Even if you live in a place that tends to be cold until April, it’s important to have your kids run amok outside for fresh air, exercise, and a change of scenery. No matter the weather where you are, there’s something to do outside. Though those of you in the upper midwest may need to wait another couple of months for some of these.
1. Create a nature notebook. Get each of your kids their own small sketchbook and pencils or colored pencils. Put it all in a small bag with a shoulder strap. Send your kids (and the bags) out with an assignment to draw pictures of leaves, flowers, berries, bugs, sticks, trees, snowmen, houses, and whatever else they encounter. Doing this kind of activity causes kids to stop and really look at what is around them. See what they gravitate toward drawing. If they’re open to it, you can turn their findings into educational nature lessons later on.
2. Snow things. If it’s snowy where you are, snow creatures, snow forts, piles of snow balls, and snow tunnels are fun to make and play with. Make sure your kids are bundled up well with waterproof mittens or gloves, and then have dry clothes and hot chocolate and/or hot soup at the ready for when they come in.
3. Build forts. Most natural areas have plenty of dead and fallen branches. Arrange them or lean them up against living trees to create little forts to hunker down in. Kids can bring a ground blanket to sit on and a book to read or sketchbook for drawing (see #1).
4. Walk to the local library. If your local library is within walking distance, have your kids walk there library cards and sturdy bags in hand, and challenge them to find some new books to read. For younger children, a parent or other responsible adult will need to go with them. Also make sure the librarians know your family and make them aware of this new activity.
5. Play in the dirt. This is a time-honored tradition. Have kids just grab a stick and start digging somewhere out of the way. They’ll find all kinds of critters, roots, stones, and maybe even clay. They can imagine they’re making mud pies or terraforming an alien landscape. If your kids need some encouragement, bury something interesting somewhere in the dirt and make a pirate map leading them there. They’ll dig for sure when they find the X that marks the spot.
6. Gardening. If you have a spare spot in the yard, have your kids each take care of a small plot of land. They can plant a tree, flowers, or food crops, the bounty of which they would obviously get first dibs on. If your kids like fruits and vegetables, this could be a real incentive.
7. Photo scavenger hunt. If they have their own cameras or phones, make a list of items of which to take photos, challenging your kids to complete the list. Ideas include a butterfly, a manhole cover, a favorite leaf, a cloud, a rock of an unusual color, your sibling’s ear, that sort of thing.
8. Create a map of your neighborhood. With paper and pencil in hand, your kids can walk around their known neighborhood (within previously-decided safety limits, of course) creating a map of streets, houses of friends, favorite landmarks, corner stores, big trees, or anything they encounter.
9. Make fairy houses, rooms, or doors. If you have an abundance of tiny doors or furniture, share some with other outdoor explorers by creating little domestic alcoves. Just be sure to not disturb or harm nature in the process. Jenny Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) has a good example.
10. Climb trees. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with good climbing trees, scaling them can really give kids a work out. They gain more balance, strength, confidence, and a literal new perspective on the world. This is better for older kids (unless you have very, very short trees).
+1: Classic games. If the weather is cooperative, and there are enough children available if necessary, have the kids try out any of the games in my 30 Classic Games for Simple Outdoor Play post. Better yet, get out there with them for playtime and share your memories of the school playground.
What are your favorite ideas for keeping kids active outside? Share them in the comments.