Most everyone loves being outside during a gorgeous Northwest summer. This past year and a half especially, getting outside in nature has saved our sanity when the pandemic has ruined many fun things.
But rainy weather is on the horizon again, and the kids are parked in seats at school most of the day. This is when getting outside is more important than ever.
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.
Outside time leads to physical activity
Outside time for kids translates to opportunities for physical activity. Kids ages 3–5 need at least two hours a day of physical movement, and school-age kids, ages 6 and older, need at least one hour a day.
We invited two local getting-outdoors-with-kids experts to chat with us and share their ideas on enticing kids outside — when the draw of screens is so strong.
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 families to play in nature.
Read on for some of their best tips.
Strategies for getting kids outside, from our experts:
1. Make it a family affair
- Take a daily family walk.
- 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
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
- Set up a ping-pong table in the driveway.
- Install a trampoline.
- Get creative and make a home obstacle course.
5. Get the right outdoor gear (and bring hot cocoa!)
- Rain boots are a must in the Pacific Northwest.
- Rain-repelling jackets keep everyone more comfortable.
- Rain paints or rain suits let kids really dive into puddles and mud.
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
- Try a new activity, such as geocaching.
- Try a new-to-you park; for example, lesser-known Jack Block Park in West Seattle, waterfront Des Moines Beach Park, Seattle's Kubota Garden or Boeing Creek Park in Shoreline.
8. Ideas for fall family adventures
- Check out Elisa's book, "52 Seattle Adventures With Kids," organized by season.
- Try fall hiking, which typically means fewer crowds on the trails.
- Try mountain biking for all levels at Duthie Hill or kid-friendly pump tracks around the region.
- Go apple picking.
- Spy spawning salmon in local creeks; check out salmon-spotting spots around Seattle and the Eastside, or salmon-spotting spots around the South Sound.
- Find forts, tree houses and beaches! Suggestions: Fort Casey, Fort Worden or Mercer Slough.
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 kit 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.