside and put away the screens. The CDC recommends that children and adolescents engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day to stay healthy and develop important skills. Outdoor play offers children numerous mental and physical benefits. Fortunately, there are many fun and family-friendly outdoor activity ideas that will keep them healthy and help them develop a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors.
Benefits of Getting Kids Outside and Active
Playing outdoors is fun for children and also offers many important benefits that directly affect their physical, social, mental and intellectual health. Outdoor play can keep children from developing serious health problems, alleviate existing ones and even help their performance in the classroom. Playing outside encourages children to use all of their senses, teaches them to appreciate and enjoy nature and helps them to develop healthy habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Research has shown that children today engage in half as much outdoor play as their parents. There are many reasons for this including:
- Access to technology
- Parent’s work schedules
- Children’s extracurricular schedules
- Parental fears of harm
- Lack of safe space for outdoor play
While indoor play is also beneficial to children, getting kids active and outdoors provides physical and mental health benefits that can not be gained in a classroom, gym or other indoor setting. Establishing limits on technology, finding safe outdoor spaces — such as community playgrounds — in which to play and carving out time for children to engage in fun outdoor activities is essential to their health and well-being.
1. Physical Fitness Benefits
Outdoor play offers children many physical fitness benefits that are vital to their health and development and can help them stay healthy throughout their lives. These include:
- Preventing Obesity: Outdoor activities that combine aerobic exercise and strength training burn the most calories.
- Preventing Certain Health Conditions: Physical activity can ward off health conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.
- Maintaining Healthy Vitamin D Levels: Vitamin D is produced by the body after exposure to sunlight. It helps the body absorb calcium and promotes healthy bone development. Research has linked deficiency in vitamin D to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Stronger Immune System: Engaging in physical activity can strengthen the immune system.
- Stronger Bodies: Physical activity aids in the development of strong bones and muscles.
- Improved Vision: Studies have shown that playing outdoors can reduce the risk of nearsightedness in children.
- Improved Motor Skills: Physical activity and play build fine and gross motor skills and spatial awareness.
- Improved Senses: Playing outdoors engages and strengthens all of the senses.
Children who play outdoors regularly are much more likely to maintain a healthy weight and continue their physical activity level into adulthood, making it essential to establish these healthy habits at an early age.
2. Social Development Benefits
Outdoor play, and particularly unstructured play where kids create their own activities and rules, promotes the development of important social skills. These include:
- Taking turns, communicating and negotiating
- Learning why rules are important and developing rules for games
- Working in groups containing children from many different backgrounds and abilities
- Getting along with others
- Learning about conflict resolution
- Building self-confidence and resilience
- Taking reasonable risks and challenging themselves
- Becoming leaders and advocating for themselves
Playgrounds provide spaces where children can learn social skills both through active play and observation of others. Outdoor play also helps children strengthen their language skills, learn to overcome challenges and build healthy relationships.
3. Mental Health Benefits
With the busy schedules of today’s kids, conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression are becoming increasingly common in children. Outdoor play and contact with nature have been shown to have positive effects on children’s mental health including:
- Increase in attention span
- Reduction of stress
- Reduction of anxiety
- Reducing the impact of conditions such as ADHD
Spending time outdoors and in nature provides the outlet that children need to expend their energy and alleviate stress and anxiety. This, in turn, helps them to concentrate better and have better overall mental health.
4. Intellectual Health Benefits
Playing outside stimulates children intellectually and has a positive impact on their school readiness and performance. Intellectual health benefits of playing outdoors include:
- Promotion of learning and problem-solving skills
- Strengthening of number skills, especially when counting and keeping score during games
- Easing the transition into school
- Promotion of creativity and experimentation, especially during unstructured outdoor play
- Helping children to focus longer and more effectively
Outdoor play can help children to learn better in the classroom by stimulating their creativity and allowing them to view learning materials in a variety of ways. It also increases focusing ability which helps them to more easily absorb and process new concepts.
5. Appreciation for the Outdoors
Being active in childhood sets up children to have a lifelong love of nature and appreciation for conservation. Studies have shown that children who have a strong connection to nature are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behavior throughout their lives such as:
- Water conservation
- Turning off lights and saving energy
Allowing children to have positive experiences in nature helps them to appreciate it and in turn, learn about protecting it. Children who engage in activities such as cleaning up the trash at their favorite lake or park are more likely to see the importance of protecting the environment and engage in the same kinds of environmentally friendly behaviors throughout their lives.
