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How to get your kids off screens and into the great outdoors

Getting kids out into the fresh air can be a faff, but there are ways to coax your children off the sofa without resorting to bribery. Honest.

By Poppy O'Neill | Last updated Feb 1, 2023

Young child lifted into the air by parents

With tech growing more and more engaging, it can be a challenge to get kids outside and into the fresh air. As parents, we all know how important to everybody's mental health it is to get a bit of exercise and a change of scenery each day. Sometimes, we all need a little help getting our children into outdoor activities.

Even if you have a garden kitted out with the best trampoline you could lay your hands on, or an epic paddling pool in the summer months, the lure of staying indoors can still be strong. We've turned to the Mumsnet Talk forum - the UK's largest network of parents - looking for tried and tested tactics for getting teens up trees and toddlers out on balance bikes

Here are our top tips for getting kids outside.

1. Try calling it an adventure instead

Child looking through binoculars

Unless your children are, in fact, puppies, the word 'walk' probably doesn't instill too much excitement in them. Why not switch up the narrative and ask your family if they want to come out on an adventure instead? With the right approach, you can put a positive spin on getting outside, and you'll quickly find that your kids start to get more excited too.

Also works: an escapade, a mission and (if you're feeling a bit Famous Five) an expedition.

Mumsnet users say

“Get out there and have an adventure! It is always referred to as an adventure in our house, and never just going for a walk.”

Why not try

2. Create your very own treasure hunt

Family on a walk with dog in forest

Who doesn't love a treasure hunt? If you want to up the ante of your expedition, why not walk slightly ahead of your child and drop chocolate coins or other treasures which they can forage for? Perfect for longer walks, this adds a sense of purpose and should also stop them dawdling.

We recommend chocolate coins, mini boxes of raisins, or individually-wrapped chocolate éclairs. Just make sure they all do get collected up and not left behind, and that you keep an eye on where the wrappers end up.

If you don't want to load them with sugar, why not make it a natural scavenger hunt instead? What they search for will vary from season to season, but examples include a particular kind of leaf, an acorn, or even listening for a bird call. This may not muster quite as much enthusiasm initially, but make it a competition and you'll have them interested in no time.

Mumsnet users say

“When our first-born didn't want to come with us to walk the dog, we told her there would be buried treasure and money en route. She would bring along her spade and we used to bury or chuck some coins on the floor for her to find.”

Why not try

3. Have everything accessible in case of spontaneous good weather

Toddler paddling in the sea

As we all know, it can be impossible to predict when the weather will be good enough for getting the family outdoors. Mumsnetters recommend having a selection of outdoor paraphernalia tucked away in the car boot in case you're surprised with a sunny afternoon and a spare couple of hours at the same time. We can dream, right?

Outdoor toys like a football, picnic blanket, even mini tennis rackets and balls – they don't take up much room at all, but will make it much easier to coax your children out of the car and onto the park when it's a sunny day.

Mumsnet users say

“In the summer, I keep some essentials in the boot – picnic blanket, frisbee, ball. That way, if the sun ever comes out when we're out and about on the weekend, we can head to the nearest beach or park and get some fresh air.”

Why not try

4. Let them sit down on the job

Toddler in chunky outdoor waterproofs

If you've got a baby or toddler on your hands, encourage their curiosity for the great outdoors by stopping to take a proper look around – yes, whenever they want. It can turn a 30-minute stroll into a two-hour expedition, but Mumsnet users reckon they'll enjoy their time outside so much more if they're given the time to properly stop and explore.

Plus, let them get up close and personal with nature by making sure they're wearing the right clothes for the job. Kit them out in proper wellies so they can splash in any puddle they want, and make sure they're wearing proper waterproof and warm kit so you're not worrying about them getting wet or muddy. After 10 minutes, your futile cries of “no, don't jump in that” will go unnoticed anyway, so you may as well be prepared.

Mumsnet users say

“Get a fleece-lined, waterproof all-in-one. They last ages and are great when they are learning to walk – baby will be warm and dry so the sitting down on the grass in the park when a particular leaf needs thorough investigation is no problem.”

