If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas to get your kids playing outdoors more in 2021 then I’ve got you covered with loads of ideas and motivation, even for those cold, wet days!
If 2021 is anything like 2020, we’re going to need all the ideas we can get to get our kids playing outdoors! With the majority of our usual family-friendly activities closed due to Covid restrictions, I’m turning to Mother Nature to keep my kids entertained.
We’ve always been an outdoorsy family and getting the kids playing outdoors has been an absolute saviour for us all recently. But it can be difficult to know where to start or how to encourage them outdoors if they’d rather be indoors!
A lot of the advice I’ve read online suggests you need to buy fancy toys or expensive clothing or go to really special places. But, in my experience, all you really need is some warm clothes, patience and a sense of adventure!
Here are some tips and ideas to get your kids playing outdoors more in 2021
#1. NEVER call it a walk, call it an adventure
Here’s my number one tip if you want to get your kids playing outdoors more – NEVER call it a walk.
My go-to outdoor activity with the kids is a long walk through the forest. There are trees to climb, streams to splash in, dens to build, bugs to find and pine cones to collect. What’s not to love about that!?
Well, everything apparently!
If I tell my kids we’re going for a walk they’ll whinge and whine and say walking is boring.
So I’ll say things like:
- We’re going to find the Gruffalo
- We’re going to build a den in the forest
- We’re going to find a bird’s nest with baby birds
- We’re going to find crabs
- We’re going to make a fishing rod and catch some fish
- We’re going to collect leaves for an art project
- We’re going to find the perfect stick man
- We’re going to play poo sticks
- We’re collecting rocks for the garden
- We’re collecting wild flowers for the house
- We’re going to check on the cows (we check on the cows a lot!)
- We’re going to meet a friend in the forest
- We’re going to check the river isn’t too high
- We’re going to pick some blackberries or apples
- We’re going to build a boat to float down the stream
- We need to throw the ball for the dog
- We’re doing Nerf Gun target practice in the woods
- We’re going to use our Kelly Kettle
- We’re going to feed the ducks
- We’re going to climb a tree
#2. Keep it short on cold days
Don’t stay outdoors for too long on cold days.
I find that my kids quickly go from happy to having a meltdown SO quickly on cold days. I always try to get home before everyone is cold and tired so we all remember it as a nice experience.
#3. Snowsuits are a saviour
I’m a big fan of snowsuits for our kids because it’s just one piece of clothing they need to put on and take off. It keeps them warm and dry without the hassle of lots of layers. It takes us long enough to get out of the house on a warm day, never mind on a cold day! It can take us half an hour to find extra jackets, scarfs, hats and waterproofs so I find a snowsuit much easier.
We’ve always got our snowsuits from Mountain Warehouse as they’re great quality and a good price. You can usually get them discounted in the summer and I always buy red so they’re unisex – which also makes it easier to pass them along or sell them in the future.
#4. Set yourself a challenge
This is great for older kids who will embrace a challenge.
A great one is the 1,000 hours outside challenge. It’s based on the statistic that most kids have 1,200 hours of screen time a year. That’s a lot of time and we could easily shift some of that time to getting kids playing outdoors!
You can download tracker sheets to help you track the hours you spend outside and this is a fun way to help motivate your kids and get them involved in the challenge.
#5. Practice what you preach
We can’t expect our kids to play outdoors and enjoy their time outdoors if we don’t do the same. Children learn through copying and following our example. If they see us sitting on the sofa and watching TV, that’s exactly what they want to do. If they see us enjoying the great outdoors then they’re much more likely to do the same!
#6. Bring a book
I generally don’t bring games or toys or set activities to encourage my kids playing outdoors. Children have amazing imaginations and they don’t need us to constantly set up games for them to ensure they have a good time.
But young children usually want you to be close by and it can get a bit boring if you’re just sat there next to a stream for hours on end! I’d love to say I get involved with their make-believe worlds but I don’t. If you haven’t got another adult there for company then take a picnic blanket, a good book and a flask of coffee. When your kids see you sat there happily and see you’re settled and won’t be moving for a while, they relax and will play outdoors for longer.
#7. Get MORE kids playing outdoors!
As a rule, the more kids there are, the easier it is to keep kids playing outdoors! So gather as many children and parents as you possibly can and go for a stomp through the woods.