Ideas to Get Your Kids Outside
Fortunately, many fun outdoor activities will keep kids active and engaged and can be done alone, with friends or with the whole family. From going on a hike and enjoying a picnic in the fresh air to helping out in the community or just climbing and having fun, these outdoor play ideas cost little to nothing and will stimulate kid’s imaginations, help them develop important skills and connect them with the outdoors. Here are our top 15 fun and family-friendly outdoor activities:
1. Check Out Local Playgrounds
Explore the parks and playgrounds in your community and enjoy all they have to offer. Many local playgrounds provide play equipment that is safe and appropriate for children of all ages and ability levels and provide families with a place to gather, play, picnic and have fun. Walk around and locate special areas where trees or flowers are planted or nature has been preserved.
2. Explore New Places to Hike
Grab a small backpack, some water, snacks, sunscreen and bug spray and set out on a local trail. Hiking provides a great way to bond without everyday distractions such as cell phones, computers and TVs, allowing kids and adults to focus on things in nature such as wildlife, insects and plant life. State and national parks have maps of different hiking trails to help you choose those that are family-friendly for younger children. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated along the way.
3. Volunteer for a Community Cleanup or Project
Getting involved in the community teaches important lessons for kids and is also a great way to get them outside. Look for outdoor projects and cleanups hosted by schools or community organizations such as garden clubs or conservation groups. Get kids to participate in activities like planting trees and seeds, pulling weeds and walking along picking up trash. With the kids’ help, organize your own community car or bike wash or even an outdoor movie night to get the whole town involved and outside. Most township websites include a monthly calendar that lists community events and volunteer opportunities.
4. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
This is a fun outdoor activity that kids can do alone or in a group and promotes walking and spending time outdoors. Make a list of items for children to find, with a smaller amount for younger children and more challenging items for older kids. Provide children with a pencil and clipboard to check items off as they find them. Challenge the children to find items such as different trees or flowers, animals, street signs and other neighborhood features. You can even expand the search to include sounds such as the chirp of a certain bird or different animal calls and the smells of different flowers.
5. Have a Picnic at a Park
Local and state parks provide beautiful backdrops for a family picnic and teach children the importance of preserving nature. Allow children to help with planning the menu, packing the food and supplies, including sunscreen and insect repellent, and planning games and activities to play. While eating, focus on the landscape and discuss the things that you see, hear and smell. Take advantage of the open space for activities such as frisbee, catch and jumping rope. This is a valuable opportunity to teach kids the importance of not littering and leaving nature exactly as you found it.
6. Discover Geocaching
Geocaching is a digital treasure hunt where a GPS is used to locate “caches” or containers full of small trinkets left by other hikers. These special sites are located all across the country in parks, preserves and other natural areas. Geocaching is a great way to teach children about map coordinates and navigation skills. Have children locate the coordinates, search for and open the cache, take a trinket and leave a small treasure to be found by other hikers. Some ideas for tokens to leave include rocks with special messages, marbles, small toys or glass stones.
7. Go on a Nature Walk
Nature walks provide exercise and encourage the development of sensory and observational skills. Give each child a small paper bag and have them walk around outside and collect items such as rocks, leaves, shells and twigs. Afterward, they can compare treasures and discuss the way each item looks, feels and smells. Children can use these items later to make a collage or other art projects such as a decorated picture frame or journal cover. They can even use them to make outdoor pictures in the sand and dirt.
8. Play in the Dirt
Put on some old clothes and allow your kids to get messy and play in the dirt. Provide them with buckets or pots, water and digging tools such as small shovels, cups or spoons. Challenge them to dig holes or create elaborate mudpies, using a bucket full of mud and decorated with leaves, stones, flowers and twigs. Both younger and older children can engage in gardening activities such as planting seeds and bulbs, tilling the soil, pulling weeds and watering plants. Playing in a sprinkler afterward is a great way to get some exercise and clean up in the process.
9. Climb a Tree, Wall or Jungle Gym
When done appropriately and with adult supervision, climbing helps children develop their balance and build strong bones and muscles. Local playgrounds, equipped with rock walls, ladders and jungle gyms, provide great spaces for kids to engage in age-appropriate climbing activities. A low and sturdy tree also provides a fun surface on which to climb. Remind children to avoid climbing too high or jumping from heights that could cause injury.
10. Hunt for Bugs
A bug hunt is a perfect activity for getting kids outside and learning. They can use a magnifying glass to explore some of the creepy crawlers that live in nature. Strengthen number and classification skills by encouraging younger children to count the bugs that they see, while older children can make a list or draw pictures of their bug buddies. Read a bug-themed book outside to learn more about the different types of insects.
