How to get out for backyard play (in spite of your kids)

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“Time to go outside and play!” … Some kids hear that and rush out the door before you can say “tick check.” Others hear it and try to climb inside the couch. This article is for dealing with the latter group of kids, those kids for which getting outside is such a struggle.

Young preschooler in a blue floral shirt helping plant flowers into the garden. text overlay reads how to get kids into the backyard, outdoor play.

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Tips for making backyard play happen:

1. Plan for success

With outdoor-resistant kids, you need a plan to get them excited and comfortable being outdoors. If they need to put on additional clothing to go out, like a hat or shoes, the items need to be easily accessible and easy for the kid to manage herself.

Tip: Consider having an outside time nook or bag or bin where any needed equipment lives. This can include a collection bag, an awesome outdoor adventure vest, magnifying glass, or bug guide. Anything that will help get your resistant kid excited for the event can be kept in this spot.

2. Preparing the backyard for play

Kids will need something to do out there —  somewhere to build, play, and explore. You can set up a station or two for different kinds of play. 

Try a spot with scrap lumber, rocks, shovels, and toy cars where they can build tracks or cities. A section with a low table or other flat surface, old pots and pans and kitchen utensils, and a tub for water becomes an outdoor kitchen. 

If you have a lawn, leaving a section to grow instead of mowing it can provide your child with a mini jungle to explore. It’s amazing how many bugs and plants show up in a spot where you stop mowing.

A small pile of rocks or logs will provide shelter for bugs, slugs, toads, and other fun critters. Planting flowers or vegetables or adding a potted plant to this area will encourage creatures to hang around as well.

3. Meaningful Work

Kids respond positively to being given real, meaningful work. Digging up a small plot for a garden or starting a few vegetables in containers provides purpose to kids and gives them something to look forward to. If you have minor (or not so minor) repairs or improvements to do outside, invite them along to help where practical. 

Tip: You can find good quality tools that are suitable for kids at retailers like Lee Valley Tools, or your local outdoor / hardware store. Managing and using real tools is a great experience for kids.

4. Dining Al Fresco

Everyone needs to eat at least a few times a day. Try having snacks or meals outside. Not only will you get to enjoy some fresh air, but it will save your kitchen from being covered in crumbs.

Kids who otherwise are hard to get outside will often stay out once they are done eating.

Tip: Have a plastic bin or deep dish tray dedicated to carting meal stuff back and forth. This will help eating outside go more smoothly. 

If you’re eating on a picnic blanket, outdoor cushions (usually intended to be used on patio furniture) can make it more comfortable. Again, having equipment like your picnic blanket and cushions in a basket or storage bin will make it easier to set up and therefore more likely to happen.

5. Strength in Numbers

Use peer pressure to your advantage. Kids are wired to do what they see other people doing, so get together with neighbors and friends for planned outdoor time.

If you invite a family over for dinner, you can plan an outdoor meal, followed by a walk around the neighborhood. You can make or print up a scavenger hunt for things they can find outdoors.

Tip: Give kids an empty egg carton for their finds. It will motivate them to hunt for treasures to fill it with.

6. Keep Close (But Not Too Close)

I am often trying to get my kids to play in the back yard so I can get something done inside my house, and it’s like they know. I don’t have to be actively playing with them, but just being outside alongside them seems to go a long way towards helping them stay out of the house. So, I set up a comfy work spot out there and try and do things like:

  • reading 
  • writing
  • planning
  • crocheting or knitting
  • answering emails on my phone
  • walking laps around the yard while listening to a podcast or audiobook 
  • stretching on a yoga mat or blanket

Being nearby and available but at a bit of a distance so you don’t disturb their play seems to be the right balance.

7. Don’t Give Up

It takes time for kids who don’t love backyard play to learn to enjoy it. Start small, but be consistent, and make it a natural part of your family life. It’s just as important for you to spend time enjoying the outdoors as it is for your kids. A little planning ahead and preparing will help everyone. 

Now, go play outside!


Looking for more tips for getting your kids outside? Check out these articles now:

Contributing Outdoor Mom & Author

Shannon is a nature enthusiast and home-educating mom of 7 living in Prince Edward Island, Canada. She has too many books on her to-read list, will always come and check out that cool bug you found, and never turns down a hike. You can find her on Instagram @shaninthewoods 


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2 comments

  1. Right after I read this to my indoors-loving daughter, she said, “Let’s go outside!”, and we ended up convincing a nice neighbourhood lady to let my daughter walk the lady’s dog (with her). Thanks for the push to head outdoors on a chilly October afternoon!

    1. Hi Maren, thank you so much for sharing. I love the idea of asking your neighbour to walk her dog. That’s such a great idea! And, I’m so happy to hear you found this article motivating in getting both you and your daughter outside:)

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