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Tips for Getting Your Kids Outdoors This Season and Why It Matters

Our experts share their strategies for braving the elements to play outside

Nancy Chaney

Published on: October 12, 2020

Most everyone loves being outside during a gorgeous Northwest summer. This year, especially, getting outside in nature saved our sanity when the pandemic had taken away so many fun things.

Now that rainy weather is on the horizon, and the kids are parked in front of screens all day for remote school, getting outside takes a fair bit more effort. But it's also more important than ever.

For a recent ParentMap Live virtual event, we invited local getting-outdoors-with-kids experts to chat with us and share their ideas. Linnea Westerlind is a West Seattle mom of three and author of the book "Discovering Seattle Parks: A Local's Guide." Elisa Murray is a Seattle mom of one and editor of the book "52 Seattle Adventures With Kids." Together they formed a Facebook group called Puget Sound Outdoor Childhood designed to inspire familes to play in nature.

You can watch the entire webinar above, or scan below for highlights from their presentation.

Why does outside time matter?

Kids who play outside enjoy an impressive list of advantages. They display fewer behavior problems, perform better academically, experience less stress and anxiety, have a longer attention span, have better vision and employ better social skills.

How much physical activity do kids need?

Outside time for kids translates to opportunities for physical activity. Kids ages 3–5 need two hours a day of physical movement, and school-age kids, ages 6 and older, need one hour a day.

Strategies for getting kids outside, from our experts:

1. Make it a family affair

salmonberries growing in puget sound area woods foraging snacks
Edible salmonberries grow in Northwest forests.
  • Take a daily family walk.
  • Use "recess breaks" during school to get outdoors.
  • Plan one-on-one time with each of your kids.
  • Try the 3–5 p.m. window or take advantage of early release days if your district has them.
  • Try evening walks or activities.

2. Think like a kid

  • Climb trees.
  • Bring treats.
  • Forage for edible snacks, such as salmonberries.

3. Outsource — or look beyond the family

  • Create a weekly outdoor meet-up for games.
  • Arrange outdoor play dates at the park.
  • Enroll in a nature preschool or outdoor tots group.
  • Try tennis or other socially distant outdoor sport for teens.

4. Invest in your outdoor space

ping pong table for the driveway getting kids outdoors and why it matters
Elisa Murray's family set up a ping pong table in their driveway. Credit: Elisa Murray

5. Get the right outdoor gear (and bring hot cocoa!)

  • Rain boots
  • Rain-repelling jackets
  • Rain paints or rain suits

6. There's an app for that

  • Seek is a nature app you can use to identify flora and fauna you find on your adventures.
  • The Native Land app shares the history of indigenous people and tribes that originally inhabited your neighborhood or town.
  • Merlin is a bird identification app operated by the famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  • Pokémon Go had its heyday a few years ago, but lots of people still love this game.
  • Agents of Discovery is a nature app available in some area parks.

7. Use local or regional parks to get outside

salmon spawing in bothell's north creek
Salmon spawning in North Creek, Bothell.

8. Ideas for fall family adventures

9. Stay safe, don't be a "wreck-reator" and work for access outdoors

  • Choose less-crowded spots.
  • Wear layers and bring rain gear.
  • Bring food and water, a first aid kid and the 10 essentials.
  • If hiking, check trip reports on the Washington Trails Association website for current trail conditions.
  • Teach kids about safe practices; read up on outdoor safety tips for hiking with kids.
  • Follow all COVID-safety protocols: Don't wreck the outdoors for everyone by flouting rules and prolonging coronavirus restrictions.
  • Stick to lower-risk activities and stay close to home; leave no trace.
  • Be inclusive and welcoming: Girls, immigrants, youths of color and kids in South King County get less physical activity and have fewer opportunities to play outside than their peers, according to a recent Seattle-King County State of Play report.

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