Most children love playing outside...but what if they don't? Chances are if you're here, you already love the outdoors yourself. Maybe passing along your love of nature to your kids is something that comes as second-nature to your family. On the other hand, maybe it doesn't (and that's ok!) and you're looking for some fun ideas to get your kids outside more often.
Whatever the case may be, we want to help your children enjoy spending time outdoors as much as you do, which is why we've created the list below. Although we are currently in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis here in the United States, this list provides ideas and tips for “normal times”. That's not to say that you can't start now with many of the suggestions below! Just because we are currently practicing social distancing does not mean we have to stay confined within our homes all day long. So get out there and get some fresh air with the kiddos!
- Ask them to join you on hikes or, better yet, plan special ones for them. Going at their pace is an important factor here. No one likes to feel rushed.
- Spend time playing outdoors. Are your kids more used to computer screens than sunscreen? Ease them into it. Start by playing for 20-30 minutes. Let them choose the activity. (Within reason, of course.) If they're not sure where to begin either, just kick a ball around the yard for awhile!
- Go on a nature scavenger hunt. These activities are almost always a win. You can create your own together or find an age (and location) appropriate one online. There are tons out there!
- Teach your children the importance of “Leave No Trace” wherever you spend your time, including the park, picnic areas, and even your own backyard! No one likes seeing litter, it attracts critters, and can damage ecosystems. Not to mention a lot of items will take years to break down.
- Spend the night around a campfire and gaze at the stars together. Look up an app on your phone, such as Night Sky, to locate and name some constellations visible in your region.
- Make a point to spend X amount of time outside each day. This is good for both adults and kids. School is stressful. Social and peer life is stressful. Work is stressful. Parenting is stressful. Everyone can benefit from a free-for-all break outdoors to clear your head, de-stress, and have fun! Check out the 1000 Hours Outside web page for an accountability tracker and more.
- Teach your children about the animals, plants, and ecosystems near where you live. The more children know about something, the more they will care about it. The more they care about it, the likelier they are to help protect it.
- If your children aren't used to going for hikes or are a little leery of the wilderness, why not start with walks around the neighborhood in the evenings or on weekends? Next, you might try a path in a local park and eventually work your way up to trails in state parks, national forests, etc. Being close to civilization and running into other people at first will help ease their anxiety as well.
- Don't forget water sources! Let them splash in puddles on a rainy day, stomp through creeks on a hike, or spend a day at the beach, whether it be a lake or ocean.
- Let them collect treasures. (Assuming you are not in an area where it is prohibited, such as state parks, national parks, national seashores, etc.) Kids love collecting nature items that are special to them, such as rocks, seashells, a neat looking stick, and so on. Set aside a special box or area on a bookshelf or desk where they can keep their special items.
- Learn a new outdoor activity together, such as kayaking or rock climbing. You don't have to go all-in either. Rent a kayak or canoe for an hour or two at a nearby lake. Look for an indoor rock climbing place near you to try it out and get some instruction before trying the real deal. (You might be surprised by how popular these are now!)
- Visit State and National Parks. Hit the trails and visit the interpretive/nature centers to learn more about the geography and history of the park. Check before your visit to see what upcoming programs the park is offering. Many of the national parks also offer what is known as the Junior Ranger program. Some states have their own Junior Ranger programs for their state parks, such as Tennessee, and others have patch programs, including Indiana and Wisconsin. All of the above are a great way to learn about individual parks, promote environmental stewardship, and have fun!
- Go camping...Even if it's in your own backyard. Head over to our “How to Plan a Backyard Camping Night with Your Family” post for some ideas to get your backyard campout underway.
- Go backpacking with your kids. Are you (and your kids) ready to take a backwoods adventure together? We've got some great tips for planning your kid-friendly excursion in our “Planning an Overnight Backpacking Trip with Your Kids” post.
- Invite your kids to keep a nature journal. They can write about or draw whatever they like!
- Encourage them to follow their interests. Has your child taken a liking to butterflies? Learn more about their life cycle, what species are common to your area, and how to attract more. Are they intrigued by the changing colors of fall leaves? Learn about what causes them to change colors and identify some of the ones you have found on hikes or your own backyard.
There is no sure-fire recipe for getting your kids to love the outdoors. But, the more time you spend outside, no matter what you're doing, the more they are likely to enjoy it!
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out this excellent post on “The Art of Manliness” website for a more in-depth discussion on the importance of getting kids outdoors and even more ideas for naturally instilling a love of the outdoors in them.