Getting Active

Get Outside as a Family (and Enjoy it!)

[Image - Zak Suhar]
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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

When you couple busy lives with the rainy British climate, it can be a struggle to get outside and have fun with your kids.

Playing outside in today’s society just doesn’t seem to appeal to many families, even though we know getting fresh air and being active can have untold benefits for our children (and us). A recent study by child mobility company, Britax, found that the number of families exploring the great outdoors has astonishingly dropped by a third in one generation.

With the main deterrent for 63% of parents being the high cost of going out, it seems the economic crisis and rising prices for child attractions are major factors. The miserable British weather has also come under the spotlight, with 54% saying that it contributed to them avoiding the outside. Another reason mentioned is the time it takes to prepare children for a day out (35%) and in total, 60% of parents preferred to spend time at home with their children rather than going out.

No excuses!

Getting your children outdoors should be a mission for all modern parents. There are low-cost activities around that can be done outdoors and even free ones; exploring the woods, bike riding, playing football in the park, flying a kite, blackberry picking and pooh sticks don’t cost anything but can be lots of fun. Sometimes rain can even add to the fun! If your child needs a bit of extra encouragement, there are lots of children’s books around to inspire them to get out in wet weather.

Just how important is it that we get our children outside? Well, shockingly, the rise of staying indoors has contributed to a well-documented rise in Rickets, a condition that affects bone development in children. Rickets is caused by lack of vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D comes mainly from exposure to sunlight and is crucial for the body to absorb calcium.

Other issues that have been linked to a lack of outdoor time are mental health issues including stress, increased aggression, Depression and ADHD, also obesity, problems with distance vision and a lack of focus or self-awareness.

If it’s still proving tricky, child psychologist Dr Pat Spungin has some expert advice to help parents get families out and about – so hopefully those bikes and skateboards you’re planning to buy for Christmas can be put to good use! Working together, with a little planning, you can have plenty of fun outside.

To help avoid tantrums

Get children involved in choosing activities. Don’t say ‘What do you want to do?’ but instead, offer two stress free alternatives (e.g. the park or local activity). A completely open question can be overwhelming, or lead to arguments because a child’s answer may be unrealistic. Being able to choose between options and have some input lets them feel like they have some control and builds self-esteem.

Prepare as much as possible in advance

Spend some time before the outing packing all the things that will be needed so the children don’t get impatient while waiting (food, nappies, drinks, play/sports equipment, sweaters, raincoats, etc.) A good tip if you have a baby or young child is to re-fill the changing bag with anything you need when you get home from a day out, so when it comes to going out next time you’ve got much less to organise.

Make sure little ones are comfortable and entertained on their travel

Ensure their car seat is comfy and that they are harnessed tight enough to keep them safe and secure while travelling. Take lots of toys, books and games to keep them entertained as if they get bored they are likely to start complaining or misbehaving.

Keep costs down by visiting local attractions

Check out your local newspaper or neighbourhood internet site to find activities that the whole family can enjoy within easy reach. Often you’ll find lots of good suggestions for places to go which are low cost or even free. With today’s internet culture, there’s often lots of reviews of certain places which can be useful for helping you decide where best suits your family.

Recognise the health value of outdoor activities

Modern children are spending more and more time indoors. Fresh air, exercise and vitamin D from sunshine are all essential for growing children. Teach your children about the importance too. Sometimes adults can forget that children don’t just wake-up knowing about health, they often need parents to let them know what is good for them and why. This can be done in an encouraging and positive light: ‘It’s brilliant that you love football because it’s very good for your health to get fresh air and run about.’

Remember outdoors is real family time

Staying in the house often means everyone is doing their own thing. Outdoors, everyone is more likely to be sharing the same experience and bonding as a family. Remembering this can shine a really positive light on making time to get outside.

Don’t stress about the housework

It will be there when you get back, whereas fun time spent with the family cannot be replaced. If you can, get the whole family involved and things can get done faster and – if possible – don’t let it pile up. Doing a little bit each day will leave your time much freer than if you need to do huge amounts in one go.

Let off steam

When children are cooped up inside all day they get ‘cabin fever’ and become irritable and start to bicker. We all know it only takes a single person being in a bad mood to bring down group morale. Get them outside to let off steam and play together rather than fighting each other.

Invite another family

Get another family involved and play games together like football or rounders. Your children will love spending time with their friends and it can be nice for you to have some adult company too! Plus, they may have some brainwaves for new games that you haven’t discovered yet.