By Jan Hatchett
Today’s parents and adults feel stressed, but they often inadvertently create the same situation in their children’s lives when they enroll them in a myriad of classes, sports, and extra-curricular activities. Combined with school hours, homework, family and/or church obligations, this leaves little time to think, ponder, or explore the outdoors without pressure. Our kids are feeling the stress. Why not let them loose with some unstructured outdoor activities for kids?
While both kids and adults report experiencing reduced stress levels when participating in unstructured outdoor activities, spending time in green spaces, this time is a valuable socialization time as well. Children have traditionally played in homemade forts or clubhouses and gathered their friends around them. Having extra people to join in a game of jump rope or a race to the end of the road encourages friendships and opportunities for minor conflict resolution. Even we adults enjoy hiking or camping with a friend along. For the more socially minded, having a friend along can make any activity in nature seem like more fun.
For parents who want to increase their time outdoors with their kids, there are quite a few options to explore. Many different paths can lead to the same end goal. Here are unstructured outdoor activities for kids, many of them completely free.
Got a Yard? Use it!
These all can be done in the backyard; no matter what size yard you have to work with.
- See how many insects you can identify
- Find out how many different-shaped leaves there are
- Read aloud to your child outside
- Teach neighborhood kids how to play some of the old standard outdoor games like Red Rover and Duck, Duck, Goose
- Run through the sprinkler on the lawn
- Look for faces in the clouds
- Play frisbee, catch, or tag
- Build a tree house, fort, or even just a tent with sheets. Imagination soars in these structures!
- Practice your handstands and cartwheels
- Make a flower necklace or practice your whistling skills on a thick blade of grass
Plant a Small Garden
Even herbs on a windowsill help to teach kids about plants and nature and provides a connection when unable to be outside. Some seed companies sell kits to make playhouses out of teepee frames and pole beans with flowers, etc. It’s a combination of food and a shelter to play in.
Walk a Dog
Borrow one if you must, or check out the local animal shelter or rescue organization for a new best friend. Even kids who aren’t really keen on the outdoors understand that you must walk and exercise this new friend. Walking can eventually graduate into throwing a ball or Frisbee or playing in the hose with a four-legged friend.
Explore Your Local Parks
Parks for perfect places for unstructured outdoor activities for kids. There are park areas in many neighborhoods and even rural areas. These are great places to play on the equipment, make a friend, or just explore. Take a picnic and some water bottles and enjoy the day!
State and National Parks and Public Spaces
For a modest parking fee (we love getting a Georgia Park Pass every year), you have access to many different types of environments, hiking, walking trails, nature programming, swimming, fishing, and more! Some parks offer free classes on bird, plant, butterfly, and amphibian identification—perfect for the budding naturalist in your family. Throw in an inexpensive field guide and check out everything new you see.
Kids in urban areas often have access to programs that are specifically geared toward getting kids into nature. Check with your local schools, churches, and recreation offices. These camps are usually well run and offer some scholarships. Your child might get to try out archery, canoeing, horseback riding, and more! You never know when a new passion will develop.
Pick-your-own ___ farms are a fun place to visit. In addition to getting to taste as you harvest, these places help kids understand the connection between nature and food production. You get fresh, healthy food as a bonus to a little time outside.
Don’t forget the good ol’ standby of getting kids involved in Scouts. These organizations have decades of experience in providing outdoor programming and providing camping experiences. If Scouting isn’t your thing, check out one of the numerous church-based organizations that are providing similar experiences. Especially if your family doesn’t regularly camp, these organizations can help you to learn more about having fun out of doors while being safe.
Life is messy. Kids who play outside get dirty, sweaty, healthy, and relaxed. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that?
Jan Hatchett is a Christian wife and homeschooling mom of two amazing sons. She enjoys log cabin living, writing, quilting, crafting, sewing, reading, and horseback riding. For more of Jan’s exploits, check out www.anotherhatchettjob.wordpress.com.