by Jennifer Fontaine – There’s a great, big, awe-inspiring world out there just waiting to captivate, provoke, and intrigue our kids, all while making them healthier and happier. There is an ever-growing pile of evidence that tells us, time spent outside reduces stress, encourages cooperation, raises compassion, and has even been shown to improve focus, creative thought, and test scores.
Getting outside more also helps maintain stronger muscles and bones, better eyesight, and gives our immune system a helping hand. In fact, when kids are more connected with nature, we all win, because children grow up with a greater sense of environmental responsibility.
Faced with abounding school and extracurricular schedules — and the growing fixation of screens — getting kids to spend time outside can be difficult. That’s why we’ve partnered with the Sierra Club’s Outdoor Challenge to give you and your kids a few simple, fun ways to get out in nature.
18 Ways For Families To Get Outside This Summer
Be inspired by our top 18 tips and suggestions for getting outside, including nature crafts, bird watching, adventurous activities, and more. Then, head over to the Sierra Club’s Outdoor Challenge page and sign up! A pledge to the Outdoor Challenge is a pledge to help your kids explore more, enjoy more, while also making a difference. It’s a win-win!
Kayaking is an excellent low-impact activity that improves aerobic fitness, increases muscle strength, especially in the back, arms, shoulders, and chest, and adds to your flexibility. And time spent with nature in a small vessel, such as a kayak, provides a close look at the natural habitat of many birds and animals.
2. Paddle Boarding
Part of the appeal of paddleboarding is that it’s an activity almost anyone can participate in. Whether you are young or old, athletic or a couch potato, if you can stand up, you can SUP! When you SUP, you also activate your muscles in a therapeutic way to balance, which makes this makes it a great form of low impact exercise. It’s also a fantastic way to help reduce stress and promote calm by simply getting out on the water and having fun.
Hiking with kids can be an extremely rewarding activity for the whole family. Not only does a hike through nature keep kids physically active, but it has been proven to improve mental health and a sense of well-being as well. Kids who grow up hiking have an appreciation for wilderness and grow up to have a greater desire to protect outdoor spaces for future generations. And of course, hiking with kids is economical: families can get outdoors and explore hiking trails with minimal gear and very little investment. Just make sure to bring lots of water and yummy snacks!
4. Container Gardening
If you’re looking for an engaging outdoor activity that allows the whole family to participate, consider a family container garden. Along with the fun of getting dirty, gardening helps children learn valuable lessons about patience as they wait for vegetables to grow, responsibility as they see how necessary their care is to the garden, and even loss when flowers die at the end of a season.
5. Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Outdoor scavenger hunts encourage hands-on learning and increased memory of previously taught concepts, while also allowing kids to practice problem-solving in a tangible way. It’s a travel-anywhere ‘toy’ that entertains your child, boosts cognitive development, promotes physical activity and social skills, and encourages a growth mindset. What more could you ask for?
6. Bird Watching
Bird watching can be as relaxing as a sitting in your backyard or as vigorous as a hike in the backcountry. Even better, it is something you can do as a family – it gets you outdoors and connecting with each other as well as the environment. Birding is even known to increase a child’s power of observation and memory, by employing recognition and listening skills.
7. Forest Bathing
Forest bathing combines nature with mindfulness, using all five senses to promote mental and body health. As a practice, it’s less about getting in cardio or burning calories as tracked by your fitness app and more about slowing down to appreciate the sights, sounds, scents, and tactile sensations of nature. Similarly to yoga or meditation, those who practice forest bathing get a respite from everyday stress to focus on the outdoors.
8. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking teaches kids how to deal with challenges. Remember your first time on a mountain bike? Getting familiar with the feel of the bike, how and when to shift, brake, where to look down the trail – all the important “first steps” integral to building an enjoyable experience. Children learn how to focus on what’s essential as their surroundings whiz by, an indispensable skill not only in mountain biking, but in school, too.
9. Backyard Campout
Camping is more than just good for the soul. The National Wildlife Foundation reports that it actually increases imagination and cognitive focus, and leads to longer, healthier lives. Camping also builds self-reliance and leadership skills, and reinforces resourcefulness. Make sure you’re prepared for your first family camping trip. Download our camping packing checklist!
10. Outdoor Crafts
Making sure your kids are expressing their creativity is an essential part of growing up. There are a ton of great benefits to crafting with your children. Being creative with your children allows them to express themselves through art. Outdoor crafts also allow children to intimately examine nature, and develop problem solving and planning skills.
11. Star Gazing
Stargazing is an engaging educational activity for kids that can teach them about math, astronomy, the environment and mythology. It also offers a great opportunity to introduce your child to math concepts such as counting, identifying shapes, and tracing patterns.
Being in the water is fun, plus remember that swimming is the only sport which can save your child’s life. In addition to safety, there are huge physical benefits to swimming, such as the full-body cardiovascular and respiratory workout. This develops a child’s stamina, flexibility and muscle strength using the water as resistance, and also builds their concentration and their confidence.
13. Fly a Kite
Flying a kite isn’t only fun, it’s also beneficial. In addition to the obvious gross motor skills, kids learn a deeper understanding of aerodynamics, science, physics, weather, and ecology. Kite flying also helps develop hand-eye coordination and kinesthetic awareness. Take your kite flying lessons a step further by making your own kite.
14. Shop at a Farmers Market
The farmers market isn’t just a place to pick out tasty grub for next week, it can be a great place for learning and growing knowledge about our food chain. Understanding what local food is gives kids a sense of appreciation for their meals, and shopping at a local farmers market can make this concept a little more concrete.
15. Participate In a Park Clean-Up
Family clean up activities are an opportunity to teach the future generation about environmental stewardship as you pick up garbage left behind, together. Not only will your kids learn how to respect nature, it can also be an opportunity to teach your children practical life skills such as tidying up the house.
Exploring, adventure, fresh air, and technology! Get it all with this modern day treasure hunting activity. Geocaching allows kids to really focus on the landscape, encourages them to consider their environment and has the added benefit of helping them use a map, plot a course, and properly navigate to each treasure location.
17. Backyard Science
Backyard science experiments are an incredibly effective means of getting children interacting with the world around them. Science is all around us – our bodies, in nature, through cooking, and gardening, to name just a few.
18. Make S’mores
Complete the Sierra Club’s Outdoor Challenge with a BANG by hanging with the fam around a cozy campfire, the ultimate outdoor treat in hand. This challenge only lasts until August 10, National S’Mores Day, so sign up the whole family today!
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.