Why not try

5. Try a change of scenery

Kids running and holding hands

Every park contains a whole host of different potential adventures when you're under 12, so don't be afraid to branch out and try somewhere new if your kids seem reluctant to get outside. You never know, that park you've never bothered to visit before may have the best bridge for Pooh Sticks within a 20-mile radius.

Why not chat to family and friends about where they like to go and why, and even get them to show you around one day? Some parks have hidden treasures which are tricky to find on your own, so it's always good to share tips and advice.

If there aren't any alternative parks close by, simply changing up your usual routine can make a huge difference. Try heading in via a different entrance or walking around the lake the other way.

Mumsnet users say

“We live in London and get the map out to visit all the different parks. There's so much variety and different types of play equipment in each one. The kids seem very happy with that and I also find it less boring.”

Why not try

6. Scooters make everything more fun

child in helmet with scooter

If you can hold your nerve as they disappear (alarmingly) quickly into the distance, a scooter is a great way to encourage your kids to spend time outdoors. As well as being loads of fun for them, it definitely still counts as exercise, too, and is a great way to develop their balance and motor skills. It's a perfect intermediary step if they're not ready for their own bike just yet.

While you're at it, why not get one for yourself too? It will mean it's easier to keep up with them, will give you a new activity to do together, and you might just find that it's actually pretty enjoyable.

Mumsnet users say

“My son has just outgrown his scooter, so I have got him a new one and one for myself. I love that you can get so much further on them.”

Why not try

Head over to our guide to the best scooters, as recommended by Mumsnetters.

7. Put them to work

Child digging with plastic spade

Need to head to the garden centre for some new fence panels? Or give the car a good wash? If you've got an outdoors job that needs doing, why not get your children involved? They'll love feeling helpful and you'll probably get the job done a tiny bit quicker as well (a tiny bit slower is also a possibility.)

If you have lots of potential chores to choose from, creating a lucky dip and letting your children pick their chore out of a hat is a great way to add an element of excitement to the task at hand. It also means they're likely to do something different each time, giving them a chance to try out loads of new things.

Mumsnet users say

“We've enlisted our son's help to get the garden of our new home into shape – lots of fresh air and exercise!”

Why not try

8. Try flying a kite

Boy flying kite

Fed up of always feeding the ducks? Whenever the weather allows, you should channel your inner Mary Poppins and go fly a kite. Traditional and always funny, it's a great way to get the entire family out of the house and doing something a little bit different.

If it's not windy enough, other activities could include: a treasure hunt, quick cricket, and geocaching (trust us, it's fun).

Mumsnet users say

“Pocket kites are brill and cheap. They have no stick frame so they fold up small. They are so simple to use – no faffing around at all and almost indestructible. I used to keep one in my handbag.”

Why not try

9. Make the most of the season

Toddler kneeling in pile of autumn leaves

Visiting the local park at different times throughout the year can feel like discovering a completely new place, and there's nothing like a change of season to boost your appreciation of nature.

Although it can be tempting to stay indoors when it's colder outside, don't rule out going for a walk in autumn or winter – it feels so good getting wrapped up warm to admire the yellow, orange and red leaves or crunch through a patch of frosty grass. Plus, you might see some new wildlife you haven't spotted before, which is always exciting.

So why not try doing that spring canal walk you always love in the middle of winter? It could become your new favourite.

Mumsnet users say

“It's lovely to go out for a walk in autumn – doesn't matter if it is stormy or windy. You can collect things you find – conkers, acorns, twigs, different coloured leaves or different shaped leaves. Then you can stick them on some paper or you can do leaf printing or something if you want to be really creative.”

Why not try

10. And now you might have a different issue entirely

Group of children running up a hill

The plan is, of course, to get them to enjoy being outside so much that they don't want to come back indoors after. If you're having a battle getting them back into the car or house, try and think positively – it means they're having fun.

Plus, one extra bonus is that fresh air will tire them out, so they'll sleep very well afterwards.

“No persuasion needed with mine – it is harder to get them to come in!”

Related: get them pedaling with the best bikes for children

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