22 Feb Getting kids outside and moving: creative approaches for parents – By Sarah Sutter
Play has long been accepted as an essential process in childhood development, and playing outdoors brings additional benefits. Including increased physical activity. We know this. We know that children and young people have much to gain physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and developmentally when they spend time outside in nature.
Beyond acknowledging the positives of outdoor play, we are all aware of the negative impacts of being less physically active. Of the risks associated with the increased use of technology. Of changing transportation methods and rapid urbanisation. These factors influence our children’s physical activity, and ours. And there are consequences for our health and wellbeing.
New research in the 2022 Australian Report Card on Physical Activity1 gave Australian children a D- score for overall physical activity. Another D- for screen time. Meaning that only 20 percent of children meet the daily physical activity guidelines and have less than two hours of screen time per day. And it’s not just Australia. It’s a problem worldwide.
Research from the World Health Organisation says that, globally, one in four adults do not engage in enough physical activity. Even more concerning, in the adolescent population, that number goes up to over 80 percent2. These statistics are alarming. Especially when we know that regular physical activity prevents obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. And it can improve our mental health and wellbeing.
Which brings me to the question we’re all seeking an answer to how do we get our kids off their screens and outside?
You would think, considering my role as CEO of Nature Play SA, that my children spend most of their time outside. You would think they have limited access to technology. But I expect that my experience is not that different to yours. It’s a collective challenge we all face. What I’ve tried to do is seek creative ways to approach it in our home.
As parents/carers, we have the power to influence our children’s physical activity. Actions such as climbing (yes, trees!), walking, and building cubbies are all part of being physically active. Even cleaning the house! It doesn’t always mean playing sports.
Here are my top tips to get our kids outside and moving:
Be a role model. As adults, and parents, we must be role models. We need to spend time outside, and time being active, to demonstrate the behaviour we want to see in our children.
Set up for success. Have the materials and equipment available to encourage children to be active. This includes balls, kites, loose parts, skipping ropes, bats, buckets, and spades. You can check for second-hand items online or in op shops.
Prioritise outdoor activities. We live hectic lives. It’s easy to be consumed by other tasks. I find adding outdoor activities to the family calendar each weekend helps. Activities such as a walk on the beach, fishing, visiting a National Park, or going to our local school and playing basketball or netball. For younger children, neighbourhood bike rides and playgrounds are good options.
Provide unstructured (free) play. Our children’s lives are more scheduled than ever. They need time to go outside without any predetermined rules or guidelines. Unstructured play has been shown to foster cognitive development while boosting physical and social development. Embrace the mess and try not to interfere. Unless your kids are unsure. In that case, show them it’s okay by making the first move.
Slow down and walk. I know we’re all time-poor, but walking is a great way to improve and maintain overall health. For adults, just 30 minutes a day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. I often park further away than I need to and walk the extra distance. Can you do the same? Sometimes, for little ones, the journey is more fun than the destination (think collecting leaves on the way to return library books or skipping to the supermarket).
1Active Healthy Kids Australia (2022). Reboot! Reimagining Physically Active Lives: 2022 Australian Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People. Melbourne, Victoria: Active Healthy Kids Australia. https://doi.org/10.21153/ahka2022.
2World Health Organisation (2023). Accessed 6 February 2022. https://www.who.int/health-topics/physical-activity.
Image by Jason Tyndall, Nature Play SA