How to keep kids playing outside during the school holidays

A children’s play expert has shared simple ideas and games kids can play over the summer holidays to engage in nature, as studies show 1 in 4 children do not play outside regularly. 

Sam Kendall, head of education at the Eden Project, highlights how playing outside is key to children’s development. 

Sam said: “The outdoor world is full of opportunities for children to play and develop key skills such as confidence and independence – as well as give both children and parents a break from screens and day-to-day life. 

“Children are spending more and more time looking at screens and less time playing outdoors, with findings from Save The Children revealing just 1 in 4 children regularly play outdoors, whilst The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals the average child spends 6 hours a day looking at a screen.” 

Sam has shared her tips for outdoor activities that can be played in gardens and parks across the UK, to help children re-engage in nature and cut screen time.

1. Rain games

“Parents can often be reluctant to let children play outside when it’s raining, but outside play during wet weather offers great opportunities for children to engage in sensory play. Nature turns into a sensory playground during rainy weather, with so many sounds, textures and sights to play with.  

“Messy play is great for exploring imagination and creativity, and kids can’t get messier than making mud pies and cakes. Baking essentials like tins, cookie cutters and rolling pins are perfect for taking outdoors to make mud pies – and can be easily washed and disinfected after use.  

“Pots and pans are also great for making musical instruments and exploring the sounds rain can create on different textures.” 

2. Nature’s Rainbow cards

“Nature is full of vibrant colours for children to explore. Encourage children to explore them by creating rainbow cards. Children can use a piece of card and sticky tape to collect items of different colours to create their own rainbow cards.  

“This is also a fun game to play as a bingo alternative. Before you go outside, split your card into six boxes and write down six colours that you’d like to find in each box. Then, go outside and find the colours on your card – the first person to find all their colours wins. 

“Just make sure you only use things that have already fallen off plants and trees – nature takes years to grow but seconds to destroy.” 

Eden Project Rainbow Cards nature game

3. Wild crowns

“Crown-making is a great activity for imaginative play and invites children to use their creativity and social skills. 

“Nature offers so many lovely things to use for crown-making, from leaves and flowers to moss and branches.  

“This activity is so easy to do – simply use strips of cardboard and cellotape to create your crown base, and then double-sided sticky tape to fix all the decorative parts to your crown.  

“Children love explaining what they’ve put on their crown and why, and this helps to build social skills and communication.” 

This summer sees the Eden Project launch Nature’s Playground, one of the South West’s largest outdoor play areas for children.  

The playground has been designed to help children re-engage with nature, a message which Sam highlights is essential for children’s connection with both each other and the natural world. 

Sam explained: “Outdoor play is essential for fulfilment and happiness in children and the Eden Project strongly believes that every child should have more opportunities and time for outdoor play,” 

“Today more children play indoors than outdoors and take part in solitary rather than social activities. More and more travel in cars rather than walk and some don’t have a variety of safe outdoor places to go and play. 

“Too many children suffer from stress and are less able to maintain physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Connecting with nature through play has been proven to help children connect with each other and nature, as well as build essential developmental skills. 

“The natural world offers so many opportunities for children to play and relax, and the summer holidays is the perfect time to explore.”

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