Family Outdoor Fun This Summer

Getting back outside
The weather is getting nicer, and the world is slowly re-opening from the shelter-in-place rules to protect the public from COVID-19. However, there will be much fewer group camps, childcare, team sports, fairs or anything that may be deemed as a health risk while we’re still practicing social distancing.

So how do you get active when there’s much more sun, but not much in the way of planned activities? We’re here to help. Read on for some tips to help you and your children get a healthy dose of nature while still practicing responsible social distancing.

Explore nature
Nature is all around us. Nature exploration with proper social distancing can happen in your yard, a table-top garden, around your neighborhood, or on open park trails.

Nature sculptures can be built with twigs, leaves, cones, rocks and more by sticking the collected items into a play dough base. Help your child put objects in the play dough and notice what kind of patterns are created by different items.

Hold a nature scavenger hunt for the family. Include categories like plants, trees, animals, and birds. Who can create the longest list of the signs of spring that they find? How many different flowers can you check off or photograph?

Create a nature journal so they can describe what they see from a comfortable spot outside. Encourage them to write how that makes them feel or draw what they see.

If you don’t mind the mess, playing in mud is very fun for young children and helps them develop their senses and motor skills. You can give your child old pots, pans, utensils, and other household tools to move, pour, and squish the mud for imaginary play.

Even infants and toddlers can play and learn in nature. If you will be in public spaces, it may be safest to keep them in a carrier or a stroller. If they are in your own private space, it's fine to have them explore even more.

Start growing
You can use your old yogurt containers or egg cartons to start seeds for flowers, vegetables or herbs. Even if you don’t have much space or you’d like to skip some of the prep work, you can plant lettuce seeds right in a bag of potting soil.

Starting with your garden, you can make yard work more fun and educational for children. Do you have birds or squirrels in your yard? Consider building a feeder with your kids. Then sit back and watch as the wildlife enjoys.

Build an outdoor fort
Get started building an outdoor fort with tree branches, picnic tables, old sheets, camping chairs—anything you’re ok getting a little dirty. If you’re not ready for a large fort, think smaller—the kids can build a fort or house for dolls or stuffies, or even a fairy house.

Chalk the walk
Sidewalk chalk is a great investment and an easy way to get your kids excited to get outside. Kids can set up a hopscotch course, or beautify your sidewalk with cheery messages and art for passersby, or go all out on a labyrinth or maze.

Get biking
Biking with the family in your neighborhood can be a good option if you can keep your distance from others during your ride. If you have a child bicycle trailer, get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors with your baby in tow.

Have a ball
Kicking a soccer ball or playing catch together can be fine if you are apart from each other.

If your child is missing summer team sports like baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse, set up drills for them to keep their skills up. Cones and a small goal net can go a long way for the soccer and lacrosse players, while a net and tee is great for the baseball or softball athlete in your house.

Remember, don't share any sports equipment with others outside your household.

Catch ’em all
Download Pokémon GO to your phone and entice your kid outside with some screen time. Just be sure you are mindful of social distancing with humans while capturing Pokémon.

The benefits of being outside
Getting outside provides more than a fun break for children and teens. It is also good for their physical and mental health and development.

For example, children and teens who spend time enjoying nature can be:

Physically healthier. Children play harder outdoors than indoors. Especially without the structure of preschool, school or afterschool activities, children especially need opportunities to move. Children who spend more time outdoors have improved motor development. More outdoor time is linked with lower obesity rates. Vitamin D has been shown to help our immune systems and the best source of Vitamin D is from the sun.

More engaged in learning. Playing outside promotes more curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Studies have found that children who spent more time in nature exploration had improved learning outcomes.

More positive in behavior. Research has found that when children spent time in natural settings they had less anger and aggression. Impulse control also improves. This might be especially important when normal routines have changed for children.

Mentally healthier. Stress and depression are reduced for all people who spend time in nature. Children show increased focus and reduced symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Summer like no other
This summer will be a new adventure. While we don’t know exactly what it will look like, it definitely won’t be the same as summer breaks of the past. But let’s keep our chins up and be thankful for the warmer weather and chance to enjoy the outdoors. Don’t squander a nice day by staying inside. This summer can be a great one to bond with your family, and for your children to learn, feel healthy, and be happy by spending time outdoors together. Stay safe and enjoy each other!