Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of playing outdoors… swinging from a tire that my Dad tied to a big oak tree, picking ripe juicy plums, running through the sprinklers and picking red seed pods out of Magnolia tree cones. Nowadays, children hardly get outside. According to several studies, the average American child spends just four to seven minutes playing outdoors each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic device or screen. This shift profoundly impacts the wellness of our children.
Research connects the lack of outdoor time to increased obesity, depression, stress, diabetes, ADHD and poor academic performance. More children are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.
Here are 10 outdoor activities that require very little planning or money and will help you and your kids build lasting memories. Unplug from technology and plug into nature!
- Birdwatching. This is a fun activity that everyone can enjoy. You’re never too old to learn or young to start a hobby that could last a lifetime! A great way to begin is right in your own backyard. Invite birds in by making DIY bird feeders.
- Plant a garden. Children are natural gardeners- they’re curious, learn by doing and love to play in the dirt! Gardening teaches children about life cycles, pollination, and nutrition. If you don’t have a yard, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers can be planted in raised beds that sit directly on the ground or placed on patios, decks or porches.
- Make art from nature. Go for a walk and let your child collect wildflowers and leaves to make beautiful keepsakes. To press flowers, simply put them between sheets of wax paper and close them in a heavy book for about two to four weeks. To make leaf prints, use a sponge to ink the leaf and press it into a sheet of paper for an instant artistic creation!
- Get dirty. Dedicate a small part of your yard as a digging station or set aside a large container or flower box just for digging in the dirt. Put a spoon or a small shovel in your child’s hand and they will go to town digging holes, building mounds and making mud pies. Research shows that good old-fashioned dirt play exposes children to a myriad of bacteria, viruses and microbes that strengthen their immune systems.
- Observe the night sky. Exploring nature doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down. Grab a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa and spend some time gazing at the moon and stars. Trace constellations, look for shooting stars or help your child keep a moon journal to understand the different phases of the moon.
- Build a fort or tee-pee. Children love outdoor forts- it gives them a place to call their own. All you need are some simple materials like long branches, a large cardboard box, a broom, sheets and blankets… get creative and your child’s imagination will run wild!
- Watch the clouds. You don’t need any supplies or special expertise for this one. Picking out shapes in the clouds is a classic childhood activity. All that’s needed is a sky filled with big fluffy marshmallow clouds and an imagination.
- Nature collection. Take a walk on your favorite trail, through the neighborhood or along the shore to collect natural trinkets like rocks, shells, branches, pinecones, leaves, flowers, acorns, tree berries and seed pods. These little treasures can be stored and displayed in a number of ways- in a bowl, on a seasonal nature table or grouped and labeled in jars or boxes.
- Puddle jumping. Don’t let the rain stop your child from playing outside- just make sure everyone is dressed appropriately for the occasion. Once everyone’s rain gear is on, go in search of puddles and get jumping!
- Enjoy the simple pleasures. Sometimes the simplest outdoor activities leave the most lasting memories for kids. Teach your child how to skip a stone, make a daisy chain or blow a grass whistle.