6 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Go Outside

6 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Go Outside
From outdoor toy tips to books to inspire a love of nature.
By: Brittany Highland

My child doesn’t magically want to play outside all the time. It’s not that I want to turn him into a mini Bear Grylls, but there are so many benefits to being outdoors, like sleeping better at night, boosting immunity, increasing creativity, and having a more positive outlook from higher serotonin levels.

One might assume outdoor play is a given for RV families who live in such a small space. Yet if we aren’t attentive, screens and bad habits can get in the way – just like they do in a “normal” house. Before we know it, an entire day has gone by without a good romp in the sunshine.

If your kids practically live outside with no prompting from you, then that’s fabulous. But if you, like me, find yourself trying to come up with ideas to encourage your kids to head out the door to play, then this article is for you. I’m about to share six ideas that encourage your children to go outside!

1. Revisit the outdoor toy collection

Let’s start with some toy talk. Because I don’t have the time (or extra water) to constantly be cleaning toys, my son Caspian has a collection of toys that are specifically for outdoor use. They live in a bay below our Winnebago View, and he can access them himself once we help open the door.

With limited real estate, we have to be intentional about all the toys that travel with us. We want our kids to be happy, but we simply can’t take it all. So here are some questions you can ask as you evaluate your current outdoor toy collection or consider adding to it:

  1. Is this toy compact enough to fit in the storage space we have available?
  2. Is this toy durable enough to withstand dirt, mud, sand, and rainwater outside? (Because RVers have fewer toys, the toys they have are played with more often and are prone to wear out more quickly.)
  3. Are the toys we have age-appropriate or has my child outgrown them?
  4. Will this toy spark imagination games?

If your child resists going outside, it could be that the toy collection is stale, and a couple of well-selected additions will bring sparkle to playtime again. 

2. Take indoor activities outside

Here’s a simple way to add outside time to your children’s’ lives: take normal indoor activities to the outdoors. This could mean cooking dinner on the grill and eating around the picnic table. You could do bedtime story time in the hammock or around a fire. Or you could do schoolwork on a blanket in the grass, instead of around the kitchen table.

Yes, any of these ideas require additional effort, but not much. And if we embrace the effort and distractions, we’ll find the grasshopper on our textbook page can be a source of inspiration, smiles, and meaningful conversation. We tend to learn the most when we aren’t even trying.

3. Choose campsites with safe outdoor space for play

Your RV can take you to beautiful places, but some of them are hazardous for little ones. Maybe a specific campsite just came to your mind: the cliffside area outside Badlands National Park, a national forest site right by a rushing stream, or an area known for poison oak.

Sometimes we choose wild campsites for good reasons, accepting that we’ll need to be extra vigilant. But when the choice is available, choose the campground loop that isn’t on a hill, or by the river. That way, you can let your children play freely outside without constant anxiety.

4. Lead by example

If you’re always prodding your child to go play outside, while you stay inside on the sofa, then your child will eventually notice the disconnect. Teach your kids to love being outside by modeling that behavior for them.

In my experience, this is especially important if you have an only child. When Caspian isn’t interested in going outside, maybe it isn’t because he dislikes being there. Sometimes I suspect his resistance is because he doesn’t want to play by himself. In those moments, if I can, it’s important to make the effort to join him. Being there, playing with a ball, taking a “scooter walk” (I walk, while he rides his scooter), or just drawing at the picnic table, I show him that being outside is fun and it’s a priority for me.

5. Get out on the hiking trail

My favorite outdoor activity and form of exercise is hiking. You may not realize how many trails are close by, even in urban areas. My favorite resource for finding hiking options is the free AllTrails app.

Caspian has been hiking with my husband and me since he was an infant and has come to really enjoy it. If you’re struggling to hike with the whole family for whatever reason, then click over to my previous article on Winnebago Life about hiking with young kids.

6. Use books to spark ideas

I love reading books that celebrate nature and playing outside. With limited space for books in our Winnebago and many library branches still closed, our best book resources right now are online libraries and the ebooks they offer. We use Austin Public Library where we have a library card, as well as Seattle Public Library, where we don’t. As of this writing, Seattle Public Library is still offering open access to its online book repository. All you need to provide is your cell number.

There are three types of books you can look for, to encourage your kids to go outside. First, you can read nonfiction books like Why Do Leaves Change Color? or What Lives in a Shell? to prompt curiosity. Depending on whether you’re staying in a national forest in autumn or by a beach in spring, your kids will be able to connect these books to the world right at their fingertips. And don’t you think they’ll retain the book knowledge best if they can instantly start their own leaf or shell collection? For example, Noisy Bug Sing-Along by John Himmelman will open their eyes to the natural diversity they may not notice otherwise.

The second kind of book to look for, and even more magical, is a fiction book where the human characters are going on adventures outdoors. Examples include Ladybug Girl by David Soman, One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey, and The Seashore Book by Charlotte Zolotow. All of these are beautifully illustrated and start to do justice to the world you’ll find when you venture into nature.

Third, there are fiction books about animals in their charming, natural, yet somewhat unusual worlds. It’s easy to reenact scenes from Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, or any of Beatrix Potter’s classic tales. The other day after reading The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter, Caspian was delighted to see “Nutkin” chattering in a tree during one of our walks.

Encourage your kids to go outside ... and go with them

As parents, we get tired and a comfortable routine is all we can manage some days. Trust me; I understand. But the physical, psychological, educational, and even spiritual benefits to being outdoors are undeniable. If this is important to you, then start with incorporating just one of these ideas into your routine. Start small, but start. The world is waiting out there!