8 min read

Fun and imaginative things to do outdoors

Here’s a depressing fact from a recent government study [1]: 12% of children in England have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least 12 months.

Two girls lie in the grass looking through a magnifying glass.

To put this into perspective, 74% of children spent less time outdoors than prison inmates! [2]

What’s behind this cultural shift? Parental fears over safety, not having enough time to supervise outdoor activity, a lack of suitable green spaces, and the lure of the screen make for a powerful cocktail of factors. And it’s a behavioural trend that appears to be getting worse with each passing generation. [3]

“Academic research shows that active play is the natural and primary way that children learn,” said Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education, “It is essential to their healthy growth and progress, particularly during periods of rapid brain development. We must place adequate importance on play now, so that our precious children grow up into successful, well-rounded and happy adults.” [4]

“As a parent, it can feel like an uphill battle to prise kids away from screens and get them to enjoy some fresh air.”

78% of parents admit that their children often refuse to play without some form of technology being involved [5]. It’s easy to point the finger of blame at screen-based devices, and whilst there are things that you can do to try and reduce screen time, it’s important not to see technology as the enemy of outside play.

Avoid treating outside play as a reparative action to time spent with technology, otherwise you risk turning it into a competition and killing the innate enjoyment of playing outside.

It’s not a zero sum game

There are loads of ways to use technology to get kids involved in nature. The Open University have developed an app called iSpot for example, which is designed to make identifying creepy crawlies fun and interactive.

Even simple things, like using a camera to capture elements of beauty hiding in the natural environment can grab a child’s attention and get their senses buzzing.

Our favourite  five games to play outside

If you’re stuck for things to do with your kids outside, here are  five foolproof activities that can be done just about anywhere.

1. Bug bingo

The race is on! See who can spot 10 different bugs (or leaves, or stones, or whatever’s to hand). It should keep them quiet for a while and get them noticing nature’s diversity.

2. Pirate ship

Kids are great – once their imagination has been sparked, there’s no stopping them – they can play without adult intervention for hours.

Find a fallen tree, or a park bench and transform it into a pirate ship, or a spaceship, or a castle, using a pinch of imagination and a sprinkle of enthusiasm.

Give them a scenario – like shark attack – and watch how they react.

3. Mudpie bullseye

It might look like a load of mess to us adults, but kids love getting grubby and playing with mud. And you might even enjoy it too!

And it’s not just fun. Studies have shown that playing with mud produces serotonin [6] – the chemical that helps you to feel happy and relaxed – plus, it helps to build a strong immune system [7].

First create a target – somewhere you can hose down like a fence, or a big cardboard box. Score the different rings, with the bullseye in the centre.

Then make some mud balls! Gather some soil in a bucket and add water until it’s nice and oozing. Roll out some canon balls, making sure everyone’s got an even number.

Take it in turns and fire away!

It’s a good idea to have a bucket of warm soapy water to hand.

4. Lay a trail

Collect as many sticks as you can find. And then lay a secret trail for others to follow. You can experiment with hiding different signals in your trail to try and confuse adults.

This can be done pretty much anywhere, and works equally well with stones if there aren’t many sticks around.

5. Magic carpet

Get hold of some coloured chalks, draw an outline rectangle and create a colourful rug tapestry on the ground. Then let your imagination transport you anywhere.

Ideal if you’ve got a paved area in your garden or a pavement just outside your house.

Useful resources to inspire

Locate your nearest parks and green spaces

Not sure what green spaces there are in your area? Type in your postcode to the gov.uk’s dedicated page and it will direct you to a list of the outdoor areas on your doorstep.

National Trust’s 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾

The National Trust has produced a great app that’s filled with ideas for things to do outdoors. You don’t need to be a member to use it, and you can do most of the activities anywhere.

Persil Wild Explorers app, powered by The Wild Network

You may have seen Persil’s ‘dirt is good’ campaign. But you may not know that they’ve also got a free app with over 100 ideas for things to do with kids outdoors.

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Talking Finance content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions.

1 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment pilot study: visits to the natural environment by children https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/monitor-of-engagement-with-the-natural-environment-pilot-study-visits-to-the-natural-environment-by-children

2 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/25/three-quarters-of-uk-children-spend-less-time-outdoors-than-prison-inmates-survey
3 Today’s children have a largely screen-based lifestyle, with just 21% regularly playing outside compared with 71% of their parents. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/10/concerns-raised-over-amount-of-children-not-engaging-with-nature
4 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/25/three-quarters-of-uk-children-spend-less-time-outdoors-than-prison-inmates-survey
5 http://www.ltl.org.uk/news/article.php?item=308
6 http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/antidepressant-microbes-soil.htm
7 http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31879/title/Let-Them-Eat-Dirt/