There are a lot of benefits to getting children active outdoors. It has long term benefits to their physical health, the mental health, their emotional resiliance, problem solving, better sleep and team-working capabilities. Yet many of us struggle with getting our children to be active outdoors.
As a parent who was raised to be an outdoor kid, and a Brownie Leader, I have quite a lot of experience getting kids to be active outdoors. So here are my top tips:
- 1. Go outside. Don’t wait for warm weather, fine weather etc.. just go do something outdoors. It doesn’t have to be a major expedition. Make mud pies in the garden, go explore a local wood, pop to the beach. Dress warmly if the weather isn’t great, as kids don’t like to feel cold, but don’t be afraid of a little bad weather. As I say to my kids (imagine this said in my best Yorkshire accent) “We’re none of us made of sugar, and none of us will melt!”
- 2. Start small. A child who is driven everywhere won’t suddenly be able to go on a five mile hike. Build exercise into your everyday by walking or cycling to school, walking to the shops or the park. Gradually increase the distance within age limits.
- 3. Lead by example. Your kids are more likely to be active if they see you being active. Pick an outdoor sport and give it a go (there are lots to try and if you search on line you’ll find a local club offering beginners sessions). Being active outdoors is good for your mental and physical health too, and who doesn’t need an hour or so away from the kids! (My sport of choice is cycling, and I am one of a national network of volunteers that run women’s only bike rides to encourage women into the sport – it’s called Breeze, check out www.letsride.co.uk to find a ride near you)
- 4. Make it fun. Think of games to play en route, who can get up this bit fastest, who can count the most trees, who can find the most conkers, who can make the biggest splash in a puddle, make silly songs up about where you are, tell stories about how landmarks got their shape;
- 5. Don’t be afraid to resort to bribery – we’ll have our picnic when we reach the top, lets go for a bike ride to the ice-cream shop, if you scoot all the way to the park we can have a snack when we get there. Built in rewards make it all seem worthwhile and keeping energy levels up when exercising is important.
- 6. Be prepared for a bit of whinging. Outdoor sports teach emotional resilience, but young children don’t have it yet. So you might get a bit of whinging “my legs are tired” “this is boring” “are we nearly at the top yet”. See points four and five for coping techniques.
- 7. Enrol them in a club or activity that encourages outdoor play – Forest School, Scouting, Guiding, Woodcraft Folk, the young ramblers, whatever floats your boat, or at least find other outdoorsy families to hang out with. There’s nothing like a bit of peer encouragement to get your child trying something new.
So there you have my top tips for growing outdoorsy kids. Let me know your favourite outdoors activities you do as a family.