It seems like the more advances we make in technology, the less time we spend outdoors just enjoying the world around us. Now we’re having school through the internet. Our kids may grow up to be working online indoors most of the time. How can we teach our children’s generation to appreciate, love, and conserve the great outdoors if they’re never…outdoors? We need to teach them to care for our world–and to know what they’ll be fighting for. So one of our most important jobs is to instil a love for nature and the great outdoors in our children.
Recent scientific research suggests that spending time in nature makes us feel calmer and reduces the effects of stress. It doesn’t take long for the benefits to start kicking in either, at just 10 minutes a day. So the good news is, we don’t have to make sweeping changes to our lives and can introduce our children to outdoor activities little by little.
Thinking back to your own childhood, you probably spent a lot more time playing outside than your children do today. Depending on where you live, playing outside from dawn until dusk unsupervised might not be as safe today and it was for you, so you can focus on family adventures and the fun that can be had in your own backyard. Here are six fun outdoor activities that will help your child fall in love with spending time outside.
1. Make Your Backyard A Fun Place To Play
The easiest way to spend more time outside is to go out to your own backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, a front yard, side yard, or common area might work as well. Young children learn a lot from watching their parents, so it’s going to be important for adults to spend time outside as well. A patio table with chairs and some shade will be a great place for adults to hang out while kids play. You can have outdoor toys, games, and equipment that are age-appropriate as well. Sand and water sensory tables are a lot of fun to play with outside. Swings are not only fun, but many kids find the rocking motion soothing.
2. Start A Garden Together
Gardening is both fun and rewarding because you can harvest your veggies and eat them for dinner. Even toddlers can help with gardening tasks, and it will teach them how much work it takes to grow a single carrot. Kids can plant seeds, water plants, pick vegetables, and more. Gardening provides many opportunities for educational and creative growth while soaking in some sun and vitamin D.
3. Nature Walks & Fun Activities
According to Dr. Gregory Weaver, a pediatrician with the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, two-to-three-year-olds are fearless explorers who can’t wait to touch, smell, and taste their environment. They have a natural curiosity and will have endless fun on a nature walk with you.
A nature walk with young children can be a backpacking hike, walking a local trail, or just walking around your neighborhood. Going on a nature walk adventure sounds like a lot more fun than “going outside for some exercise.” Use positive words to inspire your little ones to get excited about being outside. You can do lots of fun things on or after a nature walk; here are a few ideas:
Bird watching – Bird watching is a relaxing hobby and can teach you a lot about birds. Keep a log of all the birds you find, or research a list of local birds to watch out for and check them off as you find them. Snap a photo of each one if you can!
Leaf Prints and Other Crafts – You can do many crafts with leaves, sticks, and stones you find on your nature walk. You can paint stones, turn sticks into wands or wind-chimes, and make cool leaf prints with paper and paint.
Nature and Wildlife Bingo – Make a bingo card with the names of local plants and animals. Watch for them on your walk and mark them off. The first person to declare BINGO wins the game!
4. Park Passport Activity
Get out and explore your local parks by making a game of it. Print up your own “passport” booklet and list all the parks in driving distance from your house. Pick a new park each weekend that you get great weather, and buy a fun stamp you can mark your locations off with on your passport. Let children pick the stamp and do the stamping. They’ll have a great time playing at different parks. Check city and county websites before you go to see what fun attractions the park might have.
5. Have a Party Or Picnic Outdoors
Eating outdoors can be a lot of fun. You can pack up a picnic to take to the local part or cook up some BBQ and eat in your backyard. Some parks also have BBQ equipment you can use to cook your meal. Make sure to take this opportunity to teach your child to be a good caretaker of their environment by throwing their trash away properly and not leaving food or materials out that could harm local wildlife.
6. Plan A Family Camping Trip
Camping is a time-honored family tradition, and with enough careful planning you can do it even with toddlers! First, make sure your toddler will enjoy camping. If they are very picky about their food, dislike getting dirty, or have to stick to a strict schedule, then it might not be the right time for them just yet. If they have a heart for adventure, though, you can have a lot of fun together.
You can first practice camping at home in the living room, basement, or even in the backyard. Get your toddler comfortable sleeping in a sleeping bag and get them excited for the fun activities to come. When you’re ready, choose your campsite carefully. Some are more suited for children than others.
With all of these fun activities, you’ll be sure to raise little ones that love spending time outdoors. The fresh air and physical activity will also help them grow up strong and healthy.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at Ladybug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.