"Go outside to play" is easier said than done.
It's one thing to say that kids have to play outside every day. It's another thing to make sure that they do. In reality, life often gets in the way. Busy schedules, a lengthy to-do list, and recalcitrant children make it hard.
But, as with so many things that matter when it comes to raising kids (like brushing teeth and going to bed on time), insisting on regular outdoor play should be a top priority. Here are some of my suggestions for making it so, based on years of personal experience.
1. A regular routine
It's easiest if your kid goes outside at the same time every day. For us, that's right after school. They've already got their outdoor clothes on, they can drop off their backpacks in the house, and I'll send out a snack for them to eat on the steps. When there's a regular routine in place, there's less resistance from them.
2. Set a minimum time.
My kids always ask how long they have to stay outside. I usually say 20 or 30 minutes, but it's more a symbolic discussion than anything. Most of the time they exceed it once they get engrossed in a game, but it helps me on those days when they're pestering to come back in. I can say, "Nope, you have 10 more minutes," and they accept this based on our previous agreement.
3. Some is better than none.
You don't need a full hour to enjoy outdoor playtime. Even five minutes makes a difference. Insist on outdoor play whenever there's a chance, even if it's between unloading the car and cooking supper, or if they've gotten ready for school a few minutes early, or if there's time before bed. Send them out anyway!
4. Make sure kids have proper outdoor clothing.
Kids will enjoy themselves more if they're warm, dry, and comfortable. It will prolong the amount of time they can spend outside and they won't be whining to come in because their feet are cold. Proper clothing also means that you, as the parent, won't be hounding them to keep clean, stay dry, or be careful.
It's a good idea to store outdoor gear so that it's accessible to the kids. They should be able to dress themselves and put everything away when they come back inside. Teach them how to put wet mitts on an air vent to dry, how to pull out wet boot liners, and hang snow pants to dry. The more they can do on their own, the less daunting it will be to get them in and out of the house.
5. Give them jobs to do.
Assign outdoor chores if they seem aimless outside. My kids get conscripted to empty the compost bin, sort the recycling, shovel the walkway, pick up branches, rake leaves, pull weeds, and water planters, depending on the season. Often the chores morph into a game of some kind and, before you know it, they're off to play – and there's less for me to do.
6. Teach them how to walk.
This I cannot emphasize enough. Children must be taught to walk and hike. By doing it frequently and for increasing distances, they build up stamina and resilience. Walking and outdoor playtime are not the same thing, but the former can replace the latter occasionally, if you're pressed for time.
For example, I make a point of walking to pick up my youngest child from daycare because it guarantees a solid 15 minutes of exercise and fresh air, not to mention a lovely bonding time for us both. (He has called it his favorite time of day.)
By incorporating walking time into your kids' daily routine, it takes some of the pressure off to ensure outdoor play happens.