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Health & Parenting

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How to Get Kids to Play Outdoors

The Solutions

  • Establish ground rules. Set clear limits so your kids know what's safe. My two older sons, for instance, can play in any front yard on our block, but they aren't allowed to enter anyone's house or backyard without letting me know first. Before they go out, we agree on where they're going and when they'll be back, and we set up a check-in call. The rules you make will depend upon factors such as your child's age and maturity, your neighborhood's safety, and the availability of siblings or friends for your kid to buddy up with. My younger son, who's 4, is permitted to go out in the fenced backyard or into the front yard if his big brothers are with him. But my 2 1/2-year-old, whom I've affectionately dubbed "the bolter," must remain within locked gates at all times.
  • Enlist a village. When you wandered through the neighborhood as a kid, chances are that your friends' moms were keeping an eye on you as well as on their own brood. Join with other local parents to look out for one another's kids, and keep in touch by phone or text-message about where the gang is going and what they're up to. You'll gain several extra sets of watchful eyes, but the kids will still be able to enjoy a sense of freedom. Better yet, plan regular hangout times when parents get together, sit outside on lawn chairs, and chat while the kids run around, suggests Mike Lanza, 45, father of two and founder of, an online community dedicated to promoting unstructured neighborhood play.


Barrier: "Indoors is more fun!"

Video games, 24-hour cartoon networks, texting, and the Internet — with so much stimulation indoors, no wonder kids don't bother going out. Limiting screen time to no more than one to two hours a day, as the American Academy of Pediatrics advises, discourages hanging around the house all day. But how can you make the outdoors more appealing?

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