The Impossibly-Busy Parents’ Guide To Getting Kids Outdoors

Many parents experience mornings and evenings as a race against time.  Each weekday they get themselves and the kids up, dressed, fed, packed and off to school or daycare.  The evenings aren’t much better: fighting traffic to retrieve the kids in time and then post-school activities, dinner, homework, cleaning up and bedtime.  Weekends are sometimes nearly as hectic.

Now, to make things seemingly worse, you are also hearing that your kids are indoors too much of the time.  They are not getting enough fresh air, vitamin D, natural daylight, soothing exposure to natural “green” settings and outdoor exercise and are even becoming nearsighted.  You know they watch too much TV, play too many video games and are generally missing out on healthful outdoor time.

And, you agree that letting them play outdoors would be a great idea but you are worried about outside dangers and you don’t have time to watch them.  You are, after all, impossibly busy!  Outdoor time goes onto the long list of unfulfilled parenting “requirements.”  Ugh, who needs the guilt?

There is hope for all you tight-scheduled, nail-biting parents out there.  The experts know you are busy and that you want to keep an eye on the kids.  Even though they recommend about an hour per day of free, active play time with much being outdoors, they know how hard that can be.  At National Wildlife Federation we promote Green Hours as part of our Be Out There ™ parent support program.  But, to many parents, an hour feels like way too much schedule pressure.

Here are ten tips we have collected from busy moms and dads to help you get the kids a little more outdoor time each day without causing your head and schedule to explode!

  1. A quick after-school romp: Most parents immediately load the kids in the car when they pick them up after school or daycare.  Others have found that taking just a few minutes during pick-up times to let the kids run around outside the school is a relief for the kids and  makes the trip home more upbeat and pleasant.
  2. Playground flash visits: A variation on the few minutes after school is to build a quick park or playground stop into a busy day.  Parents will tell us how a five or ten minute stop off at a playground let’s the kids have fun while they can check emails on their smart phone.
  3. A “team” dog walk: Another 5 to 10 minute opportunity for many families is to go out together on the morning or evening dog walk.  The busy parent and the kids can chat, get a little time outdoors and calm their nerves.
  4. Park and picnic: Today’s parents will often pick up take-out food on the way home or serve pre-prepared meal for the kids to save time.  You can take the family to a local park for a picnic or just take your meals outdoors at the house.  It is always good to get the family together to talk and enjoy a little time outdoors.
  5. Nighttime stories in the yard or on the deck: When the weather permits, why not have some of that special reading time outdoor?
  6. Pause to pick out cloud shapes: Smaller children are fascinated by cloud shape games and other car games such as I Spy.  Use of these games in the car or walking to and from the car, school or home is a simple way to get the kids to look up from their hand held devices and see the real world.
  7. Block away school drops: Instead of sitting in a car line outside of schools and daycare centers waiting to make a curbside drop, some parents recommend parking a block away and either letting the kids walk to the door or a parent accompanying them.  It usually means no real lost time.  It saves gas and provides a little outdoor exercise.
  8. Babysitter instructions: A responsible babysitter is invaluable and, whether one is retained on a regular basis to watch the kids or just for special occasions, it is easy to get them to walk the kids around the block or take them to a local park or playground.  Without such instruction, the sitter may be happy parking the kids in front of the TV.
  9. Green-time co-ops: If you know a few impossibly-busy parents who might like to team up with you on getting their kids more outdoor play time, you can form a green time co-op.  Each of you can take an hour per week to watch the kid as they play.
  10. Weekend outings: Weekend days can be busy but they are not usually as crammed as weekdays.  Planning an outdoor adventure for the kids could be good for you and them. The whole family can decompress a bit from the impossibly busy week. Check out NWF’s awesome NatureFind, an online tool for finding the very best park and nature places near you on an e-map.  All you need is a zip code.

In an ideal world we would want kids to have lots of free outdoor play, but the world is more hectic than ever.  Maybe some of these suggestions can help you and the kids get started by having some easy and  pleasant outdoor time with less parental guilt and schedule anxiety.  We hope this will increase interest in doing even more to spend time in nature.

Learn more about the NWF Be Out There ™ Program.