May 21, 2016

10 Unique Ideas to Get the Kids Outside This Summer (and one free printable!)


In this post, I’m thinking about increasing overall unstructured playtime in nature. Getting outside is so important, but sometimes just jumping into the woods can be daunting with young kids. Pack lots of snacks and follow this list to create some missions – but between us, it’s all just an excuse to get kids out into the natural world!

Somewhere along the path of suburban sprawl and the increased popularity of iPads and video games, our kids started spending more time in coffee shops and retail stores than tossing stones into ponds. Many of today’s children don’t have the same deep appreciation for nature as previous generations did, and it comes down to one simple thing: They aren’t spending enough time outdoors. There’s a calmness that comes from walking through the trees, an appreciation for the beauty of the world that comes from staring at a beautiful lake or watching a sunset, and many of today’s kids are missing out on these simple pleasures. Indeed, Richard Louv (2008 Audubon Medal Recipient) believes that “Nature Deficit Disorder” can be linked to many of the ailments of our society, such as obesity, depression, and ADD. This deeper connection with our planet is imperative for children to develop as they grow into adults. So let’s get our kids outside this summer!

It’s no secret that today’s kids are over scheduled, but it’s time to schedule in time with the great outdoors. When I was a kid, growing up in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, we didn’t have to make a date with nature – we just walked out our back doors. Evening strolls along a dirt road were normal, playing for hours on end in the woods came naturally, and staring up at the sky in wonder was something we did without thinking.

Connecting children with nature doesn’t need to be daunting. Start off small – play in the backyard and neighborhood walks. Next, plan a picnic with friend. Print off this free printable to head out on a nature walk!

Don’t let your kids grow up having a closer relationship to Target than they do to nature. However – keep in mind that the goal is to have unstructured time in nature, so don’t worry if they don’t check everything off on the list. In fact, if they lose track of the activity and romp around in the woods, you’ve met your goal!


  1. Do Happiest Mama’s Nature Scavenger Hunt
  2. Press Flowers – I sure wish we still had encyclopedias!
  3. Use a book to identify leaves and trees.
  4. Make bracelets out of double sided tape (or use masking tape) with the sticky part on the outside. Have children stick their favorite nature finds, such as flowers or leaves, to their bracelets to create their very own nature bracelets.
  5. Connect with local nature centers to join in on fun walks, activities, and hikes. Be sure to check what is available at other nearby communities or travel destinations as well!
  6. Sensory Discovery Walk. Blindfold children and have them identify different items in the forest through touch, smell, taste (choose wisely), and sound.
  7. Look for animal footprints.
  8. Take photos – get up close to bugs, plants, and rocks. Let your child be in charge of what to photograph, and later print the photos to bring some nature into their play space.
  9. Create a trail of bird seed for the forest animals to find. Check back later in the week to find it mysteriously eaten and talk about what creatures may have found your offering.
  10. Go outside very early in the morning or late at night and discuss the differences. Return to the same areas often so your children develop an appreciation for the changing seasons.

Realize how important time in nature is, and make it a priority! I would love to hear about how you got outside this week! And, don’t forget your own mental health: spending time in the great outdoors isn’t only good for the kids.

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  1. I love the bracelet idea, how fun!

  2. Next year I could do this with Izzy & I love it! -Eryka

  3. I love this! I’m going to pin it too!

  4. Love this! I used to press flowers when I was a kid with my grandma. Such special memories.

  5. The scavenger hunt is a great idea!

  6. I loved that book. This is something that’s always on my mind since we live in the suburbs. When we go to my parents house in the country I try to just stand back and let him be wild. We also found a nature sanctuary in our city that is run by the Houston Audubon Society. It’s like right off a main interstate, and you would never know!

  7. Great ideas. It’s summer all year long where I live. So these definitely come in handy.

  8. books4learning says:

    I love your ideas! Thanks for sharing.

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