Getting Kids Outside
Even if children are initially reluctant to head outside, it won’t be long before they’re begging to go on their next adventure. Of course, the age of your child should be an important factor in deciding how to explore nature. Here are a few general and age-specific ideas that your children will love.
- If you live in an urban area with very few parks or green spaces, you have to bring nature to you. Rooftop gardens, potted plants, indoor gardening, and urban scavenger hunts that involve searching for plants and spotting animals are all great ways to bring nature into focus.
- Make a regular habit of having family picnics, whether you share them at the park, playground, or your own yard. On the weekends, consider having a picnic for breakfast and leaving the next few hours open to explore nature as a family.
- Try exploring a new area of your city with the whole family every weekend with a focus on parks, playgrounds, and farms.
- During your family’s next vacation, make sure your destination is geographically interesting and new for your children. Once there, you can discover oceans, forests, lakes, mountains, deserts, wetlands, and other natural wonders. By making your family vacations nature-centric, your kids will have a better opportunity to fall in love with Mother Earth.
- Incorporate walks, runs, or bike rides into your family’s weekly routine. Discover local trails, bike paths, riverways, or lakefronts.
- Incorporate kid-friendly games into family nature outings.
- Let the moon and stars be your main source of light for nighttime hikes, and discover the nocturnal world with your family. (Always be safe by keeping a flashlight in tow.)
- Find a tree near your home and record the changes to it for a year. Capture photos and take notes of your observations of it throughout the changing of the seasons. At the end of the year, pick out a different species of tree to watch, and repeat the process.
- Take up animal watching as a family hobby. Use field guides for birds, mammals, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians, and insects and spiders. Check off animals from your guide(s) as you spy each one, recording details such as the time of year and location where you spotted it.
- Use PickYourOwn.org to find a farm where your family can pick fresh fruit and vegetables, learn how to can and freeze your harvest, and enjoy nature’s delicious gifts.
- Forage as a family — for safety purposes, it’s best to do this in your own garden or in one run by your community. Not only will you immerse yourselves in nature, but you’ll also have the opportunity to cook together. Remember to put safety first by identifying any plant or fruit before you eat it.
Ages 0- 5
- When children are very young, they depend on you for direction, so try to take your activities outside so they will start enjoying nature from an early age. Instilling this type of thinking will also encourage them to seek Mother Earth for entertainment as they get older rather than rely on electronics.
- Forest Kindergartens are becoming popular in the US as a way to connect children with nature. If there is a school near you, it might be worth checking out to see if it’s a good fit for your child.
- Introduce them to gardening. Even young children can help with small tasks, and working in the yard is also a great way to start introducing them to different flowers, insects, birds, and butterflies.
- Explore different playgrounds, and encourage your kids to engage in outdoor activities as often as they’d like (under adult supervision, of course).
- Stock up on tools and toys that encourage outdoor playtime, such as sidewalk chalk, mini shovels, pails, kid-friendly sprinkler heads, and bubbles.
- Punch holes in paint chips, and have your child find things in nature that match their colors by holding them over natural objects like grass, stones, leaves, and tree bark.
- Transform any snowy surface into artwork by mixing food coloring and water. Put the mixture into spray bottles and paint the snow.
- Schedule outdoor play dates with your children’s friends. Consider taking them to playgrounds, parks, wooded areas, creeks, ponds, the beach, or even your own backyard. Just be sure that you’ve gotten “field trip” permission from any parents whose children are tagging along.
- Make sure your children have a variety of age-appropriate toys that promote outdoor play. Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, hula hoops, and pogo sticks are all “big kid” toys that will get your children excited to break away from the TV screen.
- Build an outdoor fort as a family, and let your child help with everything from design to construction (as safety allows).
- Encourage them to give outdoor sports a try, like Ultimate Frisbee or disc golf, soccer, baseball, softball, golf, or volleyball.
- Creating story stones is a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors. You can also build faces with multiple painted rocks by using two round stones for eyes, a triangular one for a nose, an oval-shaped one for a mouth, and moss or sticks for hair. Kids can create just about anything their imaginations can dream up by using a few natural elements and some tacky glue, like this adorable hedgehog.
- Use natural objects for physical play. Tree stumps can be used as jumping platforms, boulders are great for climbing, and logs are nature’s balance beams.
- Do an outdoor scavenger hunt with your child. You can hide a few objects yourself, or just let nature take the lead by creating a list of outdoor treasures for them to find.
- Explore the world of geocaching, which is a worldwide scavenger hunt.
- Park a short distance away from your child’s school every morning so you can walk to the campus together. Along the way, point out different plants, colors, smells, and even creatures that you spy.
- Put a limit on screen time. If your teenager insists that he or she is “too old” to play outside, encourage them to take their homework, a book, or art supplies outdoors.
- Get your teen a membership to a local pool. Since there will be a trained lifeguard on staff, you may want to consider allowing your child the freedom to visit on their own (which is a great way to grant kids independence during the tricky teenage years).
- Encourage them to start their own garden. It can be a family activity, or it can be an escape to solitude when they’re feeling stressed out. Whether they choose to grow produce, flowers, or shrubs, they will also feel a sense of accomplishment as their garden blooms.
- Teach them how to build a firepit and how to start a fire in it (always under adult supervision, of course), and encourage them to invite friends over to enjoy roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.
- Encourage them to take photographs of nature and of people interacting with the outdoors. Supply them with an honest-to-goodness camera to take snapshots so they don’t rely on their smartphone, since using one could easily lead them astray to being glued to the screen.