Family Fun at the Park
Posted on April 29, 2022 by CHS
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” ― Rachel Carson
Spending time outdoors can greatly benefit your family’s health and overall wellbeing. Some benefits of playing outdoors include healthy eye development, increased exposure to vitamin D, opportunities for physical activity, social interactions, and reduced levels of stress or aggression. Nature play also has academic benefits such as increasing the ability to focus, solve problems, and think creatively. Enjoying the outdoors together is also an opportunity for your family to bond and discover common interests.
There are state parks, regional or wilderness parks, and city parks in California. Visit your county website’s parks and recreation webpage to discover nearby parks in your area. The park website will also have detailed information about the hours they are open, the activities the park provides, maps of the park, and safety information. City parks are usually located within neighborhoods and are free to use. Regional or wilderness parks are large enough to offer hiking trails, nature centers, fishing, and other activities. These parks usually charge a daily fee or parking fee that is used to maintain the park.
State parks and beaches also include historical areas and offer campsites and other recreational activities. If you have a child in fourth grade, you can apply for an Adventure Pass that allows you and your family to visit state parks free of charge. Many counties offer families discounted park passes that can be used for several days or even for the summer. Park rangers patrol and plan special events for regional, wilderness, and state parks.
Plan to spend the whole day at the park so you and your family can take advantage of the time outdoors. Learn about the park in advance and plan what you would like to do. Pack a backpack with supplies you will need for the day, including lunch and water. The Children and Nature Network has a free Family Nature Club Toolkit in English and Spanish that can guide you in planning a fun day at the park. It also includes a suggested checklist of items to bring with you.
Neighborhood or local city parks are free and offer many of the same advantages as larger regional or state parks. In your neighborhood park, you and your children can play and investigate nature together for little to no cost. The following are activity ideas you can enjoy in any outdoor area where there are trees, grass, and plants. Use these tips from KidsHealth to keep children safe during outdoor play at parks.
- Take a walk around the park and observe the different plants and flowers. Discuss the shape, color, and texture of leaves, flower petals, and tree trunks. Find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes, and listen to the sounds around you for two minutes. Then open your eyes and discuss the sounds you heard.
- Use park equipment such as swings, slides, and climbing structures. Adults can push children on swings, play peek-a-boo around the climbing structure, or enjoy watching their children play.
- Have a family race in a large grassy area. Make it more challenging by choosing different ways to race. For example, instead of running, you can walk sideways, crawl, tiptoe, hop, etc.
- Play the game Hot and Cold. One person will hide an object, such as a small ball, while everyone else closes their eyes. When you are ready, ask everyone to open their eyes and look for the ball. Say “cold,” “colder,” “or freezing” when they move away from where the ball is hidden, and say “warm,” “warmer,” or “hot” when they are close to the ball. The first person to find the ball can now have a turn hiding it.
- Take a jump rope with you and jump rope outside. Teach your children to jump rope with chants and games you played as a child. What other games did you play outside as a child? Share those too!
- Use a rope or pool noodle to have a tug of war contest. Place a rope or pool noodle to be a line in the grass. Stand on opposite sides of the line. Each person holds one end of another rope or pool noodle and tries to tug the opposite person towards them across the line. The first person to tug the other over the line wins.
- Try a two-person ball race. Two people hold one ball between them to race. First, try it with both people using two hands, then use one hand. Lastly, try it using no hands!
- Enjoy quiet time outdoors. Take some books about nature and a large blanket to the park. Sit under a tree and read together, or everyone can read on their own. Ask children if it feels different to read outdoors versus indoors, and if so, how.
However you choose to spend time together outdoors as a family, you can all experience the benefits nature has to offer. Schedule time to play outside together as part of a routine, try neighborhood walks after dinner, or consider visiting a state park as a weekend trip. Below you will find more resources for exploring nature and having fun outdoors.
References and Resources
- Locate a county website in California
- Apply for an Adventure Pass to visit California State Parks for free.
- Find a California State Park on the California Parks and Recreation website.
- The Children and Nature Network website provides information and research findings and information about the benefits of spending time in nature and bonding as a family, a Family Nature Club Toolkit, and tools for educators.
- Read information on active outdoor play from the California Childcare Health Program in English or Spanish.
- Discover five ways to make backyard play safe from HealthyChildren.org in English or Spanish.
- Learn how physical activity benefits health in this article from HealthyChildren.org in English or Spanish.
- KidsHealth shares tips in English and Spanish for keeping children safe on playgrounds.
- The American Psychological Association shares findings on how nature can improve mental health and wellbeing.
- Watch the video Science Spotlight: The Hidden Benefits of Nature created by Frost Science.
- Activities for Kids at Your Local Park by PBS
- Encouraging Nature Play by PBS
- Jump Rope chants and games in English or Spanish
- Children’s Picture Books about Nature recommendations from We Are Teachers