How to Get Your Kids Used to Playing Outside


An article on how to get your kids to play outside would have seemed like an Onion headline back when…well, back anytime before The Onion. I was a bookworm and I still spent a ton of time outside. My kids, not so much.

If you want to get your own offspring outdoors for any reason — including simply allowing you some peace at your computer — here are some wise tips from Angela Hanscom, founder of TimberNook fntzfndzea
and author of the new book: “Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children.”

Three Ways to Get Your Kids to Play Independently Outdoors — And Loving It! by Angela Hanscom

          I asked a group of children one day what their favorite thing was to do outdoors. One little boy’s answer alarmed me. “I don’t play outside anymore,” he asserted. “It’s too boring. All that’s out there is some trees, grass, and a dumb playset that I outgrew when I was 5-years-old.” There it was, the plain truth laid out for me — that the outdoors is considered “mundane” in some children’s eyes today. Plenty of children would prefer to play indoors and on electronics versus enjoying a little adventure of the real kind when given the choice.

This is one of the most frustrating situations for a lot of parents these days. Maybe you are a parent that desperately wants your children to play outdoors, but are finding that they tend to favor their time inside. Or if your children play outside, perhaps they tend to stick around the house, their sense of adventure limited to the backyard. In order to increase their confidence with outdoor play, it really just takes practice–and a lot of it!

At the same time, sending children outdoors and saying, “go play” may be a little intimidating at first for some children. Here are three simple ideas to inspire independent outdoor play in your children:

  1. Catch Up on Some Yard Work

Sometimes children, especially younger children, feel more comfortable playing outdoors when they know an adult is present. This is a good way to start introducing children to free play outside. Consider getting out the rakes, shovels, or garden equipment and doing some yard work. This will keep your mind and body busy, while your child plays freely in the yard.

In the beginning, you may find that your child wants to “help” with the chores. Let them. Get them a child-sized shovel or rake to assist you. Oftentimes, children grow tired of “helping,” and eventually wander off to explore or start playing. If you don’t have any chores to do, perhaps you bring out a book to read or your latest knitting or woodworking project. Again, sometimes simply being present is enough to get your child to start exploring on their own in the backyard.

  1. Set Out Loose Parts

Another way to inspire children to play independently outdoors is to set out some “loose parts” in the yard. Loose parts are basically materials that children can use to design, create, move, and play with. They are often used to inspire creative play in preschools. However, I’ve found that even children up to age thirteen will use them in their play schemes. Some examples are wooden planks, sticks, baskets, fabric or blankets, pots and pans, pieces of rope, shells, duck tape, and clothespins.

Large loose parts such as planks and sticks can be kept on the ground and organized in piles to inspire the children to build and create. Smaller loose parts such as baskets, rope, tape, and shells can be placed near the larger loose parts. Observe to see which objects your children play with the most. By providing loose parts, you are giving children tools to experiment with and to incorporate into their worlds of play.

  1. Invite Friends Over

When children are around other children, they naturally inspire each other. I see this all the time with my own daughters. When it is just my two girls at home, they tend to play mostly in the yard. Sometimes they play in mud puddles, but most of the time they play on the swings or ride bikes in the driveway. When they have friends over, they roam farther, venture into the woods, build dams in a nearby stream, and get creative with their play ideas.

I often hear from others that when they let their children outdoors, there is often very few other children around to play with. If your children live in a neighborhood, get to know your neighbors that have children the same age. Establish relationships with those around you to support a community that watches out for the children. If you don’t live near other children and if you’re tired of “play dates” that only last a few hours, consider having parents drop their children off at your house for the whole day. Having extra time with other children allows them to roam further with confidence and inspires them to play in different ways.

In the beginning, you may need to rely on some of these ideas to encourage independent outdoor play. It often takes lots of practice for children to simply start generating play ideas on their own. However, don’t give up. Fore, the more experience children get playing outdoors on their own and with other children, the more capable they will be playing in an outdoor environment. It really just takes time and space – the rest will come.

Good luck! Let me know how these tips work for you! And by the way, Sat., May 21, is our sixth annual Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day. So get ready! – L.


Some day we'll look back at this era in astonishment.

Angela’s book is available here. Its forward is by Richard Louv, who also has a new book out: “Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life.”



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47 Responses to How to Get Your Kids Used to Playing Outside

  1. BL April 27, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    “It’s too boring. All that’s out there is some trees, grass, and a dumb playset that I outgrew when I was 5-years-old.”

