Spending time in nature is good for kids. Playing outside helps them to grow up strong and healthy and gives them an appreciation for our world.
Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to convince them to put down their devices and join the real world. Here are nineteen ideas you can use to lure them outside and give them a lifelong love of nature. Plus, there's even a free Nature Scavenger Hunt printable for your kids to enjoy at the end of this article.
1) Start in your own back yard.
Checking out your own neighborhood gives kids a chance to explore surroundings that are familiar to them. You can point out how things change throughout the seasons or the years and they can continue to watch things grow and evolve. This is great for kids who aren't very adventurous, too.
If you live on a farm or in the country, take your kids out exploring the trees and the fields in your area. They might find interesting plants or animals, and they'll certainly find adventure.
2) Take advantage of the seasons.
Nature has a great way of keeping things interesting. From baby animals in the spring to colorful leaves in autumn, each season offers new wonders to explore.
3) Give them a camera or binoculars.
My boys have all had cameras from an early age. They loved the opportunity to capture their own views and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing their perspectives in their photographs.
Here's a tip: Buy your children a used camera so they can take better quality photos without having to worry about scratching or breaking a brand new camera.
And nothing makes a kid feel more like an explorer than a pair of binoculars. Choose ones the right size for them and then turn them loose to see what they can find.
4) Let them bring friends.
One of the fastest ways I've found to get my boys to relax and have fun is to invite their friends on our adventures.
5) Encourage them to get dirty.
A successful day outdoors should result in a messy kid. Have them dress accordingly, in old clothes and shoes, so they are free to fun and jump into whatever adventure calls their names.
6) Let them be brave and adventurous.
As parents we want our kids to be safe. Sometimes, though, we need to let them try something thrilling and wild. Within reason, let them take some risks so they can know the thrill of adventure.
The following picture is the perfect example of that. While visiting Palisade Head in Lake Superior's North Shore, my teenage boys wanted look over the edge of its sheer cliff. As a parent, my reflex was to tell them, "NO!" Instead, I held my breath and even took a picture of them. They were careful, crawling slowly to the edge and then gasped at how wild it felt to be so far above the water. It was one of the highlights of the trip for them and they still talk about it today.
7) Let them go at their own pace.
When you are out in nature, leave your schedule behind. Nothings ruins a fun adventure more than having to hurry. Let your kids go at their own pace so they can relax and enjoy the experience.
Each child moves at their own pace, whether due to age or personality. In our family, we have two teenagers and a kindergartener. My husband will often take the older boys in one direction, while my youngest boy and I go our own way. That way no one feels rushed or held back and we all have a fun time.
8) Try a scavenger hunt.
When I was young, I used to love scavenger hunts. My mom would make a list for us and we had to explore the neighborhood to find everything on it. (She later confided in me that it was one of her tricks for getting peace and quiet around the house.)
Scavenger hunts are a great way to get kids to explore the outdoors. They are great boredom busters, too. If your kids are having a day where they can't figure out what to do, send them on a scavenger hunt. Watch at the end of this article for a free scavenger hunt printable that you can print up for your kids to enjoy!
9) Have them plant something.
There is nothing that ties you more closely to nature than planting something. Whether you're planting a garden or a tree, seeing it sprout and grow teaches children about life, nature and stewardship. Turn your kids loose in the dirt. Give them some seeds or a little tree and let them be in charge of it. They will learn responsibility as they water it and feel pride as it grows.
10) Get them out there as often as possible.
Make exploring nature a common activity and they will continue it when they're adults. Go on walks, make pit stops at interesting places and point out fascinating bugs and unique leaves daily. We were on a routine walk when we found the deer tracks pictured below.
11) Let them take the lead.
When kids feel like they're in charge, they are more likely to cooperate. Give them some input into your destination or activities. You can have a family meeting to plan an outing, or simply let them choose between two outdoor adventure ideas. If you're hiking on a trail, let them lead for a while. Find ways that allow them to lead and they will get more out of your time in nature.
12) Have a goal.
Sometimes the best way to get kids excited about nature is to give them a challenge. Catching butterflies, climbing to the top of a hill or finding animal tracks are a few fun examples of challenge-related activities.
13) Build a fort.
Whether it's a snow fort or a tree fort, building a fort will bring hours of entertainment to your kids.
14) Watch the stars, sun and moon.
The skies are an amazing playground for children's imaginations. Take them out looking at stars and finding constellations. Watch the moon rise together. In August of this year (2017) there will be a full solar eclipse. Plan for it with your children and make it a family event.
The photo below is from an eclipse in 2012. The boys and I made viewing boxes for it and then went out on a hillside for the event. We still talk about it today!
15) Sign up for a field trip.
Many communities offer special outdoor classes for kids that are open to everyone. Many state and national parks and wildlife refuges do, too. These are fantastic ways to explore new areas and get kids closer to nature.
16) Feed the birds together.
Kids will feel closer to nature when they learn to care for it. Set up a bird feeder in your yard and let your child be responsible for filling it. Learn about the different birds that visit the feeder, too.
The picture below is of a pine cone bird feeder my son and I made. You can read about how to make them with your children, too right here.
17) Honor their personalities.
Some children are more daring than others. Plan activities that suit your child's personality and give them opportunities to broaden their limits. If you have a daring child, find exciting adventures that give him or her a chance to feel the adrenaline pump. If your child is more cautious, give them safe spaces to explore so they feel comfortable.
Our youngest son does not like the water. On a family trip to the shores of Lake Superior, we gave him plenty of time and space to get used to the water and we let him choose whether or not to put his feet in. After some time he did dip his toes in the lake and had so much fun. He felt proud and brave and that success brought him one step closer to having a lifelong love of nature.
18) Check out state and national parks.
Camping, hiking and exploring make fantastic family vacations and one day outings. The state and national parks are very affordable, too. This year the National Park Service even has weekends that are free!
19) Keep trying.
Even if your child doesn't get excited about nature, keep giving them opportunities to fall in love with it. It took Jody Doll twelve years to get her daughter, Madalin, excited about birds. They went out on many excursions together and it wasn't until they found a tiny Saw-whet Owl that Madalin got hooked on birding. Now she asks Jody to go out birding with her and even keeps her own list of birds she has seen.
I hope these ideas will help you get your kids excited about nature. I have used each of them myself and, as a result, my family has countless memories to share. I will admit, though, that most of the outings start out with the kids complaining. By the end of the adventure, though, they are laughing and having fun.
Enjoy these activities with the children in your life and be sure to download your free Nature Scavenger Hunt printable. May you and your children make many memories together in the great outdoors.
A special thank you to Lake Time Magazine for featuring this article in their publication!