Fun Family Outdoor Activities
Posted on June 14, 2017 by CHS
Spending time outdoors rejuvenates us. It helps our physical health because we are usually active when we are outdoors, and it supports our emotional health by providing beautiful open spaces where we can just breathe and slow down. When we spend time outdoors with our families we strengthen our relationships with each other through talk and play.
Research done over the past several years has demonstrated that spending time outdoors helps us maintain a healthy weight and prevent obesity, increases our levels of vitamin D for healthy bones, it improves distance vision and prevents nearsightedness, reduces stress levels and behavioral issues associated with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), improves children’s test scores, inspires curiosity about science and the natural world, and develops a sense of stewardship, or the desire to care for our planet. The benefits are clear. Time outside improves our lives.
Safety First: Preparing to Spend Time Outdoors
Help keep everyone safe by putting together a backpack kit of things you might need when you visit parks or spend extended periods of time outside. Older children can carry their own backpacks with a few supplies. Consider including the following items:
- Charged cell phone
- Insect repellent
- Paper towels
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- First aid kit
- Granola bars
- Lightweight blanket
- A bag for trash
You may also want to include items to use when exploring nature such as a magnifying glass, binoculars for spotting birds, a bag for collecting “treasures” such as fallen leaves and flowers, a container for catching bugs, a nature guide book, a map, a compass, a notebook and pencil for drawing, and a camera.
Take breaks every thirty minutes to drink water and reapply sunscreen (if needed). Be sure to establish safety rules before leaving, and encourage children to wear a whistle on their jacket zipper or wrist that they can use to call for help. If you are planning a camping, fishing, or hiking trip, take a guide book with you and consult rangers about any questions you may have. Many areas have nature clubs for families that prefer going on day trips or camping trips in a group. Click here to learn more about nature clubs.
Family Activity Ideas
- Evening Walks: Take advantage of long summer days and go for walks around your neighborhood after dinner. Talk about the things you see and hear while you walk. Items of interest might be: the sound of traffic, colors of houses, the shapes of signs and what the words on them mean, cloud shapes, types of cars, community businesses, trees, flowers, and shadows.
- Life on the Farm: Visit a working family farm and see what it is like to work outdoors. Learn about how food arrives at the table from the farm. You can also visit a farmers market to shop for produce and see the many fruits, vegetables, and homemade products on display. To find a family farm or market near you click here.
- Game Time: Invite another family to join you at a nearby park for a game day. Bring a basketball, football, hula hoops, or jump ropes and challenge each other to win the game, or to keep their hula hoop or jump rope going the longest. You could also set up an obstacle course and see who finishes with the best time.
- Blast from the Past: Teach your children the games you remember playing outside when you were young. Try hopscotch, Four Square, Red Rover, Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, Mother May I, Freeze Tag, Statues, Jacks, Blind Man’s Bluff, Duck, Duck, Goose, and Follow the Leader. Not sure you remember the rules? No problem! Click here to read the rules to your favorite outdoor games.
- Treasure Hunt or Scavenger Hunt: Prepare a treasure hunt for your family in the backyard or in a nearby park. Draw a map for them to follow. You can also use this as an opportunity to teach children how to use a compass with their map. If your family likes the treasure hunt, then you can also create a scavenger hunt for nature items. For scavenger hunt ideas, click here.
- Planting Seeds: Even if you only have a couple of sunny windows or a small patio, you and your family can still create an enjoyable green space for your home. Small pots of herbs like thyme, basil, and mint will grow beautifully in a sunny window, and you can use them for cooking projects too! Lucky bamboo, spider plants, and ferns will grow in windows that do not get much light. Plants can also be hung from hooks on patios. You can even purchase tomato, strawberry, zucchini, and pepper plants that grow upside down from hanging planters. Check for deals at your local gardening supply store. You can also select plants that will attract butterflies to your garden.
- Community Service: Inspire your family to help care for their community and our planet. State and national parks are always looking for volunteers. Your family can sign up for regular volunteer duties or single events such as beach cleanup days, or trail maintenance in wilderness parks. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities, or visit your city’s website to find your local Parks and Recreation program. If your family is interested in being of service to more ecology activities, you can click here to learn about the Lorax Project.
- Bird Watching: Check out a bird guide book from your local public library such as Backyard Birds by Karen Stray Nolting and Jonathan Latimer, grab some binoculars (there are many inexpensive plastic binoculars that will work just fine), and head outside to see what you can find. If your child shows a real interest in birds you can find more bird watching information and activities in the book Bird Watching for Kids: Bite-sized Learning & Backyard Projects by George H. Harrison and make a bird feeder for your backyard.