    I would have been bored as a kid, too, if I’d been limited to that.

    Today: if you’re a kid outdoors, you’re likely to be the only one. Can’t climb trees, the lower branches have all been trimmed. Can’t venture beyond your own yard, most likely.

    There’s only so much you can do in a grassy yard by yourself.

  2. Workshop April 27, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    My youngest son had a tonsillectomy on Monday. He wanted to come out to the yard and help me pick up sticks Monday night. He also wanted to help me mow, as well as help me build a wattle fence in the garden.

    I had to not do as much as I wanted because he’s supposed to be resting! But I can’t fault his spirit. So he helped me a little, then we dumped the sticks and went back to the house for popsicles.

  3. Kathea April 27, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    I guess I’m lucky that I grew up playing (barefoot) in the pine forests and red clay of upstate South Carolina and that allowing my toddler to run free seems natural to me. Just the other night, we went for a walk and he started off into the open space field of our neighborhood. I stood on the road and just watched as he walked through the dandelion puffs and started stalking a bird. He’d take a step and stop. Then take another. I couldn’t really tell what he was doing until the bird flew away but he managed to get about 5 feet away from it. He even turned back to me at one point, really slowly and carefully pointed to the bird (that I couldn’t see). He was so serious about it. We’ve still got to work on not inhaling the dandelion puffs while blowing on them but he’s not even two and a half yet. 😉

  4. Kathea April 27, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    I should’ve mentioned this in my earlier comment but forgot. For the past two nights, the only kid outside playing has been my kid. No one in our 16 house neighborhood was home. We even walked around house to house looking for people. That’s part of why kids don’t want to play outdoors.

  5. JR April 27, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Most modern backyards are lame. Parks aren’t much better. Why not take the kids camping? Real nature (not the human-planned suburban stuff) never gets old, and there’s enough for everyone.

    Meanwhile, I googled “let kids play outside” just to see what teh interwebs thought about this subject, and the first two hits were absolutely NUTS – most of the moms are of the “child predators are everywhere” stripe and think that a kid can’t be left without the immediate physical presence of an adult – even in the backyard – until age 10 or more. If these discussion threads weren’t five years old, I’d suggest we populate them with some statistics and common sense.

  6. Anne April 27, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    I believe the importance of getting kids outside is relevant to the recent discussions in my area about moving to a year-around school year, with at most a six-week summer vacation. We are in a part of the country where it snows seven months of the year. We have had nighttime temps below freezing on Memorial Day weekend. The lakes aren’t warm until August, when they want the kids back in school. Kids can certainly play outside in the winter, but we have only a couple precious months for being barefoot, playing in a creek, or camping in a tent. Most parents and teachers are saying that it would be much better for education if kids don’t have long summer breaks. The primary opposition is from the tourism industry. I see many benefits to long summer breaks in our overscheduled, all-day-learning kindergarten, anti-recess culture, but especially in states with very limited nice weather.

  7. Andre L. April 27, 2016 at 11:11 am #

    Year-round schooling has sound scientific basis. Too long of a vacation reduces long-term retention. The idea is not to increase the school workload but to spread it more evenly throughout the year. It makes sense – if someone were designing the K-12 system today, cramming the hours in just 9 months and having an enormous idling period would not be any rational choice.

    It is time we move past this outdated school calendar associated with early agricultural rhythms no longer meaningful for more than 99% of the population. Long vacations must go, with more 1 or 2 week-long breaks scattered throughout the year. It is better for knowledge retention but also for students getting short intermissions from school work (as long as these breaks do not become just a “you have this 20-page homework to complete)

    Likewise, as science has been showing consistently over several studies during last decade, teenagers should have classes starting 1 or 2 hours later than usual, and finishing late as well, because their brains operate much better in that way and they are too sleepy early in the morning.

    I’ve been reading Free Range Kids for a long time, something I dislike here (among the many things I like) is the reactionary feeling that seems to validate anything that was culturally acceptable or just the social norm 3-4 decades ago. 15-week summer vacations is one of those things that must go away, even if it was traditional for two centuries of public education…

  8. JR April 27, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    @Anne –

    “Summer learning loss” (SLL) is a real thing, but not in the way your district might think. I don’t know about the socioeconomic (SES) demographics of your area, but SLL doesn’t affect everyone equally.

