Four easy ways to get your children to play outdoors

Almost any parent will tell you they wish their child spent more time outside. As our lives fill up with screen after screen, its tough to tear ourselves away to get fresh air. The trick is to start a routine. Creating a habit may take a time, but it will pay off with years of increased activity and fun.

Start early. Get your babies used to playing outdoors starting when they're in their cribs. Put up a portable one in the backyard and let your baby play with toys while enjoying a breeze. (Always remember sunscreen for everyone.) If your children are older, don't give up hope! Though it may see like it's too late to get them on the right track, many small habits can be formed in as few as 10 days. As you start this new chapter for your family, here are a few ways to encourage your kids.

1. Join them

There's truth in the old phrase, ?monkey see, monkey do.? If your children see you being active outdoors, they'll be more likely to play outdoors. After making sure any play sets are safe for adults (based on weight limits), let out your inner child. Slide down the slide. Swing. Hide out in the fort and use the periscope or binoculars to help them keep watch for and eliminate any aliens or pirates they're battling. Not only will you enjoy spending time with them and knowing they're staying physically active, but you'll burn some calories and reduce stress.

2. Create contests

See who can swing the highest. Who can climb the rock wall the quickest? Who can go down the slide the most in five minutes? You can also set up an obstacle course using the various accessories, such as the trapeze or monkey bars on your swing set. Race around each swing, then climb up the slide or a rope. See who can do the most pull-ups on the monkey bar. Pretend the ground is lava from a volcano or crocodile-infested water; who can stay safest the longest? 

3. Encourage everyone

Remember to offer a lot of praise to each child. Some children are naturally more athletic than others. Those who aren't can get discouraged and dislike physical activity if they're always losing competitions. Find ways they can win or ways they can excel. You can even do a summer challenge and chart everyone's progress on a piece of poster board. Help them set a goal, and set a reward if they reach it. That could be anything from ice cream to a slumber party to a new piece of equipment for the swing set. 

4. Get outdoors as a family, together or separately

While it's great to play with your child while you're outside, don't forget to give them time to be creative on their own. Occasionally, read a book or do some gardening, and encourage them to come up with their own game. While you'll feel like you're ignoring them, you're actually giving them a chance to fire their imagination and problem solve. The key is to keeping just enough of an eye out to keep them out of trouble.

On the other hand, there are plenty of ways for the whole family to spend outside without organized games. Take a warm summer night as a chance to sleep under the stars. Set up a tent or two, grill hotdogs and marshmallows and stargaze. If your children have an independent streak, let them sleep in the playhouse or fort.

Once you get into the habit of embracing the outdoors, the whole family will be playing and staying healthy together. A little creativity and a few easy hints can help keep your family in the fresh air. 

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