Get out and stay out: how to get kids outside

How is everyone’s holiday break going? Everyone cranky and grumpy? Do you have over-sugared children who have been penned in too long? Despite that, are you having trouble getting them outside? Me, too.

I feel like a danger with blogs like this, with parenting blogs in general, is creating the impression that the children being written about are perfect souls. For example, I’m very worried that I might paint the picture that my kids launch out of bed right into the great outdoors where they spend their entire day building complicated forts, making nature-based art, and eating foraged snacks.

My children don’t do that.

My kids like to be outside, yes, but they do not always want to GO outside. What I mean is that they are happy once they are out there, but getting them out the door takes a combination of strategy, bribery, and occasional parental leverage.

I don’t know why kids don’t want to go outside. It’s an eternal, universal mystery that stretches at least as far back as the 70s, when I remember getting ripped away from my Barbies and unceremoniously booted out the door with an irritated but loving, “Get out and stay out.”

I know that kids have fun outdoors once they get out there, but they sure don’t make it easy, do they? There’s the whining, the eyerolling, the stalling, the fighting…if you’ve tried to get a kid outside you’ve likely been there. If you haven’t, you have been gifted with one of those fort-building foragers outlined above and you should probably stop reading now. I have nothing to teach you.

For the rest of us, I though it might be helpful to run down through the list of strategies I use to shove my kids outside. Practice saying the following until you can do so irritatedly but lovingly.

“Why don’t you go sledding/build a fort/play with your trucks?” A targeted activity is always a good lure. That doesn’t mean they’ll do the activity for more than five minutes, or even one minute. Who cares? The key is giving them an idea and getting them out of the house. In one noticeable instance I asked my son, the more reluctant outside-goer in our family, to “go outside and make the biggest, grossest mud pie you can make.” It worked.

“Can you come help me plant the garden/rake the leaves/shovel the snow?”Do you have a helper? I have a helper. You’ll know if you have a helper because you’ve never managed to sweep the floor, clean a bathroom, bake cookies, or fold laundry without “assistance” that makes the job take twice as long. And usually the task gets abandoned in the middle. Well, outside help still counts as help and, even better, an abandoned pile of leaves in the middle of the yard is way less annoying than an abandoned pile of dirt in the middle of the kitchen floor.

“Can you go find a grasshopper/an acorn/a white rock?” I have this vision of someday creating an entire outside scavenger hunt where they have to find an oak leaf, a maple leaf, a crow feather, etc. But that requires forethought and organization…both major areas of personal failure for me. Here’s an idea: why don’t one of you readers put together a list for me and I’ll share it here for all of our benefit? No? Not gonna happen? Okay, my kids can keep hunting rocks.

“If you stay out for at least 15 minutes, you can have hot chocolate when you come back in.” Bribery always works. And again, once they actually go outside, they are usually out far longer than the agreed upon 15. Even so, consider doubling this to 30 minutes. Possibly an hour. Or two.

“You have two choices: go outside or clean your room.” Bam. Done. Win-win.

“Get out! Get out! For the love of everything, get out!” I’m not saying this is the best method, or the most polite, but it is effective. I am a realist and, yes. I have said this. Possibly today even.

Those are my best ideas, folks. Good luck to you. Seven more days to go.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.