    The author and researcher Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers,” provides evidence that SLL primarily affects poor children whose opportunities for personal and academic growth effectively cease once school is out for the summer. He points out that both low- and high-SES kids make similar gains during the school year, and in some cases, the low-SES kids actually make *more* gains.

    However, kids from high-SES families tend to continue making progress over the summer (summer camps, museums, trips to the library), while kids from low-SES families tend to stagnate (lots of screen time, few books, stuck indoors in unsafe neighborhoods). So when school resumes in September, the low-SES kids are academically where they were in May, and the high-SES kids are a couple months ahead. Add this up over 12 years of education, and the low-SES kids have fallen almost irretrievably behind.

    So my point? IF you live in an area where the majority of students come from reasonably well-educated families who continue to engage in worthwhile, creative pursuits over the summer, then year-round education may NOT be the best choice for your students. There is much more value in learning how to choose a campsite and build a fire, than in hunkering down in a desk to do a math worksheet.

  9. JR April 27, 2016 at 11:44 am #

    @Anne, @Andre L.,

    As a former teacher, I feel compelled to add one more thing.

    Summer break isn’t just for the students. It’s for the teachers and other staff members as well. Having a job with constant responsibility under unceasing scrutiny is exhausting, and summer break is imperative for faculty and staff to de-stress, reclaim their personal lives, and recharge their emotional batteries. After all, if you have a child in school, teachers spend more time with your kid than you do. And when it comes down to it, most teachers get less break than the students, because mandatory “professional development” eats into both ends of the vacation.

  10. Brooks April 27, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    The article forgot “Kick them outside and lock the door.”

    When my son was about three, Hurricane Katrina knocked a bunch of trees down (all the way in Birmingham). We had a large white oak in the back yard that fell. I cut the tree up, but left the enormous root ball. That was the fort, play house, secret meeting place and science experiment. It stayed that way till he was about 10, then I finally cleaned it up.

  11. JGM April 27, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    Get some outdoor games & things to do outside. Chalk, bikes, skateboarded & skates, a street hockey set, a basketball hoop, a basketball, soccer ball, a whiffle bat & ball, a wagon to haul stuff in, the miscellaneous loose parts mentioned in a previous post, frisbees, hula hoops, badly sacks. Set up croquet or badminton. Run through the sprinkler on a hot day, hook up water hoses in the front & back yard, grab some buckets and have a water battle. Lay on your backs together and gaze at the shapes the clouds make. Fly kites together! Put some music on an old boom box and dance. Jump rope, play hopscotch and throw water balloons.

    In the evening catch fire flies, play flashlight tag, tell stories, sing songs and look at the stars.

    There are millions of awesome things to do outside!

    I have the steel wagon my folks got my sister & I in 1966. It is fifty years old. Over the years it has gotten new tires three times, a new pull handle once and 4 or 5 coats of rustoleum. It is just as fun to play with today as it was when I was little.

  12. fred schueler April 27, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    provide Goats and Chickens for them to play with…

  13. Andrea April 27, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    JR – I made the mistake of clicking on one of the links — Yikes!

    Meanwhile, I suspect that these same moms saying “better safe than sorry” are the same people who put their kids in cars and in sports and feed them grapes and hot dogs without a second thought, despite the fact that those things are more likely to result in something bad happening to their children than a “creep” would.

  14. Lisa April 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    Other kids being around is CRUCIAL in my experience. I used to live on a busy street where there were never any kids outside. I would tell my kids to play outside and they would say, “It’s boring, there’s no one to play with.” (They’re 4 years apart so they get bored playing with each other! :D) I moved to a neighborhood where all the kids play outside. Now, I have to go searching for them to feed them dinner, and then I have to drag them inside at dark! It took them two days to get used to it! — by our second day in our new house, my daughter was barely stopping to drop her backpack in the house after school before she ran off to find her friends.

  15. BL April 27, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    “JR – I made the mistake of clicking on one of the links — Yikes!”


    “Now days its not safe for any age,” says one, about going outside w/o supervision.

    Really? Any age? 35? 81? Never?

  16. CO April 27, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    I love this post! I never thought about setting out loose parts. Or maybe they could take their plush characters and have an adventure with them outside. My kids like going on adventures in the “woods” of our backyard, and playing basketball. I can’t seem to get over the fear of my kids climbing trees!

