In this day of mass consumer marketing and more factory-made plastic toys than you could even fathom, it’s no wonder families are getting bogged down with stuff rather than appreciating the simplicity that childhood offers.
But what I see as the bigger problem is that parents are losing confidence with how to engage their kids in simple, creative, and healthy play without TV, gadgets, or other highly-marketed mainstream toys (you know the ones that all the kids seem to have that typically correlate with the popular Netflix show of the year?). We are spoon-fed the notion that kids need a massive assortment of toys in order to be entertained and happy, which is simply not the case. Plus, keeping up with the Jones’s playroom is expensive and makes your house look like a chaotic explosion of plastic and primary colours. And I can’t stand primary colours.
So how about this wild thought: get outside. Just go! And as you begin to see the outdoors as an incredibly diverse playground, you might be able to let go of the expectations of all the things your kids should have. Need some ideas? Here are 20 creative outdoor activities that you could do right now with young children.
20 Creative Outdoor Activities for Young Children
- Create a fairy garden. Sure, this could get overboard and junky if you’re not careful. But use your imagination and look for natural materials to build paths, shelters, bridges and doors instead of store-bought resin pieces.
- Transplant wildflowers into pots. If your location allows for it, see if you can track down some wild flowers and find them a home in some patio pots or planters, or maybe a kids garden? Your kids can help you choose which flowers to move and will be thrilled take on the watering.
- Make animal houses. This is one of my favourites! You can literally think of a hundred different critters to build shelters for, and it doesn’t matter if it’s realistic or even appealing to the animal. The point is that you’re tapping into your child’s natural empathy and encouraging their imagination. It also offers ample opportunity to check whether the critters visit their new homes.
- Lay out an obstacle course. You can tailor this to the developmental stage of your children , upping the ante for those that need more challenge. My toddlers love to hope from stone to stone, run up and over sand piles, and weave through low-hanging branches. The opportunities are endless here.
- Sand play. Yes, this comes from my counselling background (sand play is an actual therapeutic modality) but I am always struck by how kids naturally gravitate to sand (or dirt) and seem to be calmed when playing with it. With a few containers or spoons to use as tools, your young ones will certainly be entertained.
- Create nature mandalas. This is one of those things that is great for kids, but in all honesty, I am in love with mandalas and want more time to create them. Depending on their age, your kids may or may not be interested in creating symmetry or any specific design, but remember the key is the process of creativity using nature rather than the end result.
- Cook soup. Is it just me or did we all grow up making odd concoctions in the kitchen sink, rain-soaked pale, or mud puddle? Kids absolutely love mixing things up and seeing what happens, so let them have at it outside! My girls are entertained for hours making “soup” in a recycling bin filled with water. We just have to explain (over and over) to my 1-year-old that it isn’t real soup. Sigh.
- Paint rocks. Consider digging out those water colours or other water soluble paint and use stones as your canvas. Either leave them out to dry or wash them off to use again and again.
- Build a nature supplies stash. In our household, we love to collect natural things and organize them into piles, or maybe even divy them up at the next stuffed animal tea party. Things like pinecones, twigs, stones, straw, seeds, and fallen petals work great. This also leads right into sorting games for wee ones.
- Follow the leader. No explanation needed. Simple, silly, and fun. Just make sure to give the kids a turn!
- Examine bugs. This one is always a challenge for me. I don’t want to teach my daughters to be grossed out by bugs or reptiles (like I am) so when they ask me to pick something up, I grit my teeth and bear it. Or you could just follow the little critters with a magnifying glass instead.
- Make a hang-out nook. Where is the coolest outdoor spot you can find to build a little nest for your kiddos? Maybe they pretend they are animals finding somewhere to hunker down.
- Build bird houses. Or find one to paint from the local dollar store.
- Go on “adventures.” We love the word adventure in our house because it dresses up the most mundane activities. Let’s go on an adventure to take out the garbage! I say to the girls, and they race to get their shoes on! How thrilling right? Not really, but you catch my drift.
- Pick wildflower bouquets. Or better yet, challenge yourself to find the beauty in the weeds! Kids don’t know that dandelions aren’t highly sought after flowers. Go with it! Let the kids decide what makes the cut for the bouquet.
- Create rock art or rock figures. This is so creative and simple, and the rocks can be used over and over again. Simply collect whatever rocks you can find, and see what you can create by configuring them in different arrangements.
- Build a fort. Ok this is a classic, right? Pull out those old blankets or sheets, and go for it! Maybe you create an afternoon outdoor reading corner with some cool shade.
- Play I Spy. A great way to draw your kids attention to details they may not have noticed otherwise. Or better yet, allowing them to take the lead might give you some insight into how they see the outside world.
- Enjoy a picnic. I love turning the normal every-day things (like eating) into exciting activities. You have to eat anyway, so why not turn it into a special picnic and let the kids bring along a stuffed friend.
- Go barefoot. I feel more relaxed and at ease just thinking about being barefoot. Besides the health benefits of going sans shoes, it can bring awareness to entirely new body sensations and understanding of nature. Major win here!
Which of these creative outdoor activities do you already find yourself doing, and what do you think you’ll try out next chance you get? Let me know what else should be on this list…I am always looking for ideas!
Now put down your phone and get outside!
Author: Kate Butler
Kate Butler is a writer, a wanderer, a digital nomad. A mother of two, lover to one, and dedicated to living an inspired, colourful life. She co-authors Flipping Moons and has an online therapy practice, LiveLight Counselling.