Five Ways To Encourage Outdoor Play

how to encourage outdoor play

In our fast paced and highly technological world, sometimes kids need a little prompting to encourage them to play outdoors.  Here are some ideas for getting kids outside and engaged with outdoor play.

Make getting outside a destination adventure

Sometimes a seemingly mundane activity can sound fantastical if you begin by talking it up.  This generates enthusiasm and encourages curiosity.  Pick a destination and make an adventure out of getting there and back.  Pack a bag with the necessities for your ‘trip’.  Plan your adventure.  Let your child lead the way.

Keep playgrounds fresh!

This is particularly important if you live in an urban environment.  Once a week set aside time to go to a local playground.  The key here is to not always visit the same playground weekly.  Find different playgrounds to visit.  There are some pretty neat playgrounds out there!

Check out a local ‘green’ space or park

One of the best ways to get kids engaged with nature and spending time outdoors is to expose them to interesting green space opportunities.

There are all kinds of green space destinations to visit: local parks, Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Conservatories, Children’s Nature Gardens, Pick your own farms, Zoos, Waterfronts, Trails, etc

Do something you would ordinarily do inside – outside

Do your kids like to draw, model play dough, paint, drive cars, assemble puzzles, dress up, etc?  What about taking an activity they would normally do inside, out.  Have you ever had breakfast outside?  You can tie this into a destination adventure or to change up a local green space visit.

Spend time in a yard

Sometimes this will take a prop or two to get things going, but over time children will learn how to create their own fun – unstructured play!  The most important form of play that exists!

Prop ideas: jar of bubble solution and bubble wands, some sidewalk chalk, a stack of sticks and a sheet, two buckets and some measuring cups, paint brushes and water, a pirate hat, a magnifying glass… the ideas are endless.

In the beginning, if children are not used to unstructured outdoor play they might need some prompting to encourage them to enjoy their time.  This is one of the reasons it is so important to introduce unstructured outdoor play to younger children because they will take full benefit as they grow and develop.  For slightly older children, it may take a bit of unlearning to grasp the concept!

Above all, make each experience positive by encouraging outdoor play with enthusiasm.  They are looking to you as models.  If you present the opportunity in an exciting way, it will already be fun!

Plus, read the benefits of risky outdoor play.


  • Jennifer says:

    It frightens me a little that you even had to write the sentence “if children are not used to unstructured outdoor play…” From day one children should be comfortable outside, even if it means just lying in the grass together. I so miss having a yard to let the kids just go wild in!

  • Tara says:

    Unfortunately many children know how to work a remote control or smartphone with ease, but don’t know how to create their own fun. More and more research is identifying a lack of imagination, inquisitiveness, self-reliance, etc with a decline in both outdoor and unstructured play.

    I know there are a lot of families out there who don’t have direct access to yards. It becomes even more important to find green play spaces for their children to enjoy. I think one of the keys here is sharing ideas that help people feel like outdoor play is accessible no matter where you live. I know when we lived in a building one of the challenges I found was balancing the things that needed to happen at home, like cooking, and spending time outside with the children. Meal planning and my crock pot became essential to making sure we still ate healthy meals and spent lots of time in local green spaces and playgrounds.

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      I sense an idea for a post brewing…looks like we need some ideas for green play when you don’t have your own green space!