  17. Dean Whinery April 27, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    As I write this, the neighborhood school is closed for the third straight day, and last week the kids were only there 3-1/2 days. School days are only 4-5 hours. This pattern has been pretty consistent in four different school districts where I’ve lived. One rarely sees kids on the streets, parks, or libraries. Why are they not outside?
    As for that backyard, in my day, there were, indeed, miscellaneous items with which to build or invent. And even though we live in a very large city, we had pets, dogs, cats, rabbits in the backyard…just like the yards of our playmates spread over several blocks. On windy days we took over the streets and flew kites, usually made of old newspapers attached somehow to a frame.. If time didn’t get away from us, we would be in front of the old Philco at 5:15 to hear Superman on Mutual, then it was “Up, up, and away” out the door until the street lights came on.

  18. John April 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    I’m in the Big Brothers program and my current “little” is a 9-year-old black kid. Even though Terryon is very proficient with a computer which he plays games on (He plays games on mine when he’s over at my house) and even though he owns an iPad that is in his possession all the time even when he’s out with me, the neighborhood he lives in is bustling with kids and teenagers outside. In fact it seems as if African-American neighborhoods today are what white neighborhoods were 50 years ago. The kids are out riding their bikes and/or playing on foot while the parents are out on the porch or fixing their cars in the driveway. In fact, many times when I drive over to Terryon’s house to pick him up his grandmother and aunt, who are raising him, have to go find him because he’s outside playing somewhere. But yet in the white neighborhood I live in you see hardly any kids outside playing. Occasionally you will see a kid out riding his or her bike but not without a parent riding their bike a few feet ahead.

    I must say that I LOVE the “old fashion” free range mentality of African-Americans and it’s too bad more white people aren’t that way!

    The Filipinos are very free-range with their kids too. While over in the Philippines, all you see is kids outside playing and washing car windows on the street and even helping out in auto garages! When I lived and worked over in Israel back in the mid 90s I saw LOTS of kid playing outside, although since Israel is so westernized it wouldn’t surprise me that it’s changed. 🙁

  19. Dee April 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    Those pages JR shared. I’m speechless! That’s just…nuts! One person said something along the lines that she doesn’t EVER HAVE to decide when to let her child play unsupervised outdoors. Ever?? EVER???

  20. JR April 27, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    @BL –

    You know what I find funny in a sad sort of way? That the moms on that thread are taking precautions to thwart child predators who are determined enough and skilled enough to scale their fence, neutralize the family dog, and abduct their precious child in broad daylight, all without making a sound. It’s like they’re expecting a SEALs covert molestation team to land in their very own backyard, and yet they sincerely believe that their mommy superpowers will somehow save the day against trained and disciplined pedo-warriors. What a weird fantasy world they live in.

  21. lollipoplover April 27, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

    Fishing rods and shovels for worms

    Gardens or raised beds on your back porch and a watering can

    Outdoor *features* that attract kids- koi ponds, sandbox or horshoe pit, zip lines, tree forts (have them help you build it), fire pits, bird feeders and houses, water tables and slip and slides

    Push wagons and trucks and piles of dirt

    Animals. Dogs need walks outside several times a day and kids can take care of pets. Or chickens (if you’re allowed) for eggs. I would love chickens…

  22. lollipoplover April 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    Uggh. I wish I didn’t click on that circleofhelicoptermoms link.
    Grrrrr. DON’T go over there and read. Trust me.

    “I disagree with the question to a degree, you don’t HAVE to let your kids play outside unsupervised ever. Things are not like they used to be.”

    Her poor kids.
    I guess kids don’t HAVE to have a childhood. Ever.

  23. Havva April 27, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    I trust that the people saying ““Now days its not safe for any age,” believe it 100%. I recall a little while back someone here complaining about the Meitives thought even an adult shouldn’t leave the house without a cell phone. And that anyone leaving home without a cell phone is without access to help. In real life I have had two mishaps that resulted in me talking through the door to grown women who were terrified of even little people with obvious crisis situations.

    One I asked to please call a tow truck for me. My husband and I had gotten trapped in a the mud of the rural road near her house. She could see how stuck the car was if she had bothered to peak out her kitchen window. She was the only person who was home with in walking distance. And I ran my cell phone out trying, unsuccessfully, to get help. We could have used access to a phone book all along. When she finally responded she yelled at us to go away. I told her I would like very much to do that but that but I couldn’t seeing as my car was stuck, and would she call me a tow truck so that I could get away from her corn field. She asked how she could know that I wasn’t really there to kill her?!

