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Yesterday a social media challenge caught my eye and got me thinking about outdoor play. The #150HoursOutside project is all about achieving a total of 150 hours outside throughout the whole of 2019. That equates to being outside for about half an hour each day – something that for many is an achievable target. But when reading through the comments and feedback the challenge received, it became apparent that some families really struggle with getting into nature and hitting their outdoor quota for the day.
As someone who grew up on the wild Cornish coast and then moved to an area rife with Forestry Commission and National Trust sites, I know that I’m lucky to have had such easy access to nice outdoor areas throughout my entire life. I completely understand that for some, there is no woodland nearby and no beaches stretching on for miles.
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Thinking about the challenge has inspired me to put together this blog post in the hopes that I can help people who really want to get outside more make it part of their daily routine.
The internet is awash with the benefits of outdoor play and it’s certainly no secret that children love being outside and exploring the world around them. One of our favourite half term and weekend activities is to explore our local Forestry Commission site. Being outdoors is something I’ve talked about a lot and have I have been featured discussing this on various blogs and websites.
So how do you start to incorporate outdoor play into your everyday life?
You need to make the idea of outdoor play fun and appealing to children. If you live in a very urban area, you may find children are more hesitant to get outside and explore. Going outside and playing doesn’t have to mean embarking on a hike or cycling 10km. It can start from the comfort of your very own home, or at least your garden.
Outdoor stations, such as water play tables and mud kitchens can be an excellent way to incorporate some outdoor role play into younger children’s daily routines. Half an hour outside making mud pies or exploring the water table with an array of funnels and cups will tally up your outdoor minutes without you even noticing.
If you’ve got a garden that is big enough to accommodate it, a climbing frame of some sort will add hours of outdoor fun for children of all age. Climbing frames also encourage teamwork and imaginative play, develop strong, healthy muscles and have a positive in pact on children’s mental health.
I know that not everyone has a nice big garden they can fill with water tables and climbing frames.
Trust me, I know this! Throughout the whole of Luke’s life, he has lived in a flat and never had a garden. We did have a small outside space at one point when he was younger – we used to grow plants like tomatoes and potatoes and Luke made a DIY watering can to help him tend to his crops! But it was too small for any form of ‘fun’ really, so we needed to find somewhere else to get active outdoors.
Thankfully, most towns and urban areas have parks. Not always grassy parks, but parks with playground equipment such as climbing frames, swings and balance beams.
We are fortunate to have three parks in our town, although one is too far away for us to walk to so we don’t visit it.
When we moved homes in 2017, we managed to move just a few roads away from a pretty good sized grassy park which has a playground too. It’s only a five minute walk away from our flat and enables Luke to burn off his extra energy after school and at the weekends. There’s another park which is quite close to Luke’s school that we also visit sometimes.
We visit our local parks after school sometimes if Luke’s feeling extra energetic. We also head there on Saturday mornings when Mikey’s at work or at some point during the weekend if we’ve been unable to get outdoors anywhere else. Adding in a little walk to your local park and spending half an hour strolling around will make everyone feel a lot better and it’ll get in those outdoor hours without you even thinking about it.
So many of us stick to the places we know well and have always visited, but have you tried adventuring a little further afield or walking home via a different route?
I’ve found that there are usually two or more ways to get to where I need to be. One will be pretty straight forward and relatively boring – walking through a sea of concrete and bricks – and one will be more scenic but take a little longer. When possible, I try and go for the longer, scenic route. I rarely regret it.
Parenting is hard work and I know that so often we are rushing around from one place to the next, but if you do find yourself with some time to kill, taking the scenic route can offer countless outdoor play opportunities. For instance, has your child found a cool looking stick? Or have they found a magic wand, a walking stick, a fishing rod, a sword or the beginnings of a fantastic den? The humble stick is a gateway to all sorts of imaginative outdoor play and it’s one that I could write an entire book on, if I had the time!
When it’s sunny outside, picnics are your best friends.
Picnics are cheap; picnics are ‘a treat’ and picnics take you outside! Plan a picnic with your family, your friends or some other mums from the school run. Admittedly, it’s not so easily achievable during school hours if you have older children, but it’s certainly something I used to do a lot before Luke started school full time. We still make an active effort to explore new areas during the summer holidays and our picnics have taken us all over Hampshire. I have used Google before to help me find some nice local places where there’s either a big patch of grass to sit on or there are picnic benches. You’ll be really surprised how many places around you have benches and bins nearby and are in beautiful, outdoor areas, surrounded by trees, play equipment or wide open grassy spaces.
Use and expand on your child’s interests and hobbies.
