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How Can I Get My Kids to Be Active Outdoors?

My kids would be parked in front of a screen all day if they had their way. Once we get them outside, they enjoy it, but we need ideas for fun activities. Any tips on how to get them into the great outdoors?
- Victorine

Many parents are dealing with how to manage the time their kids spend sitting on the couch watching TV or glued to a computer/smartphone/gaming system. Digital devices and other indoor entertainment mean kids are spending less and less time enjoying the great outdoors.

Experts worry that this diminished connection with the natural world could affect not only physical fitness, but spiritual well-being. As a result, many parents are trying to get their kids outside more. But how?

Here are some ideas:

  • Even a small suburban backyard can be explored (what's under those rocks?), made more nature-friendly with some bird feeders and a birdbath, or be the setting for a family camping night.
  • Give geocaching a try. This modern treasure hunt activity uses GPS coordinates to direct seekers to urban, suburban, and rural spots for small stashes of fun stuff placed by other geocachers. Engage computer-loving kids by asking them to visit one of the many online geocaching resources to choose which treasures the family should search for.
  • The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) suggests baby steps for kids who are not natural outdoorsy types. Start with a daily "green hour" of unstructured play and interaction with nature. You might try a 15-minute excursion into the backyard to identify the birds you see there or a walk around the block to spot different plants and flowers.
  • Even during winter, there are fun ways to get fresh air. Try sledding, skiing, ice skating, or snowboarding as a family.
  • In springtime, consider starting a family vegetable garden. Even very young kids can help with weeding and watering.

The NWF and many other organizations offer loads of ideas for outdoor play and exploration on their websites. Make it the mission of your computer-savvy kids to go online and find some activities they'd like to try.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014