    I totally lost it with her and gave her some uncomfortable truth. That if I intended to murder her, I would have broken the window and done it an hour ago when I heard her TV on and first knew she was home, rather than hiking to every house in sight looking for someone else who was home to help me. Only then did she finally decided that it was sufficiently safe to call a tow truck for me. Some people have built walls of fear so thick that it is hard for a ray of though to shine through.

  24. Beth April 27, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    @JR, it’s really easy to *say* “why not take the kids camping?” but less simple to put into practice. Who can camp every day after school, or every single weekend, or all summer? The sheer amount of work involved in packing for and unpacking from camping on a regular basis might be daunting for some, not to mention the purchasing of camping gear.

    You probably didn’t mean your comment in this way, but it sort of sounded judgy toward parents whose kids use “lame” backyards and parks.

  25. hineata April 27, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

    @Havva – that’s just sad. What a silly woman! And I do wonder what she was doing living in a rural area, where you sort of expect people to be a little more self reliant.

    @JR – we’ve had a ‘short’ summer break in NZ since schooling started, as far as I am aware. We switched to a four term year about 20 years ago too, so the summer break got even shorter (5- 6 weeks) but we have 3 sets of 2-week breaks throughout the year. Kids are well-rested and we teachers get a break as well. I started teaching the last year of the three term year, when we pushed kids through 13 and 14 week terms pretty much without a break, and the contrast the following year in terms of child readiness to learn and retain material was sharp (much better on the four term year ). I gather your year might be divided into just two long, long terms. I am willing to bet you’ll get a lot more out of your students while getting decent (albeit shorter, but more often) breaks yourself.

  26. hineata April 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    If you switch to a shorter summer break, I meant ☺…….

  27. James Pollock April 27, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    Children do not naturally play outdoors. It’s learned behavior… In the olden days, there was a constant flow of kids outside ready to teach the younger ones. Kids would gather to play games… pickup basketball, kickball, football, tag…. wherever there was space for them. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that kids needed adults to teach them how to play games, so most kids sports nowadays is organized. This has some advantages (baseball played on maintained fields, with bases and backstops, instead of on whatever flat ground was available, with random objects for bases) and some disadvantages (in a pickup game, you can let however many kids show up, play. Organized sports tend to be rigid on how many players are on the field at a time.)

    Once the kids are getting to their outdoor activities by car instead of by walking outside, the game is lost. You lose the critical mass of kids outside, and so even kids that want to just play a casual game are too few in number to play most games.

  28. Tiny Tim April 27, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    wow @JR . Most of those parents have some version of Munchausen syndrome. I’m not saying they want their kids to be kidnapped, but it’s clear they fantasize about it a lot.

  29. Tiny Tim April 27, 2016 at 4:54 pm #


    Strangers knock on my door all the time for various reasons, especially political season (canvassers). I live in an actual high crime city. I never even bother to look through the door’s fisheye before opening. If they’re there to kill or even rob me, they probably aren’t going to ring the bell first.

  30. andy April 27, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    I don’t have a yard and my parents did not had a yard. Out of curiosity, what percentage of population have a yard?

    The other question is, are we able to explain why we want them to pay outside so much? If the kid truly prefer indoor activities, why we want it to be bored and unchallenged outside? I can see vitamin d as reason, but most arguments amount to either nostalgia or unconvincing romantic invocations of adventure. There is no adventure in typical suburbs for anyone over age of 6.

    I don’t meant the kids should not be outside, just that the it is talked about it does not make me want to push kids outside more. And I do not see much in it for the kid itself – the one that is quite happy with his books, toys or even games and spend most of time outside waiting for end.

    I mean that I largely get those kids. Outside is interesting with good friends, but alone much less. Girls and boys liked to be outside for social. I love lonely hikes – once in a year or so. Every day would get old fast.

  31. Backroads April 27, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

    I’ve been looking into lawn ideas. One philosophy was based around the idea of rocks and little water features and plants of varying heights to make things interesting for kids.

  32. Backroads April 27, 2016 at 5:24 pm #


    Read “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principal” for best answers.

  33. Cassie April 27, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

    Agree agree agree.

    I would also add…
    Don’t chide the children for getting dirty.
    I have seen parents that I know comment, in one breath, that their kids don’t play outside, and then when they run in (from playing outside at my house) the parents make a negative comment to them about how dirty they are.