For example, if your child loves sitting at home playing Fifa on the Xbox, why not test out their footie knowledge and challenge them to a kick about outside? I have a really competitive son and if he says he can do something, I like to call him out on it and make him try. If he sees one of us doing something active, like climbing a tree or walking across a fallen log, he’s always keen to give it a go. He just needs that initial bit of encouragement.
Don’t let the mundane be…mundane. Just because it’s part of your everyday life doesn’t mean you can’t make it into an exciting outdoor play opportunity.
I’m talking about things like the school run and rushing around doing errands in town. Luke often ends up racing his friends through town on the way to school in the mornings. It’s lovely to watch him and all his friends playing together…it’s also pretty funny to watch him running after his friends who are usually on their scooters!
If you’re looking for further ideas on how to incorporate outdoor play into your every day routine, here a few ways mums have managed to fit it all in:
We tend to walk to places in our town rather than take the car, so we can easily get outdoor time. We also meet up with friends on a regular basis in the woods or parks, easy to do with like minded children. It’s always good to let them go wild and us parents can sit and chat! Having the right outdoor clothing is important too! Jenny from Monkeyandmouse.co.uk
We put fairy lights around the fence in the garden so that our kids can still go outside during the early dark nights, plus it’s lots of fun playing torch football! Gemma from www.mummyswaisted.co.uk
We walk to and from school having mini races along the way, sometimes his friends get involved which is fun. If we have no other afternoon commitments we’ll play in the garden while tea is cooking. Always make sure he gets a dose of fresh air …then the weekends we spend most of it outside exploring. Sinead from www.sineadlatham.com
We have a family national trust membership as we are fortunate to live within 30 minutes of about 5 different ones that are great for exploring outdoors with kids. We keep wellies in the car and have a bag packed with all the essentials for going walking with a toddler (nappies, snacks etc). Claire from Theladybirdsadventures.co.uk
We keep wet and cold weather gear right by the front door so the boys have the right clothing to go outside whatever the weather. Rain and cold is never a reason not to go outside. Jenny from travelynnfamily.com
We try and get to school early so they can have some time in the playground before it starts. Louise from https://pinkpearbear.com
Key Points For Ensuring Outdoor Play Fits Into Your Daily Routine
- Set aside at least half an hour of your day for outdoor play.
- Create a rough routine in your mind or draw up an routine chart for your week ahead. Ensure that every day has at least half an hour of outdoor time where kids can play freely.
- Try to walk instead of drive if possible.
- Make sure to invest in some good quality waterproof clothes and wellies.
- If you can, get some outdoor play equipment for your garden, such as climbing frames, water tables or mud kitchens.
- Walk to your local park after school, or during the day if you have younger children.
- Try taking a different route home and exploring your local area a bit more – you never know, you might find a stick to play with and from there, the play possibilities are endless!
- Make finding the time to get outdoors a little easier by combining your adventure with your meal time. Skip lunch at the table and head somewhere new with a picnic.
- Use your children’s interests to your advantage. Do you have football fans? Get them outside kicking a ball around.
- Take advantage of your surroundings. Climbing up, walking along walls and jumping off them can be a really fun way to stretch and exercise those little muscles.
- Turn your boring everyday chores into something more interesting. Turn the school run into a race, a game of eye-spy or a mini scavenger hunt.
If you’re looking to introduce more outdoor play into your family’s routine on the whole, I have some great posts relating to outdoor fun which you may find helpful or inspirational.
One of Luke’s favourite outdoor games to play is Pooh Sticks. It’s fairly straight forward and I’m sure you all know what it is, but just in case: find a bridge, find some sticks, drop your sticks over the bridge into the current, head to the other side of the bridge and see whose stick comes out first. Pooh Sticks is, of course, a game from AA Milne’s ‘Winnie The Pooh’ series where Ashdown Forest sparked his imagination into creating The Hundred Acre Wood.
While in the woods, foraging for blackberries and baking your very own blackberry and apple crumble is super satisfying and promotes a good understanding of healthy living. You also end up covering quite a distance without really noticing.
Painting hidden rocks is one of our favourite things to do, and we’ve always had such a lot of fun heading to new destinations in order to find suitable places to hide them. We have found painted rocks from all over the world throughout our adventures through Hampshire. We have even found one from Tokyo, which was very exciting!
As mentioned earlier we love exploring our local Forestry Commission sites. They’re so good for kids because they so often have The Gruffalo/The Highway Rat/Zog trails and other Julia Donaldson characters for children to hunt for. In between looking out for his favourite characters, Luke’s often collecting dry leaves, twigs and pine cones from the forest floor in order to create beautiful nature collages.