11. Collect Leaves
Leaf collecting is a fun fall activity for kids. Give them a small paper bag and challenge them to find and collect leaves of different colors and shapes. Children can do leaf rubbings by using placing paper over a leaf and rubbing it with a crayon, pastel or colored pencil and will have fun turning theirs into leaf faces and leaf characters. Discuss the different types of leaves and the different trees from which they grow and the importance of trees for providing oxygen.
12. Watch the Clouds
Lying in the cool grass and watching the clouds is a fun and imaginative outdoor activity for children. Here they can make up stories about the clouds, discuss the pictures they create and even draw or write about their cloud observations in a special cloud journal. They can even create their own cloud pictures outside using soap bubbles tinted with tempera paint, straws and heavy paper.
13. Splash in the Rain
A rainy day can be a fun chance for kids to get out and splash around. As long as there is no thunder or lightning in the forecast, it’s perfectly okay for kids to put on their rain boots and splash in the puddles, play with buckets, sponges and water toys and feel the rain on their face. Invite children to discuss how the rain feels, sounds and smells. Sing rain-themed songs such as “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” for added fun and silliness.
14. Build a Fort
A secret hideout provides a fun outdoor place for kids where they can hang out all day and into the night. Drape a few blankets and clothesline rope over a playset platform or on some low hanging tree limbs. You can even recycle large cardboard boxes to create a multi-room fort that children can decorate with paint or markers. Here kids can play together, eat snacks, read books and let their imaginations run wild. Forts can be anything from a magical castle to a pirate ship or even a dark underground cave.
15. Camp Under the Stars
Pitching a tent in the woods, or even your backyard, and sleeping under the stars is a fun outdoor activity that only requires a little preparation and equipment. All you need are some lanterns or flashlights, a tent and some sleeping bags. Locate a spot where you can observe the stars and constellations and changes that occur in the night sky. Listen to the nighttime sounds created by insects and animals. Don’t forget the campfire for roasting hot dogs and s’mores. The fresh air, physical activity and tasty snacks are sure to tire out your campers and help them to sleep soundly.
Build a Great Outdoor Community Play Space with Playworld
If you are looking to create a playground space that will encourage kids and their families to get up and get outdoors, take a look at Playworld. For over 40 years, we have been producing quality commercial playground equipment that helps build communities. When you choose Playworld equipment, you are sure to receive both a product and experience that will benefit your community for years to come.
When you choose to design and build a new playground with Playworld, you get:
1. Diverse Playground Designs
We offer many different styles and designs of playground equipment and site furnishings.
- Early Childhood Designs for Ages 2 to 5 Years: Designed for the unique developmental needs of younger children.
- School-Age Playgrounds for Ages 5 to 12 Years: Designed for school-age children to gather together and have fun while burning calories and building their brains.
- Playground Fitness Systems: These outdoor fitness systems, designed to deliver a rigorous workout, consist of multiple stations where users can engage in a variety of different exercises. We also offer a line of outdoor wellness systems for older active adults.
- Electronic Playgrounds for All Ages: These electronic playgrounds, unique to Playworld, combine the speed and action of video games with aerobic exercise and movement.
- Site Furnishings for All Ages: We also offer a variety of high-quality site furnishings, such as bike racks, benches and picnic tables, designed to enhance your playground and stay beautiful for many years to come.
2. Seriousness About Safety
At Playworld, we are serious about safety. Our playground equipment is built using durable materials that are carefully engineered and tested thoroughly to meet or exceed all relevant safety standards.
3. Commitment to Quality
We are proud to offer products that are manufactured in the USA and to be the leader in sustainability. We use premium materials that will not corrode, warp or wobble for many years to come. Tamper-resistant hardware keeps your play area safe and secure. Each piece of equipment is built with high levels of craftsmanship and attention to detail, ensuring that your playground is safe and built to last.
4. Focus on Inclusive Playground Design
We are proud to be a leader in inclusive play, with our designs ensuring that children of all ages and abilities are able to play together. Our helpful Inclusive Play Design Guide provides solutions and design tips for incorporating inclusive play into a new or existing playground.
5. Expert Design and Planning Assistance
At Playworld, we believe that play is a necessity for all children. Our expert team is here to help you design a playground to fit the needs of your community. We can also work with your budget and offer guidance on fundraising, grants and other financing options. Contact us today for design help and customized ideas and solutions for your play space.