  34. Cassie April 27, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

    I love strewing loose parts around the yard. I also do the teacher tom idea, when something of mine breaks, I stand at the back door and throw it into the yard… The kids stumble upon it and it becomes something else for a while (usually filled with dirt).

  35. Cassie April 27, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    Oh, and a second thing to add:

    Plant some flowers for the kids! ie Marigolds. Something long living with a gazillion flowers…. and then let them pick those flowers and leaves whenever they want.

    We planted an entire garden for the kids (Actually we built them a cubbyhouse and planted the garden around it… but you know how kids are… cubbyhouses are never used – they are too stagnant). The kids have complete freedom in that garden… they can pick every single flower if they want (which they often do, and use them to create marvellous stews).

  36. BL April 27, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

    “There is no adventure in typical suburbs for anyone over age of 6.”

    Maybe not anymore, because of …

    “Outside is interesting with good friends, but alone much less.”

    I lived my earliest school years in a suburb. We all had the run of about a half a square mile of mostly residential streets, but also a shopping plaza where I could buy comic books and such. We moved away just before I turned nine years old, so I was doing this at seven and eight years old.

    There was a schoolyard with a large playground, a Little League field, and a park. There were always plenty of kids around. There were climbable trees. We could play marbles, or ball games, or catch frogs (a swampy area next to the school), bike the streets, fly kites, play soldiers or cowboys or other things equally politically incorrect these days. In the winter, we’d build snowmen or snow forts or go sledding (a bit tough since it was pretty flat) or make snow angels.

    Adults got outside too. Backyard cookouts (invite the whole block!) were almost a weekly occurrence, weather permitting. Adults used part of the park as a golf range (not enough for a *driving* range, just short irons), flew radio-controlled airplanes, or ran non-street-legal go-karts on the school parking lot on weekends.

  37. Vaughan Evans April 27, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

    The yeqar 2017 will be Canada’s 150th birtdhay.

    I have two projects-for this anniversry.

    (1)Create a Motion Picture-the Balld of ‘Run, Sheep, Run!-to tell the TRUE story-of how the children in one Vancouver neighbourhood-(a single squae mile)adopted one well loved-old search game

    (2)Disseminate the game “Red Rover”around the whole world. )
    The people I know(aged 30-55)who have played ti-tell me tht it was NOT a dangerous game.
    Today,parents and teachers discourarge or prohibit this game. The people I know(aged 30-50, )tell me that it was NOT a dangerous game-and that any injuries-that were incurred were qutie incidental.

    (3)There are TWO reasons why this(and similarf games)are seldom played today
    (a)Cross old ladies complain that children are being “rowdy”-when children exclaim “Red Rover, Red Rover, send…over.)When THESE ladies played that game, no one complained about THEIR being rowdy.
    (b)People are afraid of being sued. One woman I know who is 48 played this game-and taught it when she was a playground leader, But she would NOT teach it now-because she is afraidof being sued.

  38. Donald April 27, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

    I went to an open house day at a Steiner school. I would have loved to enroll my kids in.

    One of the things that I noticed. There were cubby houses on the school yard. The school provided junk like old boards, pallets and an old wrought iron gate or two. All of the cubby houses were constructed without fastening the pieces together. The boards were long enough to construct a lean to without nailing them.

    The children kept busy during recess because these forts were relocated at least once a week.

  39. Donald April 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    I don’t know if Steiner schools still do it. This was the days before schools were terrified of children getting splinters.

  40. JM April 27, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

    This assumes that you live in a suburb or rural area and have a backyard. I don’t live in a suburb and I don’t have a backyard. Lots of parents live in apartments that don’t have yards. And not all of us live near parks.


  41. olympia April 27, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

    I wonder how much the unrelenting focus on safety has curtailed kids’ outdoor play. I read some parenting advice recently, telling people that an appropriate punishment for kids’ neglecting to wear a bike helmet was to take away the bike for a week. It was sort of depressing. I think bike helmets are a good idea- my old ass certainly isn’t getting on a bike for long without one. But I can only think that if we insist kids must ALWAYS be wearing them, even if they’re only doing laps in the driveway, sooner or later they’re going to say, “Fuck it, if it’s going to be this big production I might as well just go play video games.” And if you’re outright taking away the bike? There are more trade offs than we care to recognize.

