I love being outside, even in the hot Texas summers or its freezing winters. I love being in my yard or walking in parks.
I always hoped my kids would play outside all day everyday. I love the books and blogs that talk about children being wild and free in the woods. I have come to find that fostering a love of nature actually takes more than wishful thinking. The appeal of air conditioning, video games, and Netflix is one I can totally understand. To get my kids to go outdoors as well as want to do so took some creative thinking and, above all, role modeling.
Here are 20 ideas to get your kids to fall in love with the outdoors — they may even rekindle your love for it as well!
1. Gardening. Whether it’s in a small container in the kitchen or a large garden box, observing and caring for plants is a great way for children to find connection with nature. If you can, grow veggies in your garden space, teach the life cycle of plants and seasonal vegetation. An added bonus is your child will likely be willing eat the veggies that he or she helped grow.
2. Hikes. Go on a hike as a family. You can make it a game by collecting rocks or leaves along the way. Encourage your kids to pack their hiking backpacks themselves and think about what they may need along the way.
3. Explore parks (and not just the playground). Go to parks and explore beyond the playgrounds. Find nature-focused parks and explore what they have to offer. You may find interesting rocks, streams, or ponds. Do not be afraid to take a walk off the trail and into the woods.
4. Play in the mud. Embrace the mess! Dig or stomp in mud puddles. Get old pots and pans and make a mud kitchen in the backyard. Bonus: They may find some worms in the process!
5. Play in the rain. Do not let rain be an excuse to stay in, play in puddles, use those rain boots and umbrellas, and go for a walk or have a wet dance party.
6. Picnics. Take the food outside! The best way to get your kiddos outside, especially if you catch some resistance about it, is to eat outdoors — even if you do takeout and eat it at a park or make it a summer tradition to eat dessert outside every day. Getting some sun, listening to birds, and enjoying some unplugged moments are all great and easy steps to spark more outdoor activity time.
7. Geocaching. Go on a real treasure hunt with geocaching and explore new parks and green spaces along the way. Find out about geocaching here.
8. Make a fort. If you have some sheets and clothespins, put them in the yard and I guarantee the kids will take it from there. It is always fun to see what kind of fort they create and what other tools they employ to build it.
9. Tools. Use lessons with tools, like shovels, rakes, or clippers, to get kids involved in yard work and the outdoors. They more they feel like they are contributing the more they will find a connection through a sense of responsibility. This is especially useful for older kids who want a bit of a challenge.
10. Bugs. No need to go to the zoo when there are critters right outside your door. Encourage your kids to search under rocks and dig in the dirt for bugs. Look up the names of the bugs or collect them. (Just make sure they aren’t “set free” in your kitchen, speaking from experience.)
11. Bird Bingo. Find the native birds in your community. You do not need a birding book or even binoculars. Just asking your kids to step outside and observe a bird will lead to more and more interest and observation. You might even land in a birding center one day with your six year old (it can happen)!
12. Fishing. No matter where you live in DFW, you are not too far from somewhere you can fish. Fishing can be a great tool for learning responsibility of equipment, respect for animals, and even following laws.
13. Nature journaling. This is a great way to get out every day. Get a journal and set a goal for your family to go outside and write something about what you found or observed in nature. This will get your child’s observation skills going!
14. Push their boundaries. Whether it’s rock climbing, bike riding, or hiking, allow your kids to go beyond their own (and your) comfort zone. Encourage them to go farther, climb higher, and hike longer. Nature is the perfect place to build confidence and take some risks.
15. Play in the dark. Get out at night to look at the stars or to play tag with flashlights.
16. Nature center. Nature centers are quiet forces of learning in a community. You might pass over a birding center or nature reserve for a bright new playground, but give them a shot. They usually have loads of learning resources and have free or cheap excursions perfect for a family day.
17. Climb a tree. Tree climbing is a lost art these days. Encourage your kids to climb high, use problem solving and planning skills to conquer the trees in your neighborhood. But do not forget the best way is to show them yourself!
18. Bring their toys outside. There is no such thing as an inside toy! Toy dinosaurs, animals, or dolls can find new adventures out and about in nature. Take some dinosaur figurines into the yard and create a prehistoric scene!
19. Find local farms. Even in a large city, farm experiences aren’t too far away. Small family farms and pick-your-own farms can be a fun way to make a connection with where food comes from and to spark an interest in agriculture. Places like these usually like small groups and often have great educational opportunities and family events.
20. Create art. Let nature be your muse! Sketching, painting, or photography — let your kids capture what they see out in nature in whatever medium they wish.