Top tips for outdoor play with the little ones

Outside is where the muddy magic happens
Outside is where the muddy magic happens Photo: Inti St. Clair


We all remember the parenting catchcry of generations past: "Just go outside".

Our parents (and their parents, and so on as far back as human evolution) knew what was good for us: being free and active in the fresh air. Times have changed and our kids don't always get that same amount of time outside – but it's important to get them out there as much as possible.

Outdoor play isn't just fun, it's also vital for a healthy upbringing and a range of learning experiences. Here are some tips for getting the kids outside (without hearing too much complaining about being out there).

Get messy!

The best thing about playing outside is the opportunity to get messy … without having to clean up!

Outside is where the muddy magic happens (and clothes are discarded before coming inside), it's where glitter and paint can be happily crafted with, and kids of all ages agree that the best messy play happens in the sandpit.

Let their imaginations go crazy

Pre-schoolers and school-aged children often love make believe play, and there's no limit to their imaginations outside.


You can encourage your kids to play games with whatever's in your garden or at the park: overhanging branches can become cubby houses, sticks can transform into pretend fishing lines, and flower petals can be coins to pay for goods in an imaginary  shop in their beautiful cubby house.

There's no doubt that once you get the kids (and yourself) started the make believe and fun will continue for hours on end.

Set up a backyard play area

The backyard is a true haven for kids; there's no better childhood memory than playing out the back in an adventurous setting. Luckily for us, the world is our oyster when it comes to setting up a great play area for our little ones.

Let your imagination run wild with amazing play equipment options: a cool cubby house, fun swings, a trampoline (and a sprinkler to put under it in summer, of course) and a tough rock-climbing wall. This is the stuff childhood dreams are made of.

Get them involved with you

If you have some jobs to do outside, whether it's weeding, raking up the leaves or washing the car, get the kids out there helping. Even if they're actually hindering rather than being truly helpful (we all know that feeling), it's the very beginning of helping with the family tasks.

Perhaps even more importantly, if you want to head out for a walk or a bike ride then let them come along for some great quality time. It might be slower than usual, but the fun you all have will make up for it.

This is all part of role modelling the joys of outdoors to the kids: the more they see you enjoy and achieve things outside, the more likely they are to get out there as often as possible.

And all kids love to spend time with their parents, no matter what you're up to. 

Take risks

We all want to keep our little ones safe, and this is really important outside amongst dangers like potential falls and passing cars. However, there are some risks that are important to let the kids take.

When you're outside with your children, try giving them a little more independence to take some controlled risks on the play equipment – that is, to climb the ropes a little higher or slide a bit faster under your watchful eye. This gives them the chance to build self-esteem and really see their full potential … and there's no better part of parenting than seeing the pride in your child's eyes when they achieve something they didn't know they were capable of.

Make the time for free play

Structured outdoor play – like sports – is really enjoyable for lots of kids, but they also need the time and space for regular free play.

All of us parents are busy with work, home tasks and running around, but making some time in the week for our kids to run wild is worth every minute of effort. It gives them a chance to let out any pent up energy, have fun, improve their health through physical activity, and even boosts their mental health.

How are you getting your kids outside this spring and summer?