We all know how addicting Playstations and Xboxes can be for kids. In a technological world, the idea of going outside to a child seems about as foreign as visitors from another planet (although, that would be cool, right?)
With spring time fast approaching, we thought we’d take the liberty of getting together some of our own favorite outdoor pastimes, as well as some new ideas that you can use to help get your kids outdoors and away from the TV, even if it’s only for a few hours a week. The more time kids spend outside, the less likely they are to succumb to childhood obesity and the side effects associated with it.
Outdoor Activities for Toddlers
This idea comes from a blog called Toddler Toddler and is one of the cutest ideas we’ve seen in a while. The basic premise of the project is to print out their “Alphabet Bugs,” which are simply pieces of paper with the letters of the alphabet printed on them. Each letter is shaped like a bug. Parents then head out into the yard and hide the letters on chairs, around trees, and even in the grass, and proceed to walk around the yard with their toddler helping them find all of the letters of the alphabet. If they are already familiar with their ABC’s, encourage them to make a checklist as they walk around the yard to ensure that they get all of the different letters of the alphabet. If you want to add a bit of a challenge, try to spell out words with the letters in the yard and see if your little ones can piece together the different letters to make the word that you left out for them. You can find all of the materials you need for the project here:
No Mess Painting
Another great idea from Toddler Toddler is one involving painting. Painting with a child is simply asking for a mess. Luckily, there’s an easy way you can get your kids outside and reduce the amount of mess you encounter to zero. Basically, you’re going to need some type of old cylindrical container. An old oatmeal container works the best, as it’s long enough to fit a full-sized sheet of paper, and big enough inside to let the paint fly around. With an empty container available, tuck a sheet of paper inside of it. Next, find some rocks or old crayons that you can dip in child’s paint to toss into the container as well. Don’t dunk the crayons in paint, as you only want a little bit of paint to go around. Next seal the lid of the oatmeal container and let your kids have at it. Let them run around outside, tossing the container around, or kicking it along the grass. As the container tumbles, the paint covered crayons are going to splatter paint onto the piece of paper inside the cylinder and make a painting.
Peek A Boo
Because toddler’s don’t have what’s known as object permanence, or the ability to understand why you haven’t actually disappeared when you cover your face with your hands, peek a boo is a great way to keep them entertained while you’re outside. Plop your toddler down onto the grass in the middle of the garden and hide behind trees or other things in your yard. You can sneak up behind them and tickle them or giggle in their ears. Peek a boo only works on toddlers for so long, so be sure to take full advantage of this adorable activity before they grow too old for it!
If you’d just like to get out of the house for a few hours and get away from things like the TV, as we mentioned in the intro paragraphs, why not just go for a walk? Because your toddler still has a lot of learning to do, when you’re on the walk, why not introduce your little one to new words that you may not have said to them before. Because the number of words in nature are almost endless, start by pointing out things like flowers, trees, and birds.
While your young one may not remember everything you tell them, every little bit helps. And when your toddler can finally walk by themselves, try taking them to different parks and nature trails that are bound to be found in your city. Different environments stimulate young minds, so introducing your little one to different places that they probably haven’t ever seen before is a good way to get their imagination working and moving.
Mapping Where You Live
As much as we’d like to get away from modern technology, many of the tools at our finger tips are practically invaluable. Google Maps for instance can help your toddler learn their way around the neighborhood, or even through the downtown area of your city. To do this activity, we recommend printing out a map of your local area and sitting down with your toddler to show them how maps work. Have them pick out something like a lake or cul-de-sac and walk with them to that area.
By guiding them through the map and showing them how they get to each new place, they’ll be able to better understand navigation when you go on bigger journeys. Although navigational skills are seemingly becoming a thing of the past with GPSes becoming as commonplace as a new pair of shoes, giving your toddlers the skills they need to be able to figure out where they are in the future is not only good for safety reasons, it’s a good practical skill to have.
Outdoor Activities for Pre-Schoolers
Once you get past the awkward stages of your little guy or gal not being able to really walk or talk too much, a whole new world of outdoor activities opens up. Pre-Schoolers are by far the easiest to entertain. They’re at a point where they finally have an idea of what’s going on around them and aren’t completely addicted to the TV or video games that have become an issue for much of the world’s youth. Below are a few things you can do with your kids to get them outside and playing instead of being “bored” inside all day. Some of these activities require adult supervision, so remember to keep an eye on your children as they play in the yard.
As a kid, I vividly remember a treasure hunt that we had at a friend’s birthday party one year. I had wished that my parents were able to throw a treasure hunt for me as well, but because our yard wasn’t big enough, it never got to happen. If you’ve got the space, take a few minutes to draw up a map and some clues for your little ones to follow. Remember to make the clues pretty simple to follow, as your little ones probably won’t be able to solve Sherlock Holmes type riddles just yet. Hide a small reward or other activity at the end of the treasure hunt for them to find. You can make this as simple or as complex as you’d like, as there are an endless number of possibilities you can investigate when setting up a treasure hunt for your preschoolers. If you’d like to incorporate spelling and learning into the mix, you can have your child find hidden letters or numbers around the yard to help solve puzzles that will lead them to new clues.
We found this idea online a long time ago and wish we could remember where, as we thought it was pretty genius. Shapes are an important part of any pre-schoolers education, however they’re often tough to identify by young ones. If you have some sidewalk chalk lying around, head outside and draw multiple versions of different shapes on the sidewalk so that you have a few triangles, squares, circles, rectangles, etc drawn in the shape of a hopscotch board. Then, play hopscotch as you would normally, but instead of using numbers as the basis for how to move forward, use the shapes that you’ve drawn to help your pre-schooler understand which shapes are which. If they haven’t learned shapes yet, you can substitute the shapes for things like colors or letters of the alphabet to help them learn.
Go to the Park
Believe it or not, parks still exist! Have a look online to find the best city parks for kids (to check if they have things like swings, trails, playsets) and make an afternoon of the trip. You can pack a picnic and have your pre-school aged child help you pack the lunch you want to bring. Going to the park is an easy way to get out of the house without having to design an activity beforehand. There are often plenty of things to do at the park, and even other kids that your young one may get to meet and get along with.
While this one is an indoor activity, the implementation is for outside use. This one will require a few materials from your local hardware store, but is definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon with your little one. If your mailbox is getting a little old or you’re looking for a change, why not have your pre-schooler help you out with building a new one? All you need to do is either buy a premade mailbox from a hardware store to get started, or figure out how to build one out of aluminum or plastic. With your new mailbox ready to go, buy a pack of outdoor paints that are child-safe and let help your child paint a new mailbox for the house. Unless you have restrictions in your neighborhood, the sky is the limit on what you can paint onto your mailbox and still have your mail delivered. You can even add stencils to the mix to get cool shapes and colors for your mail delivery unit.
You probably won’t find this idea on any other websites, as this was something my friends and I came up with when I was pretty young. I got a big box of sidewalk chalk one year for a birthday of mine and at the time, I thought it would be a great idea to turn the cul-de-sac we lived in into a fully fledged soccer field. My dad helped me trace out the lines around the road so that I’d have something to play in between, and with some old traffic cones we had lying around, we were able to set up a soccer field that my friends and I could play on. Sidewalk chalk is pretty cheap, so the only real investment in this one is the time to both draw a few straight lines down a street, as well as the supervising of your kids.
Outdoor Summer Activities for Kids
We’re going to define kids as a very broad term that covers a big range of ages. Depending on the maturity of your child and how much you trust him or her to play by themselves, some of these ideas may work for you and some may not. We always recommend exercising supervision over your kids just in case something is to go wrong. Many of these aren’t new ideas, but you may not have thought of some of them in a while (since you were a kid!) We hope that you find something that your children can enjoy during the hot summer months, as it’s the best time to be outside.
Who doesn’t remember running through the sprinkler as a kid? If you have a hose pipe and a sprinkler available in your yard, send your kids outside in their bathing suits to run through the cool water for an hour or two. As an added bonus, you also get to water your yard in the process. It’s easy to get setup, and if your kids are the right age, they’ll probably run through the water until they’re soaked and tired.
Kids love the idea of setting up a business for themselves, and what better way to help them get started than with a lemonade stand. All you need is a packet of lemonade from your local grocery store and a cardboard box or wooden stand that you can build for them to set up on the street corner with. As with all child-run business ventures, it’s best to keep an eye on your kids as they interact with customers. Although you trust your neighbors, there may be people driving by who aren’t as friendly or as safe as you’d like to hope they are. Set up a stand with your kids one afternoon while you’re mowing the lawn or working in the garden so that you can keep an eye on them.
Water Balloon Fights
Another great idea to cool off during the hot summer months is to buy some water balloons for a big water balloon fight. You can often pick up a few hundred water balloons at the dollar store, which is where I normally buy mine. If you don’t already have the adapter for your outside faucet, these can be found in water balloon kits or at party stores. The nozzle helps you fill the balloons faster and with a lower breakage rate. When my kids fight outside with water balloons, I try to get an old bucket or basin that we can fill up with pre-filled water balloons and then let them run around the yard grabbing more balloons as they see fit. They take a while to fill up, but water balloon fights are definitely a blast.
Ah, fishing. I remember the days of father-son fishing bonding when I was a kid. Fishing is a very cheap way to kill an afternoon, as all it requires is some leftover food in your fridge for bait and a fishing rod. If you don’t already have fishing rods, you can either buy a fancy one from the store or make one out of some twine and a stick you find in the back yard. You can buy hooks from just about any hardware store or superstore (like Walmart or Target) for a dollar or two. Before you head out fishing though, be sure to have an idea of where it is you’d like to go. Some states and lakes require a permit to fish, while others allow free reign over fishing. Do your homework before you head to a public lake or fish sanctuary without a license. You get nailed with a hefty fine.
If there are any homeless shelters in your area, consider taking your kids to volunteer for an afternoon. Weekends are generally the busiest time of the week and any extra hands the organization can get are more than welcomed. Bring your kids down for a few hours to get some sunshine and to either help serve food to the homeless people in your community or to clean up around the grounds.
This one obviously depends on where you live in the country. If you live close to a beach, this one shouldn’t be any trouble to get into. The beach is always full of different ways to have fun. A neat thing you could try is take your kids to the beach for a day on the weekend along with some of your small gardening tools. My mother always had small shovels and buckets lying around from when she’d plant new things in the garden, and they were very easy to repurpose into beach toys for myself and my brother. If you’re going to do this though, be careful which shovels and tools you pick. Some are sharper than others and can hurt little hands if you’re not careful. As mentioned in one of the above tips, you can always pack a picnic to draw out the afternoon with some food and snacks in between swimming in the ocean.
Movies have really made summer camp out to be the devil’s hideout: a place that kids not only dread, but are tortured over the course of the summer. Luckily, summer camps aren’t at all like this and are actually an amazing way for your kids to spend the summer. Summer camps come in two primary varieties. There’s one type where you send your child away for a few weeks at a time and have them enjoy a number of different activities while they’re away from home, and some that are only day camps. Day camps are places where your kids can go during the day while you’re at work and you can pick them up later in the afternoon when you finish up. Day camps are relatively inexpensive and provide a variety of different activities for your kids to do every day they go. Everything from swimming to group field trips can be found at summer camps. If you can convince their friends’ parents to send their children as well, your little one will have someone they know when they start at camp as well.
Build a Bird Feeder
This one may need the help of a parent to follow through with, as you probably don’t want your son or daughter playing with power tools all by themselves. This design is courtesy of the Martha Stewart website and is really a great idea for how you can make an easy birdfeeder without power tools. Basically, all you need is a mesh bag (you can probably get one of these from the next bag of oranges you buy) and some basic ingredients aren’t the kitchen. Take some peanut butter and vegetable shortening and put it in a small cup that you can put into the microwave. When the peanut butter has been melted, quickly stir in some flour and quick cooking breakfast oats and make a thick mixture within the cup. Let the whole thing cool and settle and take the newly formed peanut butter mold out of the cup it was sitting in. Plop it into the mesh bag you have and hang it from a tree. All of the flavor in the peanut butter mixture will attract birds faster than ever! Be sure to hang this from a tree that isn’t too high to reach, as you don’t want to have to get the ladder back out again when all of the food has been eaten.
Being Involved as a Parent
So, up to this point we’ve been listing off a number of different activities that you can suggest to your kids to prevent them from being bored inside during their summer vacation months. But as a parent, should you be outside with your kids while they have fun with their friends, or should you let them explore on their own and only watch from inside the house to make sure they’re not lighting the grass on fire?
Being a successful parent is a mixture of both things. First of all, you have to be aware of what your kids are up to at all times. As much as we’d like (I know, I’ve had the same thoughts myself) to just watch TV in a lethargic position on the couch after a hard week at work, there’s an unspoken obligation to also spend time with your kids as well. As pesky as they may seem, always wanting juice and cookies right before dinner, spending time with your children is just as important as having cool ideas for them to try out when they go out to play with their friends as well.
If you’re super busy like I am, don’t think that you have to spend every waking moment with your kids to help them develop their football throwing arm or their painting skills. I take 3 or 4 hours out of my day every Saturday or Sunday to go to the park or to play in the yard with my little ones. It’s tough to do sometimes when you have a pile of work to do just calling your name, but you’ll feel a lot better about your relationship with your children if you take the time to play with them and try out some new activities (like the ones listed above).
While we think we’ve covered quite a few ideas in the above sections, if you’re looking for additional ways to get your kids outside and playing with their friends as opposed to sitting in front of a computer or television screen, try the following websites. Whether your child is aged 3 or 10, each of these sites has different ideas about what you can do with your child either on the weekend or during summer vacation when there’s not much else going on in the neighborhood. And who knows, maybe if you don’t end up picking one of the ideas you find here or on these sites, you could end up coming up with your own quirky or wild activity that you’d like to share. If that’s the case, feel free to share it in the comments below.
We tried to make all of these ideas cost effective so you’re not out of pocket thousands of dollars erecting a life-size rocket to the moon in the backyard just to get your kids interested in playing outdoors, so if you have something to share, please try to remember that most of us aren’t terribly rich.
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