- Forts: Kids love to create small shelters, or forts. You can easily build a fort in your backyard with chairs, some heavy books, and a large sheet or tarp. Arrange the chairs so the backs are facing each other in a square or circle shape. Drape the sheet or tarp across the top and hold the edges in place by putting books on the chair seats. Better yet, ask your children how they think it should be built. Click here for another fort building activity.
- Nature Art: Children can collect natural objects such as rocks, shells, leaves, sticks, and seeds to create works of art. Natural items can be pressed into playdough or clay, glued onto paper, and placed under a magnifying glass to inspire drawings or paintings. Photos of nature can be used to inspire art sculptures, or made into photo books. For more nature art ideas, click here.
Visit your public library
Books for Kids
- Baby Touch and Feel Animals by DK (ages 0-4)
- Curious George Goes Camping by Margret Rey and H. A. Rey (ages 3-7)
- Curious Kids Nature Guide: Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific Northwest by Fiona Cohen (ages 5-9)
- First Nature Encyclopedia by DK (ages 4-8)
- Fun With Nature: Take Along Guide by Mel Boring, Diane Burns, Leslie Dendy (ages 7-10)
- Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio, Ken Keffer (ages 8-12)
- My First Book about Backyard Nature: Ecology for Kids! by Patricia J. Wynne (ages 8-11)
- My Nature Book: A Journal and Activity Book for Kids by Linda Kranz (ages 6-11)
- National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis (ages 4-8)
- National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of the Ocean by Catherine D. Hughes (ages 4-8)
- Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (ages 3-7)
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (ages 4-8)
Books for Adults
- 101 Things to Do Outside: Loads of fantastically fun reasons to get up, get out, and get active! by Creative Team of Weldon Owen
- Bird Watching for Kids: Bite-sized Learning & Backyard Projects by George H. Harrison
- I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature by Jennifer Ward
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
- Outdoor Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments for the Yard, Garden, Playground, and Park by Liz Lee Heinecke
- The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature by Helen Olsson
- The Kids Campfire Book: Official Book of Campfire Fun by Jane Drake and Ann Love
- The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms Paperback by Clare Walker Leslie
- Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv
- Wildlife Gardening by Martyn Cox (projects to do with children)
- “Connecting iGeneration to the Natural World” by Kevin Barisonek (article) https://www.edutopia.org/blog/connecting-igeneration-to-natural-world-kevin-barisonek?utm_content=buffer28543&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
- Apps that Inspire Kids to Play Outdoors https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/apps-that-inspire-kids-to-play-outside
- Nature and Science Videos on PBS Dragonfly TV http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv/show/livingthings.html
- Nine Free Nature and Wildlife Apps for Kids http://wilderness.org/blog/9-free-nature-and-wildlife-apps-kids
References and Resources
- “Family Time: Keeping Family a Priority” brochure by CHS (disponible en español) https://www.chs-ca.org/_docs/FEP_FamilyTime_Eng_print.pdf
- Basic First Aid and Safety Tips for the Outdoors http://www.lovetheoutdoors.com/camping/safety.htm
- California: Kids in Parks http://kids.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=22743
- Discover the Forest (disponible en español) https://www.discovertheforest.org/
- Exploring Your Neighborhood Activity Guides http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=25383
- Find a California State Park https://www.parks.ca.gov/ParkIndex
- Find a family farm or market https://www.localharvest.org/organic-farms/
- Find out About Nature Clubs http://www.childrenandnature.org/initiatives/families/
- Fishing and Boating Information for Families https://www.takemefishing.org/
- Ideas for getting kids outside from the Child Mind Institute https://childmind.org/article/ideas-for-getting-your-kids-into-nature/
- National Wildlife Federation: Benefits of Nature http://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Kids-and-Nature/Why-Get-Kids-Outside/Health-Benefits.aspx
- National Wildlife Federation: Fun Family Activities http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Family-Fun.aspx’
- PBS: “Effects of Gardening on Your Child’s Brain Body and Soul” (disponible en español) http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2016/03/gardening-kids-affects-childs-brain-body-soul/?utm_source=pbsparentsnewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=parents_expert
- PBS: “Helping Children Overcome a Fear of Bugs” (disponible en español) http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2017/04/helping-children-overcome-fear-bugs/?utm_source=pbsparentsnewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=parents_expert
- Sesame Street: National Parks (disponible en español) http://www.sesamestreet.org/toolkits/nationalparks