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Outdoor play: How to encourage children to be physically active

Outdoor play: How to encourage children to be physically active

A little planning and effort by parents can help children form a healthy habit that will last a lifetime
The number of physical activities, including outdoor play, done by children has reduced drastically over the years.
Children must be encouraged to take part in physical activities such as sports, exercises and outdoor play which help them get physically fit. (Photo: Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

One big headache most parents face today is figuring out how to lure children to play outdoors — and leave their gaming devices, mobiles and tablets behind. Outdoor play among children is fast becoming rare. The pandemic and modern lifestyles that revolve around screens — be it for studies, communications or play — have made things worse.

How children play is a matter of habit. And once children start playing sports or taking part in physical activities in their leisure or free time — say, the holidays — they are likely to continue doing so after school reopens too. However, the challenge is to inculcate that habit.

Causes of decline in outdoor play

Till about a decade ago, children would form groups and decide on the time to play — football, cricket, badminton, hide-and-seek, etc — in the neighbourhood parks or streets. That’s a rare sight now. Factors ranging from a lack of open spaces in cities to safety concerns keep children indoors.

“Over the years, villages have grown to become cities with concrete buildings [all around],” says Bindu Reddy, a counselling psychologist, educator and behavioural trainer at Crossroads Counselling and Training Centre, Bengaluru. “We see more nuclear families. As a mother, how safe I would feel to leave my daughter to play outside the home in my absence? I would not feel safe. I am a working mother as well, so on weekdays it’s not possible to take the child anywhere outside. Even taking them to the park doesn’t happen every weekend. Maybe that’s why children are more confined to homes.” 

Importance of outdoor play

Physical activities in early childhood ensure proper growth by promoting fitness and development of motor skills and cognitive skills. Playing outdoors also boosts children’s immunity.

So, if need be, children should be subtly introduced to physical activities.

“When children are in their growing stage, obviously both the physical growth and the mental growth is equally important,” says Dia Hemani, sales and operations head, Multifit Gym, Bengaluru, and a mother to a seven-year-old boy. “So, some kind of physical activity will help them.”

How to get children to play outdoors

There are many ways in which children can be encouraged to participate in sports (or be involved in physical activities), play outdoors and socialise with neighbourhood friends. Schools can present avenues for extracurricular activities. And, of course, children can get together to play as a group after school.

“My son really likes to play sports,” says Hemani. “So, at school I have enrolled him for karate classes. After he returns home, he plays football with other kids in the evening.”

Reddy adds: “My child does yoga in the morning and some exercises also. Apart from that, I have also taught her to do brain gym exercise before she sits down for studies. And on weekends I try to take her to a park.”

Parental effort in child play

It is even harder to make time to play with children in families where both parents are working. But a little planning and effort can help. This, besides the usual parental nudge to encourage children to take part in activities and classes such as dance, martial arts and the like.

Parents can, for example, encourage children to make friends with whom they can play every day in the neighbourhood. Taking children to watch matches frequently can help them develop a liking for sports. A family picnic in the park is another fun activity that could make them start liking the outdoors.

All of this will help children understand the value of physical activities and fitness — all the while learning directly from their parents.

“Don’t give children gadgets until they are five years old or until it’s necessary,” says Reddy. “More physical play, even at home, can be encouraged. If possible, create a small child-friendly gym — where they can play with toys, climb on ropes, etc. If you live in an apartment or a gated community, look at the options available. If your neighbourhood has a park, make sure you take your child there every day or on alternate days.”


  • The number of physical activities (outdoor play) done by children has reduced drastically over the years.
  • Parents and educational institutions should encourage children to take part and be involved in physical activities such as exercises, games and sports.
  • Children who play sports and take part in physical activities are happier and healthier. Plus, they develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

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