What do you do if you don’t know lots of kids?
Not everyone has a group of kids they can call on – I know I didn’t when George was a baby, but I found it much easier once he started pre-school. We formed a Facebook group for all the parents in his class and it’s made it much easier to arrange get-togethers with other local parents and kids.
It’s also worth looking out for outdoor clubs, groups and activities – not just to be part of the group but to meet like minded parents who also want to encourage their kids playing outdoors. I joined Buggy Fit, an outdoor fitness class for new parents, when George was a baby and I met lots of other mums who liked to be outdoors with their babies and we went for lots of walks together after that.
Facebook groups are also a lifeline to find like-minded parents. There’s a good group called Outdoor Mums UK and it also has sub-groups for local areas which is even better.
During these strange Covid times, the unofficial groups and get-togethers are usually your best bet because the official groups are often cancelled. Make sure you stick to the current government guidance but it’s usually easy enough to socially distance when you’re outdoors.
#8. Always take snacks and hot drinks
We often go for a 10 minute walk to have a snack, a cup of hot chocolate and then walk home again.
Snacks are a non-negotiable essential item to get kids playing outdoors! Even if your kids don’t eat them, they’re always handy to have in case of emergency!
If it’s a hot day then most of our outings revolve around getting an ice cream!
#9. You don’t need to go far
Remember that kids see the world differently to us and the littlest things can be filled with magic.
I usually like to drive somewhere new and explore somewhere I’ve never been before. I want to see waterfalls and flowers and wild animals and beautiful rivers.
My kids on the other hand are just as happy playing in the puddle at the end of our drive!
You don’t always need to make it into an epic adventure for it to be new and exciting for your children. It was icy last week and my kids spent hours playing in these icy, muddy puddles near our house and they couldn’t have been happier.
#10. Start in your own garden
If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space then start here and never assume your kids are too young to help out. My son, George (5), helps me mow the lawn and Joseph (4) loves digging up weeds. Even our baby girl Alba (1) likes watering the flowers!
Let them plant their own little flower gardens with a small tub and some seeds. We grew sunflowers last year and the kids had so much fun watching them grow.
#11. Forage for fruit
Nothing keeps my kids motivated during a long walk than picking blackberries from the hedge! Just remember to pick the ones as high as they can reach to avoid ones dogs may have peed on!
#12. Do a scavenger hunt
A scavenger hunt can be really simple. I tend to go to the forest, find a nice bench and sit down with a cuppa while my kids run off to find the things on their list. This gives them plenty of freedom to run off and play independently and also gives me 10 minutes of peace! My eldest son is really sensible so I don’t need to worry about them going out of my eyesight just yet!
I’ll usually put things like:
- Find something smooth
- Find the perfect stick
- Find a blackberry
- Find something spiky
#13. Make walking to school an non-negotiable thing
We walk to school 9 times out of 10 and it’s always been a non-negotiable thing so the kids don’t even question it or ask to go in the car. Walking to school might not seem like outdoor play but my kids will always end up running and hiding, they’ll pick flowers and play games all the way there. And then on the way home they pretty much always want to visit the park on the way home so we have 30 minutes in the park most days. If we didn’t walk past the park then we definitely wouldn’t go but it’s almost impossible for a 5 year old to walk past a park and not run in for a quick play!
Btw – I don’t want to come across as one of those preachy mums! We’re quite lucky in many ways because it’s just a 10 minute walk to school and, when the traffic is busy, it can take me almost as long to drive and park so it’s often not even worth driving!
#14. Make Cheerio bird feeders to hang from trees
I got this idea from my son’s school as he made them in class. Simply make a Cheerio bracelet using string and hang it from a tree. It’s so easy but keeps them busy making them and then they’ll have a lot of fun finding the perfect place for the bracelet and going back for a few days to see if the birds have eaten the Cheerios!
#15. Walk to the shop to buy a treat
And finally, if all else fails, walk to the shop to buy some sweets! In our village, the shop is next to the park so we’ll always go to the park to sit and eat the sweets and this will inevitably lead to the kids playing outdoors for 30 minutes!
Lots of my favourite outdoorsy memories with the kids have been made while glamping. You can check out my family glamping blogs here!