  42. Coccinelle April 27, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

    “The other question is, are we able to explain why we want them to pay outside so much? ” Because there are tons of benefits and tons of preventing bad stuff happening to your child. It’s not just vitamin D. It prevents obesity, diabetes, myopia, depression, stress, anxiety and it boosts the immune system. I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

  43. JR April 28, 2016 at 1:26 am #

    @Beth –

    Thanks for commenting. I certainly did not mean it in a “judgy” way. I was taking my cue from Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” who points out that children are naturally drawn to wild spaces, not manicured ones. Playing in a more wild space has elements of risk, excitement, and discovery, all of which are hard to come by in a typical suburban lawn or soccer field. While camping or day trips are certainly amazing for kids, even letting a corner of your backyard get a little overgrown and “junky” with cool loose parts would probably create a similar vibe.

  44. Kathleen April 28, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    “This assumes that you live in a suburb or rural area and have a backyard. I don’t live in a suburb and I don’t have a backyard. Lots of parents live in apartments that don’t have yards. And not all of us live near parks.


    @JM Adapt the advice. Get outside and sweep the sidewalk. Take something that you have to work on outside and work on it in a lawn chair outside your building. Set out loose parts wherever it is that your kids play outside – sidewalk, alley, etc. (Bring them back in when you’re done, if necessary.) Invite friends over to your apartment and then send them outside to play.

    There are lots of ways to play outside in an urban environment. Biking, roller blading, building forts in alleys or vacant lots, drawing with chalk, hopscotch, jump rope. There used to be entire universes of games developed around urban stoops. Get a spaldeen. Check out the documentary “New York Street Games” (

  45. Sue April 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    I grew up in a world where I would head out after chores on Saturday and not return till dinner. I had a group of friends they would hang out with me. Sometimes we go down to the creek and play. Other times we would play at create scenes and at them out. Today’s kids don’t do that because I don’t know how. Perhaps parents would be less afraid if a group of kids hung out together. Initially set down some rules of play that nobody is left there early by themselves and encourage them to go off to the park and play. Or get a couple a giant size boxes leave them with scissors and paint or whatever and allow them to build things. I think once we get used to kids being out on their own it’s not so scary. As for the paranoid that call the police every time they see a child alone even if there are 11 or 12, simply let the police know that you know your children are. The police can convey that to the parent that’s concerned.

  46. Stephanie F April 29, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

    We bought a house last year with a nice backyard, and the front is better than the place we were renting for outdoor play too. Most of my kids’ birthday and Christmas gifts since that have been planned to get them outside. New roller skates to replace outgrown ones. A soccer net that can be hooked to an open garage. Sidewalk chalk. Their bikes and helmets were still fine, so no worries there. They’ve had a lot of fun playing in both parts of their new home, and the older ones have explored the neighborhood, mostly on their own, but sometimes supervising their younger sister.

    They’re also being introduced to the “delights” of yard work. That included a say in our new fruit trees. Fresh food just growing in the yard tends to lure kids out too.

  47. SL May 10, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

    I have 6 kids, oldest is 14 youngest is 2. With my first couple, it wasn’t a real priority to have the kids play outside. It was much easier to let them play DS. Then one day, I flashed back on my own childhood, recollecting that my very funnest of times were outside. It was also about this time that we moved to a different house on a 2 acre plot with two ponds and an irrigation ditch.
    We put the DS and other games away the day we moved in. We have no TV either, so the kiddos are outside everyday, rain, snow or shine. I am proud to say we have the ugliest fort that continues to sprout additions at an alarming rate. They are forever on the hunt for craw dads, frogs and snakes. We also made it a priority to put in a sandbox, above ground pool and big tall swings and playhouse. They ride bikes and rollerblade and garden. When they are exhausted, they pick up a book.
    My neighbor lady is super protective of her 3 children. And I know, to her, I must seem like we are raising a tribe of Neandrathals (one of my kids has adhd and can be wild!). We Rarely ever see her kids outside, and the times I do, they are much larger in girth.
    . For myself, yes, I understand there is risk letting my kids play outside,without me hovering (I do supervise my 2 year old closely, of course) but it seems even more sad to let my children forgo a memory filled childhood. I would HATE for them to waste their precious yourh inside, slowly dying of cheeseburger disease, especially because I couldn’t look past my own worries and fears to see the strong, capable and fun loving child in front of me.
    Meanwhile, I love the sight of a muddy kid who has just mastered a new skill on his bike or built a habitat for his frog farm. Life is good around here. And although our house itself is smallish and humble, it was the best move we could have done, to give our kids so much joy and memories by making it a real priority to get them outside.