Have you ever gone outside with your excited child ready to play and not sure what to do, or did your child start out excited to play basketball with you and complained after 10 minutes that it was no fun?

As you probably know, children need at least one hour of physical activity a day, and parents should play with their children to spend quality time bonding. It's also important for a child's health to be active and parents to be role models of physical activity. These are all great goals for families to strive for, but may not always be easy to achieve.

Here are 5 steps to make playing outside with your child easier, fun and effective.

1. Pick fun games or sports to play and plan them ahead of time

Talk to your child about what they like or want to do that is active. They may choose a sport (basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse), a game (hide and go seek, flash light tag, sharks and minnows in the pool), or a place to visit (local park, hiking, amusement park, bike rides, rock climbing).

Make a list of preferred and possible activities for you and your child. Be realistic! For example, if there is not a place to rock climb near you, then take that off your list.

Plan the activities: Decide where you are going to play (backyard, Local Park, community pool) and what you'll need (basketball, baseball gloves, towels for the pool, water bottle, and sunscreen). Then determine if you will buy supplies or change the activity.

2. Give your child specific praise

When playing outside with your child give them encouragement and praise that is specific to what they did well ("Good goal!") instead of general ("You are awesome!"). This way, they know what they did well and can understand their accomplishment.  Children will have more fun if they feel like they are doing things correctly.

When praise is specific and honestly deserved, it can be a very powerful tool for parents to motivate their children and increase their child's self esteem.

  • Too much praise when it is not earned will not help your child and will make them question the meaning of being praised. For example if your child tries to kick the ball and misses don't say "Good job kicking the ball," instead say "That's ok, try again."
  • Or if your child is kicking a soccer ball into the goal and makes 20 of 20 shots, they don't need to be congratulated for each shot, better to give a compliment when finished.
  • Avoid negative comments. You want your child to have fun and want to keep playing. Negative comments will make them feel like they are unsuccessful and they'll want to stop.

Some examples of specific praise:

  • Great Job throwing that ball!
  • What a good catch!
  • Wow you really ran fast!

Some examples of encouragement:

  • You can do it!
  • You are doing a great job, keep going!
  • Try dribbling and shooting


  • That was a terrible throw!
  • You kick like a girl!
  • Why are you running so slow?

3. Play games and sports, and play for fun

Often when kids and adults go outside to play, the sport often turns into a simple game of catch. Playing a baseball game is more fun and better physical activity for your child then having an isolated catch or toss.

Keeping score and being competitive is ok, but don't overdo it

  • Keeping score helps motivate you and your child to play harder and run faster when you are competing together.
  • Keep in mind that the goal is to have fun, be active, and for you and your child to play together.  If they are losing 10 to 0 and have lost the last 3 games, it probably won't be fun for them, and they may give up and simply not want to play anymore. You do not have to let your child win every game, but there has to be a balance between winning and losing.
  • As the parent running the game, keep the scores close win 5 to 4, or loose 6 to 8. Let your child score a goal on you occasionally if needed.

4. Make physical activity part of your daily routine

It is not unusual if your child doesn't want to play outside or complains the first few times. It can be hard when daily routine changes, it'll get easier as you stick with it.

5. Limit Screen time: TV, computer, video games, cell phones (anything with a screen)

Don't give a choice of playing outside or playing video games.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day for children two years old and older. Set a limit and keep to it.

Keep it simple and clear! Playing outside with your child is very important for health reasons.  It also helps you bond with your child and will increase his or her self-esteem. All of this while having fun.

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here.

Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »