“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.”
As a parent, we have all heard it—play is essential to a child’s development. Playing outdoors in nature gives added benefits. Children learn to problem-solve and think creatively through play, enhancing their cognitive skills. They build confidence, social skills, friendships, and overall well-being.
“But, Mom, there is nothing to do.”
Oh, but wait—here are some simple and fun things I guarantee kids will love. Push or pull, but get them outside in the sunshine (or even in a gentle rain) to play. Just remember to never go out with thunder.
Have a Spontaneous Picnic
My family has a special place we go for picnics—a lone pine tree with a branch that lends itself nicely as a seat. Everyone helps plan and prepare. You may have a special place in your yard or a nearby park where you can picnic on the lawn and relax in the gentle breeze of the day—finding time to be together in nature and play.
Put on your helmets and head to the bike trails. Remember to put on your sunscreen, pack a snack, and bring plenty of water.
Go on a Nature Walk
Children love to explore nature. Pack the backpack with snacks, water, and clear plastic bags to collect any interesting things they find roaming about in nature. A hike through the woods in a local nature center or at Uncle Joe’s cabin delights the soul with each season's sights, sounds, and unique smells.
Especially those lightning bugs on a warm summer night.
Have your children discovered the fun of raising monarchs? Start a neighborhood monarch club. Plant pollination gardens and collect butterfly eggs and caterpillars. Learn how to care for them and experience the joy of returning the monarchs to nature. This site has more information on how to raise monarch butterflies.
Make Some Nature Art
If they like to draw…invest in a sketchbook and pencils then head outdoors to capture nature. A tree in the yard, a flower, or the house…perhaps your child will add the things they imagine, like a tree house or rock climbing wall, an Olympic pool, or a plane landing nearby.
If they love to paint…stock up on watercolors and let your child paint the driveway—or try a painting book to journal with art daily during their summer events. Collect rocks and paint pictures of nature on them.
If they love to write…have your child journal about the outdoor adventures of each day—or whatever it is that they love. Put up a tree swing, or create a special place in the yard where they can write creatively.
Little ones love to splash in puddles and play in the mud. Encourage them to make mud pies, mud balls, and whatever else their imagination leads them to.
Play in the Sand
A sandbox will entertain children for hours on end. Give them some old dishes, trucks, and boards to make ramps, buckets, and shovels for their sand castles.
One of our favorite sandbox activities is making volcanoes. All you need is baking soda and vinegar. Let them build the mountain by adding a moat, or however they imagine it should be. Then pour in the baking soda and vinegar and watch it bubble over!
Create a backyard water park adventure, or simply let the kids run through the sprinkler. Call the neighbors, cousins, and friends, have them bring their water toys, and set them up for a fun day getting wet.
One year, my family filled a wheelbarrow with water, added lots of dish soap, took a tennis racket, and started stirring. We had mountains of bubbles and hours of fun! Run through the grass barefoot making bubbles.
Get Outside and Let the Kids Decide
Kids are great at making up games. Give them a beach ball, soccer ball, or Wiffle ball, and they will find a way to have fun and play. Kids could shoot baskets and create all sorts of physical challenges with their siblings, neighbors, and friends. I highly suggest a game of tag or its variations, including “frozen” or “freeze” tag.
Local Animal Interest Groups
Do your children love animals? Have they joined the local 4H or FFA groups? Explore the opportunities to raise a rabbit, chicken, sheep, pig, or cow and show them at your county fair.
Wow! The list goes on and on. There is so much to do all summer long. Ask your children what ideas they have for summer fun at home, in the yard, at the local park, the nature center, or someplace special where the magic of play ignites their imaginations, stimulates the brain, builds strong bodies, and develops lasting relationships.
“Studies show…that when kids don’t have the opportunity to play outside in nature, they are at higher risk for attention problems and behavior problems,” Jumaily explains. “Without proper play, kids do not have the chance to stretch their imagination and build the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and in their life. A lack of play can also stunt an individual’s social and emotional development.” All the more reason to get those kids playing outside!
“It’s a wondrous thing how the wild calms the child.”
Berry, Thomas. 2015. The Dream of the Earth. National Geographic Books.
Taylor, Andrea B., and Frances Y. Kuo. 2011. “Could Exposure to Everyday Green Spaces Help Treat ADHD? Evidence from Children’s Play Settings.” Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being 3 (3): 281–303. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01052.x.
Zapata, Kimberly. 2020. “The Importance of Play: How Kids Learn by Having Fun.” Healthline. September 28, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/the-importance-of-play#benefits.
“The Benefits of Nature Play for Children.” 2020. First Five Years. February 27, 2020. https://www.firstfiveyears.org.au/early-learning/the-benefits-of-nature-play-for-children.
“How To Raise Monarch Butterflies At Home.” n.d. Save Our Monarchs. Accessed July 5, 2023. https://www.saveourmonarchs.org/how-to-raise-monarch-butterflies-at-home.html.
“30+ Quotes About Children and Nature That Will Inspire Outdoor Play.” Little Pine Learners - Natured-Inspired Activities, September 26, 2022. https://littlepinelearners.com/30-quotes-about-children-and-nature-that-will-inspire-outdoor-play/.
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