The benefits of being outside are many. We all know it. In today’s fast-paced, tech dominated world, unplugging and getting back to nature can help us relieve stress, improve our mood, strengthen our immunity, calm our mind and much more. But try telling your kids that. For many parents, getting kids outside can be a challenge. But with so many benefits for our physical, mental and emotional health, it’s a battle worth having.
While there are some days when you may be tempted to just lock the door and leave ’em out there, that’s very much frowned upon. And one of the best things about getting the kids outside is going out with them. Because what’s good for them is good for you too. As parents, all too often our mental health suffers. We find ourselves trying desperately to pour from an empty cup. But wrangling the kids and heading outside for some good old-fashioned quality time in the great outdoors can be a bit of a healer.
That said, we appreciate that being able to get outside easily and enjoy it depends on a few privileges like your health, where you live and how you work. The reality is the Great Outdoors isn’t always as accessible as it should be but any time outside the four walls of your house can be good for you and your kids, however you can make it work.
So what’s the plan of attack for grappling them away from their tech, their toys, or whatever’s keeping them indoors? It’s especially tricky when the nights are rolling in, the days are colder and the weather might be a bit less pleasant. But as winter can exacerbate problems with low mood, it’s more important than ever for the whole family. Here are our top tips for how to get your kids outside without nagging (much).
Make it a pleasure not a chore
This is the first big step to getting into an outdoor mindset, but it’s not always easy. The more excited you can be about getting outside, the more excited your kids are going to feel about it. Sometimes it’s going to take hours of prep and planning and cajoling to get out of the door. If you can keep your excitement high, it’s going to make a big difference. Try and plant the seeds of excitement early by talking about the adventures you’re going to have ahead of time, even if, in reality, you’re only heading to the park. Kids’ imaginations are incredible and it often doesn’t take too much to kickstart them. Push boundaries and try new things and you’ll probably find you become more confident and it gets easier to get outside.
Set a goal, but start small
While goal setting might fill you with panic relating to being at school or work, it can be a good way to motivate yourself to stick to something. But these goals don’t have to be massive things. Maybe you aim to head out three times a week for any length of time at first. Find whatever works for you. Make it reasonable and achievable so you don’t all find yourselves facing “failure” and feeling miserable.
If you decide you want to get out of the house for four hours a day, every weekend, you’re all going to be knackered. You’re almost certainly going to have some G R U M P Y children on your hands. And we all know grumpy kids are not the most biddable or amenable. Build up to things. Introduce the outdoors into your life slowly. We all need time to adjust (adults included).
Encourage imagination and creativity
It doesn’t take much to set kids’ imaginations on fire. When they’re out of the house, it always seems to take even less. Once you’ve mastered just getting out there, you might even find that they don’t need that much entertaining. They’ll keep themselves occupied. The more you’re out there, the less you’ll be intimidated by bad weather and the more you’ll find yourself engaging with the things around you. You’ll be surprised by their (and your!) ability to come up with games out of nothing.
If you want to make the actual getting out of the house even easier, get ready before you go. You could have an adventure bag that’s packed up with all the essentials ready and raring to go. Make sure it’s filled with sunscreen, snacks, water, sunglasses, hats, nappies/wipes, dry socks, extra gloves, binoculars, magnifying glass, trash bag, first-aid kit, waterproofs and the like.
If you travel by car regularly, you might want to have a bag with a pair of clean, dry clothes in the car for each kid at all times. So if the mood strikes you to get outside, you’re covered should they end up in muddy mischief. Always prep a picnic the night before and make sure you take more snacks than you think you’ll need. There’s nothing that’s going to make tiny adventurers more dissatisfied than a hungry tummy. “If in doubt, feed ’em” is one of our go-to parenting mantras.
Invest in good gear if you can
If you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time outside, it’s really worth getting decent quality raincoats for the whole family. They don’t have to be expensive (often it’s the named brands that cost the big bucks), but being dry and warm can make a HUGE difference when it comes to enjoying being outside, especially in the changeable British weather. Hats, gloves and decent weatherproof shoes are worth looking at too. A classic three-layer system works well. Dress with a base layer, a jumper and a raincoat. Add a hat, scarf and gloves so you can de-layer or re-layer. You’re so much more likely to get out and stay out if you’re all properly kitted out in gear that keeps you comfortable. Great places to find quality outdoor gear are charity shops or Facebook Marketplace.
Bring out the tech
Tech can be such a useful tool and it’s so integrated into our lives. We know kids love it so find a way to bring it into the outdoors with you when you head out. Try going on a geocaching adventure to find hidden treasures. Go on a photo hunt and take nature selfies. Download apps like Merlin to identify birds, Sky Guide for stargazing, and iNaturalist to identify plants and animals around you to make discovering the outdoors even more interesting.
Get other people involved
The phrase “the more the merrier” is a cliché for a reason. It’s a cliché because it’s true. Spending time outside doesn’t need to be solitary or something you just do
as a family. Kids inspire other kids. Chances are play dates are already part of
your life. Consider taking them outdoors. Bringing another adventurer onboard might be just the thing your child needs to bring out their own Ranulph Fiennes or Sarah Outen.
Even though winter means shorter days and darker evenings, it brings with it the chance to have different adventures. Try exploring different places at different times and see what the world offers you. Sunsets, stargazing, frosty patterns (and maybe, if we’re lucky, a spot of snow?), late autumn and early winter has it all.
Make the most of the space you have
Kids don’t need acres of woods or miles of beaches to immerse themselves in nature. They can connect with nature in their own backyard – whether that’s a literal backyard or a nearby park or green space. Sometimes getting outside doesn’t need to be a massive yomp around a new location. It can be planting flowers in a pot to put on the windowsill or making mud pies in the park. It can be running around any nearby grassy area, hunting for leaves, twigs or stones. Sometimes just changing your scenery is enough.
How will you be getting outside this December and beyond?