5 Tips for Getting Outdoors (when the kids don’t want to)

Published on March 6th, 2014 Updated on January 10th, 2023 By Linda McGurk

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of the many wonderful ways children can benefit from playing and staying active outdoors – physical activity, improved motor skills, vitamin D and increased ability to focus, just to mention a few. (For more, check out 13 Reasons to Let Your Child Play Outside.) But let’s be real. Kids don’t always want to go outside. Nor do they necessarily appreciate nature for the same reasons adults do. Climbing trees and jumping in mud puddles, sure! Going on scenic hikes to take in the views and decompress, not so much.

So what do you do when your child is not motivated? When getting out the door becomes a battle, going on a hike turns into a scream fest, or outdoor sports and activities become sources of frustration?

I’m there right now. You see, the Little Naturalist, who is 3, is not a big fan of winter. Hates the cold. Hates her snow pants. And every time we’re heading outside I have to jump through the same hoops of coaxing, encouraging and sometimes bribing her to get her to go. Needless to say, it’s been a long winter.

Although I realize that this is far from the biggest problem a parent can have, it’s still tough news for an outdoor-loving Mamma like myself. If I don’t get outside for at least an hour every day I start to go a little nuts, and I think daily outdoor time is equally important for the kids.

I’ve been trying to get my daughter to overcome her aversion of going outside this winter, and thought I would share my mental notes of what seems to help and what doesn’t:

  • Cover the basics. If everybody is well-rested, recently pottied and fed, your chances of a successful outing increases exponentially. I’m reminded of this every time I try to take the girls outside when the Little Naturalist is starting to get tired. If I’m not able to plan around this (I work during the day, so during the week we don’t get out until the late afternoon) I usually let her sit in the stroller, so that she can be outside but have some quiet time at the same time.
  • Make it fun! All kids should have time for unstructured play outside, without adults dictating their every move. But at times, they may need a little more direction or distractions to get motivated. That’s part of the reason why I write this blog – to share ideas and activities to do outside. If you’re trying to go hiking, check out 7 Tips for Hiking with Toddlers for tips on how to make it fun. Or, if snow and cold weather are the problem, try creating a Toddler Bootcamp: Operation Learn to Love Snow, like Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
  • Create a routine. You probably have a bedtime routine – why not create a routine for outside time as well? That doesn’t mean you should always do the same thing, just that you’re consistent in getting outside every day. For example, meeting up with friends for outdoor activities on certain weekdays can help create a routine. My girls know that we always go out right after I pick them up from school/daycare, and that really helps make the process easier.
  • Follow your child’s lead. If there’s one activity that’s fail proof in our family – rain or shine – it’s the park, so that’s where we’ve spent a lot of afternoons this winter. Is it my favorite outdoor activity? No. But at least we’re outside and I can make some laps around the playground equipment. Try to find out what makes your child tick and go with that. Mommy Loves Trees found that mud and bubbles helped get her son back on the hiking trail.
  • Let it go – then try again. As much as I want to instill a love for the outdoors in my children, I realize that pushing it too hard may have the opposite effect. Some days, I find that it’s not a battle that’s worth fighting and try to be grateful of the 15 minutes that we did get in before heading to Meltdownville. If there’s a specific outdoor activity that’s causing frustration, it might be time to take a break and try something different. Velo Mom explores this topic, and how to get your child’s motivation back, in When Your Child Refuses to Ride.

With these strategies and a little bit of luck, I feel pretty confident that this too shall pass. If nothing else, spring is just around the corner and we’ll finally be able to ditch the snow pants!

Do you have the same issues with your kids? What would you add to the list? I would love to hear any tips you may have!

9 thoughts on “5 Tips for Getting Outdoors (when the kids don’t want to)

  1. Doug D says:

    When my kids refuse to wear snowpants, socks, boots, hats or mits, I let them. Until about -30°C, there is very little danger to them, especially if they are moving around. I find that if they wear less restrictive clothing, they go out more and they run around more. If they get uncomfortable, I offer the appropriate clothing and then they feel happy because they have chosen it.
    It may not work for all kids, but it does for mine.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      That’s true, Doug. You can tell a child that they’re going to get cold all day long, but they have to feel it to really understand it. I’ve let my daughter go without mittens before and usually she realizes fairly quickly that she wants them after all…Good suggestion, thanks for reading!

  2. Kierna says:

    Great post, Linda. Hadn’t really thought of it before but by going outside first thing at nursery that’s our routine in place & the kids know what to expect.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Thank you, Kierna! Yes, I do think routine is good and the morning is probably a great time for many little ones. The afternoon/early evening is really hard for us because my daughter (who stopped napping well over a year ago) tends to get very tired around that time, but due to my schedule that’s usually when we can get out.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Thanks, Karen! I really think things will start to get better over here once we get spring for real, and I’m hoping that she’ll outgrow her aversion for winter when she gets older, since we enjoy many winter sports. Thanks for reading:o)

  3. Jenny says:

    Great post, I am forever trying to think of what I can do with my two outside. I am really struggling these days to be creative. With a baby and a toddler the park is only so fun before the baby wants held the whole time or out of the stroller, and quite frankly mommmy gets tired of the park play every day. So I am so glad I came across your lovely blog in Let Kids Be Kids. I am always looking for what I can do with them both outside. #letkidsbekids

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Thanks for reading, Jenny! Yes, having a baby and a toddler can make outdoor time challenging sometimes but it does get easier! Have you tried baby wearing? Keeping my youngest in a wrap close to my body is what kept her contented during many outdoor adventures when she was a baby. Neat blog, by the way. I can definitely relate to living in a different culture – I was born and raised in Sweden and now live in the US:o)

  4. Mary Jo Hazard says:

    Snow and cold pose problems we don’t face in Southern California, but everywhere it’s a challenge to get kids off their iPads and out into nature. I just wrote “P is for Palos Verdes,” an alphabet book designed to get kids and parents out together, to discover our area from A to Z. There’s a checklist in the back of the book so you can keep track of your adventures–kids love checking things off. And have faith–spring is coming!

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