Children need at least two hours of outdoor play a day, says parenting expert

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: aim for two hours a day outside (Picture: Getty /

When’s the last time you popped outside and felt the fresh air on your face, the wind on your skin?

What about your kids? Have they come up for air in between the hours playing on whatever console they got for Christmas?

If it’s been a while since you or your children spent some time out in nature, you’re certainly not alone. And please don’t beat yourself up for this oh-so-common slip-up.

But Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of the 15-Minute Parenting books, encourages parents and carers to at least try to get back on track and get the kids outside every day in 2022 – ideally for at least two hours.

We know, we know, that sounds like quite a lot. But Joanna reckons the benefits far outweigh the stress of initially convincing your kids to switch off the TV and exit the living room.

She says that spending time playing outdoors in nature can help to lower anxiety levels and decrease hyperactivity.

‘Spending much of their day in school in a building with walls, it is really important and beneficial that children get to spend as much time as possible outdoors,’ says Joanna.

‘Young children need two to three hours of physical outdoor play per day and many are not getting it. It helps them to learn, process and burn off energy.

Explore the great outdoors (Picture: Getty Images)

‘The great outdoors provides space with far fewer physical restrictions than indoor environments and this allows children to express themselves more openly.

‘Adequate time outdoors reduces anxiety and hyperactivity, boosts mood and builds collaborative play skills and teamwork.

‘When children are happier and more relaxed, alert and attuned, they are more open to learning.’

This way of thinking is why Koru Kids childcare agency launched Home Nursery, offering childminders who will immerse children aged six months to four years in outdoor adventure.

Those in this type of care count sticks, stones and leaves, chalk letters onto paving, and learn how to safely climb tree stumps.

That all sounds lovely, but if, like the majority of parents, you can’t afford to send your kids off to enjoy an outdoorsy take on a curriculum, you can still take these lessons and apply them for free in your own time.

That’s where aiming to spend a bit more time out in nature comes in. And the good news is that going outside with the kids will benefit adults, too.

Leaves: fun for all the family (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Children benefit greatly by getting to run, jump, climb and play outdoors breathing a different air in a fresh environment,’ says Joanna.

‘One of the best ways we have to reset a busy, agitated and overwhelmed brain is to change our field of vision.

‘A quick way to achieve that – for adults as well – is to turn away from your screen and look out of a window.’

While two hours a day might be ideal, remember that any time spent outdoors can deliver benefits, so see how you can fit in some immersion in nature around your schedule.

This doesn’t have to mean going out on an all-day hike or taking up birdwatching.

Joanna recommends simply looking out of the window while you’re working from home, or reading your book outside in the garden rather than on the sofa.

‘Name five things that you can see, four things that you can hear, three things that you can touch, two things that you can smell and one thing that you can taste,’ she suggests.

‘Changing the field of vision, engaging in a sensory countdown is very grounding for all of us.

‘An even more effective way is to change our physical environment and get outside. For adults that may mean taking the hot cup of tea and standing outdoors to drink it.

‘As your mind wanders, use the bird practice: Every time you see or hear a bird say “I see/hear a bird” as a way of pulling yourself from spiralling thoughts into the now moment.’

Sounds a bit more doable, right?

If you need some ideas to get you started, Joanna suggests…

Ways to get outdoors with your children:

  • Assign a patch of your garden to your child to dig, plant and create. Bury something and let them dig for treasure.
  • Go to a green space and play tag, bring some pavement chalk and find a suitable space to do patio art or draw hopscotch and play that.
  • Play at spinning around really fast and flopping down on grass to do some cloud gazing, imaging what you can find in the cloud shapes.
  • Two of you hold a rope while a third jumps in the middle. With older children make this more challenging by giving each person a turn in the middle BUT they must hold a paper cup of water while they jump 10 times – the winner is the person with the most water left in their cup at the end.
  • Play with the seasons and gather up leaves in Autumn to make leaf art.

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