It's gorgeous out there. Our days and nights are in balance once more, the flowers are pushing up and beginning to open, and the sun is warm on our faces. I've talked before about getting outside more, but once you go are you sometimes a little lost as to what happens next? What exactly do you do once you get out there? Because until going outside and enjoying the expansive freedom of it becomes a habit, you might have your kids standing there staring at you wondering what happens next.
I'm a firm believer in planning less (and orchestrating less, and directing less) and letting childhood take the lead, but sometimes it's fun to have a trick in our pocket before we head out the door. Especially if you are increasing your amount of outside time dramatically. Here are ten tricks to take with you this season. Ten simple activities to enjoy with your children, with the wind in your hair. And if you've made a habit of ourtside time, these will be treats for your family now and then during your daily foray out into the green.
Ten Things to Do Outside With Your Kids
1. Go on an informal scavenger hunt. This became our favorite late-winter activity during our morning puppy walk. Sometimes my kids weren't… enthusiastic about putting down their books and crafts and bundling up for the cold. One scavenger hunt later and they were begging for a walk. We did ours informally, with me shooting from the hip with clues for each child (or clues to share), but you could write, type, or draw up a list for each child too. We didn't bring our items home but rather pointed them out to one another. Something shiny that isn't a car, something round, a swelling bud, a crow, a feather, an acorn cap, and every color in the rainbow are great places to start.
2. Create a mud kitchen. (No, you don't need to build anything!) Give your kids some old kitchen tools (surplus yogurt tubs, maybe an old pot and lid, a couple of spoons, and small plates or tupperware lids – whatever you can spare). Add a wooden board and a couple of bricks or something else they can craft into a table or stove. Show them where they can dig, give them a bucket of water or the hose, and watch as they make an imaginary mud-feast. This has been a favorite outdoor activity for years over here.
3. Fly a kite. We always forget to fly our kites. What a joy it is when we remember and we connect ourselves to the heavens by a fine thread. You can easily make your own kites too, for those who want a project before they head outside. (Sage is obsessing on this book this spring.)
4. Have a campfire. While gearing up to have a campfire sometimes seems like a bit work, every time we've done it I've been so glad we did. And as the winter snows recede, most of our yards are a mess of leaves, sticks and branches with plenty of fuel for the fire. Take it up a notch and cook some simple food over the fire for a snack or meal. (Pre-cooked brat or tofu dog on a stick, anyone? No, it's not elegant faire, but it's really fun to make.)
5. Make a sound map. I spent my pre-motherhood career as a naturalist, introducing children to the natural world. One of my favorite simple activities for children of any age was sound mapping. Start with a blank sheet of paper, a pencil, and a clipboard for each child. Find an out-of-the-way place to sit and listen. Then using thier ears and their imagination, the child sketches what they hear near and far around them. A bird call might look like a star to them or a smile, a car in the distance might be a lightening bolt shape, or perhaps an older child will draw an illustration of the sound-maker themselves. Have them place a point representing themselves in the middle first, and encourage them to be "quiet as a field mouse" as we say over here. I've rarely met a kid who wasn't skeptical at first, but engrossed minutes later.
6. Gather supplies for your spring nature table! I explained what a nature table is here and here. Go out with your kids and look for pussy willows, flowers, rocks, and branches to use. Of course make sure you are in a spot where you can collect, and then have at it! (Know that your little ones will bring home an abundance of odd treasures, some will be used and others will not.)
7. Take a wander-walk. Take turns choosing which way you turn at each junction in the road or trail. You never know where you'll end up!
8. Make a fairy house. Go outside with your kids, and notice that there are fairy folk about. Suggest that perhaps you can help them build a house, and start gathering twigs and bark, flowers and leaves. There is no right or wrong way to build for a fairy, so let your imaginations run free!
9. Find a dry spot and have a picnic. If your picnic starts with a walk through the woods, all the better. But it's wonderful (and more simple!) to take on your back porch, too. Don't forget the napkins!
10. Enjoy the sensory feast of a barefoot mud walk. Take off your shoes and seek out some squishy, cold mud. Dig in with your toes and watch the giggles (and the mess) take over your afternoon.