Given technology’s influence, it’s not surprising to learn that the amount of time children spend playing outside is continuing to decline.
A recent report by The Children and Nature Network found that from the 1980s to 2000s kid’s lives have become significantly more structured and media-oriented, leaving them with less time to play in nature on their own.
Out of 800 mothers in the U.S. who were surveyed in 2007, 71% said that they remember playing outside every day as kids, but only 26% said that their own children spend time outside every day. The study’s author associated the decline with obstacles such as TV, computers and safety concerns.
According to Kevin Christofora, a little league baseball coach and author of the “Hometown All-Stars” children’s book series, a collection of books aimed at increasing kids’ interest in fitness and sports, it’s up to parents to set a good example when it comes to healthy exercise habits and spending time outside.
“They are a mini-you,” he explained. “They learn everything from you and all of your habits, both good and bad.”
Christofora understands, though, that sometimes setting a good example with hopes that your children will follow isn’t always enough to motivate them to get up and get moving.
So, in addition to acting as a role model, he also suggests implementing the following strategies.
1. Play with your kids.
“The main strategy is that parents have to participate with their kids,” Christofora said. “You can’t point and say go do it or take them to a gym and drop them off. Success is often achieved with joint-participation and education. Sometimes younger kids have never really seen how to do some kinds of physical activity.”
2. Choose non-traditional activities.
“The ‘why’ part can also be way over their heads,” Christofora added. “Try choosing an activity that is exercise, but not a traditional track and field or gym activity. Go bike riding. Go for a hike up a mountain trail. Make them climb and jump and reward them with the achievement of ‘reaching the goal’ at the end. It might be a bottle of water and a restful moment taking in the view from the top that few others venture to reach.”
3. Place more trust in your babysitter.
“Traditionally, babysitters tend to play games, read books and help with homework,” Christofora explained. “Get out of the box. You have to develop the relationship to allow your babysitter to take your child somewhere. Kids go out, do things they don’t do with mom and dad, and come home tired. Maybe they go to a soccer field, kick a ball and run around. Maybe they try a new sport, or even a new playground in another town with lots of climbing and hidden muscle-building.”
4. Internet’s out.
Christofora said this is his favorite “trick” for getting his kids off the computer and encouraging them to play outside.
“Disconnect the cable modem,” Christofora said. “Blame the Internet company. My kids asked me to call the company and ask if we have a bad line because they asked their friends in school if they have many service outages and they all said no. My kids asked me why ours was in and out all of the time when no one else’s was.”
5. Write out the rules.
“Have your kids write the rules,” Christofora suggests. “If they write them, they will be more responsible in following them. We have only one hour per day Monday through Friday and three hours on weekends. This includes the times they wake up early and play and if there is a snow day or random day off from school, the time is doubled. But then it’s done and they don’t fight it. We have mini contracts—in their handwriting—in a file folder to alleviate any arguments about what was said.”
6. Invite the neighbors over.
“Invite friends or neighbors over,” Christofora said. “It’s natural to go outside when four or five kids can’t play on one computer.”
7. Get outside your comfort zone.
“Many parents are also naïve and afraid to try new things. Many ‘melting pot’ families are living the American dream and sometimes are afraid to venture out of their comfort zone due to language barriers and/or feeling awkward in a new living environment,” Christofora said. “That often causes the kids to avoid leaving the house too. The Hometown All Stars are alleviating the fear and anxiety of small children who are going to play a new sport by teaching the game by following Nick through a little league season.”
“The books are written through the eyes of Nick and all of his new and old friends on the team. It's easy for the kids to relate to Nick’s story. And Billy Ball is the anamorphic baseball who pops in and out of the book, not interrupting the story line, but rather dropping subtle hints about what is happening for the parents to follow along. It will alleviate the fears of the parents who do not know how to play the sport as well. Now the parents and kids can go outside and play together.”