BENEFITS OF OUTDOOR PLAY AND ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS
You've probably heard about the benefits of nature and outdoor play for children. According to the National Wildlife Federation, outdoor play boosts fitness and decreases the risk of childhood obesity, increases focus and academic achievement, reduces stress, and increases feelings of well-being.
Spending time outside will help make sure your family gets exercise and plenty of fresh air, too. Try these fun, low or no-cost outdoor activities you can do together as a family, curated by our early childhood experts.
Simple Outdoor Activities For Children
- Go on a walk. This is a simple one…it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, and it can be easier to fit in than you think. If dinner has to cook for another hour in the crockpot, head out for a walk while you wait. Or, if it’s still light out after you finish your meal, walk around a nearby park for a change of scenery, or meet up with Mom and Dad for an after-dinner walk at a safe distance. If you have a dog, walking is a great way to make sure they get some exercise, too, while teaching children how to responsibly care for the family pet.
- Plan a weekly neighborhood walk or hike. Toddlers are at a vantage point to observe things that we adults often miss. A simple walk around the neighborhood with the family can open a whole world to them if we simply slow down. Find a special time at least once a week to explore outdoor life with your child, keeping in mind the journey, not the destination. You can even come up with themes for your family walk each week, like insects, flowers, or colors. Make it a treasure hunt in nature: How many plants and insects can you find? How many different textures or sensations can you discover? How many times can you find the color blue? When you are back indoors, turn your treasure hunt into an artful nature collage activity.
Take a bike ride. This can be easy to accomplish, too, especially if you choose an evening ahead of time based on the rest of your schedule, and set aside 30 minutes to an hour. If you’d rather go on a longer ride, dedicate part of the weekend to a ride along the beach, around the lake, or through the park.
- Do yoga. Grab a towel or yoga mat and head out to your backyard or a local park or beach where there’s plenty of open space to keep a safe distance from your fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Practice different poses, like tree pose, downward dog, and butterfly…and pair up to do poses like sunrise/sunset. Not only is this a great way to get outside, it’s also a stress reliever and can help everyone relax or unwind after a long day at home, work, or child care.
- Hang out in the yard. When was the last time your family pulled out a picnic and enjoyed the wonders of nature from your own backyard? You don’t have to go far to take in all that the great outdoors offers. Outdoor exploration for babies is especially beneficial, where they can crawl, walk, and explore a variety of textured surfaces like grass, sand, or dirt. With your toddler or preschooler, point out and label birds, squirrels, insects, and plants.
- Work together in the yard. Relaxing in the yard is great, but you can also make it productive time spent, and tackle family projects together! Plus, gardening for kids and other yard work can be great exercise. Whether you need to pull weeds, rake leaves, dig holes for new seedlings, or pick vegetables, get your kids involved!
- Gather natural materials. Offer your child a variety of natural and re-purposed materials— such as old metal pie tins, sticks, ribbon, wire, spoons, shells, or rocks — and head outside to explore them. Ask your child, “What can you make with these materials? How about wind chimes, a bird feeder, or an old-fashioned mud pie?”
- Play with rocks. It’s fun to collect rocks, make sculptures, toss rocks, or use small stones to create designs or form letters. Explain that, like people, no two rocks are exactly alike. Look for rocks that are similar in size, shape, color, or texture. Create a science laboratory where you can weigh and measure rocks; older children might research the different types of rocks, such as sedimentary or metamorphic.
- Be tourists in your own city. Have you ever wondered about the history and legends of your community? Do you know which Native American tribes first settled the area? Have you noticed the types of architecture? Do you know the history behind the statues in the local park? Are you looking to find nature in urban areas? Become tourists in your own town with safe-to-do exploration around the closest big city in your area.
- Nurture your family with nature. Visit fish hatcheries, farms, forests, and wildlife preserves, as well as local parks, streams, lakes, woods, and community gardens. Try incorporating outdoor play into your family fun. Use magnifying glasses to search for tiny insects, cameras to photograph the sights you see, and tape measures to measure the circumference of trees or the heights of plants. Use field guides or apps, such as the Cornell Lab Bird app, to identify the plants and birds in your area. Look for pictures in the clouds or watch stars at night.
- Make storytelling a part of your family culture. Reading together is one of the best ways to make memories, transfer values, and improve language and literacy skills. Read classics like Charlotte’s Web or Winnie the Pooh together. Act stories out or put on a puppet show. When it’s warm, you can turn this into a summertime outdoor theater.
- Play a game. Kids love games, and the sillier, the better. Pull out your favorite board game or play some active games, such as Sardines, Hide and Go Seek, Red Light, Green Light, or Tag. How about charades or I’m Thinking Of?
- Play flashlight tag. It stays light out pretty late during the summer, but if you find that you don’t have time to get outside before the sun goes down, play flashlight tag in a safe area like your backyard.
- Play ball. You probably have a rubber ball, basketball, baseball, soccer ball, or something similar lying around the house…take it outside! Depending on how old your kids are, you can do something simple, such as playing catch, or you can play a more involved game, like alphabet ball, kickball, or basketball (with a real hoop…or you can make do with a bucket, bin, or cup, depending on the size of the ball).
- Go for a swim. If you have a pool at home or live near a lake or beach, set aside time each week to take a dip. Play water games, such as Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, and dolphin and mermaid races. Or, take this opportunity to teach younger children how to feel comfortable in open water — just be sure to stay at least six feet apart from other groups if you’re in a public setting.
- Explore pond life. With older children, you can get an up-close view of a local pond. Cut the ends off a large food container or plastic milk jug, and secure plastic wrap over one end with a rubber band or waterproof tape. Place the wrapped end of the container in a stream or pond. Look into the other end. The glare of the sun is diminished when looking through the container, so it's easier to see plant and animal life in the water.
- Grow something. Need vegetables or herbs for that salad you’ll make together? Whether you have a backyard, a small porch, or a windowsill, with a few packets of seed, you can have a garden. Older children especially are at an ideal age to learn about gardening. If you have the space, you can try easy-to-grow crops like lettuce, carrots, peas, and tomatoes in a full-size garden, a raised bed, or even pots. Try fast-growing flowers like pansies, nasturtiums, or sunflowers. How about a few herbs on the patio?
Quality time together builds strong relationships and satisfying memories. When these activities are taken outside, you are increasing the overall benefits of family time by spending time in nature and by modeling healthy habits like getting exercise and fresh air. So, get out there. Turn over a rock. Feel the breeze on your face. Get some dirt on your shoes.
MOVEMENT MATTERS ACTIVITY: BOKS OCEAN BURST
Here is a great activity from our partners at BOKS (an initiative of the Reebok Foundation). Here, Mr. Nate takes you through a sea-themed set of motions and poses and that will get your child’s imagination going while exercising their large muscle groups. Take this activity outside while you’re hanging out in the backyard, or have “on-theme” fun on your next trip to the beach.
More on Outdoor Activities and Children
- Learn why pretend play is important for child development and find some dramatic play ideas, activities and games.
- Discover some low-cost nature-based STEM activities you can do with your children.
- Learn how the playground offers a wealth of cognitive and social-emotional learning opportunities.