Children and Nature: Outdoor Activities for Kids and Families

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In my last blog post, Children and Nature: Raising a Nature Conscious Child, I referenced “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. The concept helps us understand how nature affects our children’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Scientific studies confirm the many benefits of getting outside more frequently. While the changing of the seasons is drawing near, there is still time to enjoy a nice summer day (and then one in the fall, winter, and spring!). Here are my top 10 suggestions for activities that will get your kids (and you!) outside to enjoy nature and combat nature deficit disorder. 

  1. Make a leaf collection. Take a walk around your neighborhood and collect leaves from different plants. Use a leaf press or heavy book to dry and flatten the leaves. Later, look them up and help your child make a neighborhood tree guide. 
  2. See the changing seasons.  As autumn approaches, teach your kids about the annual weather cycles, and why we have different seasons. How many different colored leaves can they find? Teach them why some leaves change colors and fall while others do not. A good resource is the American Forest Foundation.
  3. Take a picture. If your children enjoy photography, help them explore nature and share it with others through their photos. Taking a “bird’s eye” or “bug’s eye” point of view with the camera can encourage them to see the flora and fauna from a different perspective.
  4. Go camping. Encourage the kids to camp out in your backyard under the stars or in a tent. Growing up, my favorite place to camp was on the trampoline in our backyard. The National Wildlife Federation has great tips for your next campout on their Great American Backyard Campout page.
  5. Feed the birds. Make a bird feeder and identify the birds that come to eat. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great website for identifying birds and learning their different songs. 
  6. Stargaze. Find a place that has limited lights, lay a blanket on the ground, and watch the night sky. The best time to observe the stars is when the moon is smaller and there is less light to obstruct your view. Sky and Telescope’s website is a good tool for learning about the different constellations and changes in the night sky. When the moon is full, go for a family walk. It is amazing how bright the night sky can be. Notice the different animals that are out at night and all the distinctive nighttime sounds.
  7. Garden for wildlife. Create a wildlife-friendly habitat in your own backyard by maintaining a birdbath, planting a flowerbed that attracts butterflies, or placing native plants in your lawn. More ideas can be found online at the National Wildlife Federation.
  8. Harvest your own food. Start a backyard garden or take a trip to a local farm.  There are many private and commercial farms and orchards that are open to the public and allow you to pick your own fruits and vegetables.
  9. Raise butterflies. This is something that I have never done, but I’m excited to try! The Butterfly School offers a step-by-step tutorial.
  10. Rock hunt. When my husband was a little boy, this was one of his favorite things to do. There was a field near his house where he could find quartz, crystals, and arrowheads. Rocks (and sea shells too) can serve as mementos from family trips or special occasions. I will always treasure my collected stones. 

When you get outdoors, you will promote your family’s health and create priceless memories along the way. Even today, my aunt remains grateful to her mother for teaching her to appreciate nature. She says that on a bright day she can't look at clouds without seeing a camel, a dog, a bird, or a whale. On a dark night, she can’t look at the stars without remembering how she used to watch them while lying on her parents’ quilt in their back yard. 

What memories do you have of growing up outside? It’s never to late to pass those traditions on or even create new ones.Children and Nature: Outdoor Activities for Kids and Families