Richard Louv’s national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, identifies the consequences of raising kids with a nature-deficit — these concequences include childhood obesity, attention disorders, and depression. These are 8 great ways to engage children outdoors.
Engaging kids outdoors isn’t just great for ensuring a smooth bedtime — it also helps their overall development. Spending time outside encourages confidence, body awareness, and appreciation for the environment, but also offers physical, emotional, and psychological benefits. Here are some way you can get your kids outside:
1. Visit Local Nature Centers
Many national, state, and local parks offer nature centers full of educational experiences for children of all ages. While some specialize in aquatic activities, others rehabilitate birds. Take some time this summer to visit as many different nature centers as your family can to take advantage of their wonderful programs and hands-on learning opportunities. Check out Wikipedia’s list of nature centers by state; click on your state to see an alphabetized list of centers, complete with their location, county, and summary including what each offers.
2. Hike a New Trail Every Month
The Japanese believe in the ability of forests to energize and heal the body; their word Shinrin-yoku, which translates closely to “forest bathing”, communicates their belief that regularly walking in forests can reduce stress. Fill up those water bottles and make hiking a family affair. Consider making each hike into a themed scavenger hunt and have children work on spotting different things while hiking. Pack a picnic and hike until your heart is content. Organize a color hunt, a leaf hunt, a creature hunt, you get the idea! Save some moula by investing in a local, state, and/or national parks pass.
3. Hatch Some Butterflies
Anyone can hatch butterflies! All you need is a kit and ready, set, watch. Hatching butterflies offers children the opportunity to learn about the very hungry caterpillar’s lifecycle, up close and personal. Children watch as the eggs hatch, the caterpillars grow, the chrysalis forms, and the butterflies emerge. This activity also teaches patience! You can also work on charting skills to track days as a caterpillar and days in the chrysalis. A quick Amazon search will yield many butterfly hatching options. Remember: it’s best to hatch butterflies native to your area so they’ll have a food source once released.
4. Build a Bug Habitat
Our winged friends need homes too! These woodsy creations can be small or large-scale; however it’s important to use all-natural, chemical-free materials. Bug habitats or hotels can host a variety of winged insects including bees, ladybugs, and beetles. You can purchase kits online or scavenge for some great materials. Check out this post on Nifty Homestead discussing the ins and outs of bug habitats — they have some amazing pictures as well!
5. Grow a Mint Garden
Mint is a hardy herb that thrives. Why not invest in growing several forms of mint this summer? Tip: grow it in pots because it spreads — it’s also easier to label pots to identify different varieties. It’s a great addition to beverages such as lemonade and mojitos as well as dishes including fruit salad, couscous salad, pestos, and homemade ice cream. While my kiddo loves to chomp on it straight from the plant, we add it to a variety of dishes:
- Chocolate mint on watermelon
- Peppermint in couscous salads
- Lemon mint infused water
- Apple mint in muffins
- Ginger mint mojitos and iced tea
Visit your local plant nursery, purchase some organic varieties, and enjoy the fruits of your labor! If you have the room for several varieties, invite friends over and have a taste contest. Drying mint is also easy — you can grate several delicious teas to enjoy all year long.
6. Plant a Bird-Friendly Backyard
Do a bit of research to identify native species in your area, and their food sources of choice. While some birds are insect-only or seed-only, others can enjoy both food sources. Plant plants that attract insects birds feed upon, or produce seeds birds will enjoy. You could even focus on hummingbirds and participate in the Audubon Society’s Hummingbirds at Home project. Here’s some great tips for beginning to design a bird-friendly backyard from the experts at the Audubon society.
7. Create a Flowerpot Fairy or Gnome Home
What better way to teach kids responsibility than creating a miniature garden for fairies or gnomes? Not only will children need to remember to water the garden, but they can watch the miniature plants as they grow, produce seeds, and die. Use this opportunity to teach about seed gathering and storing, so the garden can flourish next year.
8. Host Outdoor Gatherings
Sometimes, you need to be the change you want to see. Want kids outdoors more? Get a group of like-minded families together to host outdoor fun. Need some inspiration? Check out these great ideas:
- Fireflies and s’mores
- Flashlight tag
- Water balloons
- Bug Hunts
- Outdoor Collaborative Game Day (three legged races, wheelbarrow races, egg relay…)
- Rock collecting and painting
- Bike parade
- Planting party (every participant brings a different type of seed)
- Make a nature collage
- Stack and balance rocks
Leave the electronics inside, and try to enjoy the outdoors at least once a week.