Anyone who knows me will tell you that my favorite place to be is outdoors. Before becoming a parent, spending time outdoors meant trekking across the West Coast Trail, backcountry camping, and conquering hikes and trails in Ireland, Tanzania, and Peru. It’s safe to say my adventures and time spent outdoors look a bit different now (pandemic aside).
Spending time outside with your kids is not just about hardcore outdoor adventures. It is also about enjoying simple outdoor fun in your community and being able to create your own fun in your local park, yard, or back deck. These days, I value unstructured outdoor play as highly as hardcore adventures.
Here are some fun ways to create outdoor adventures in an urban backyard, local park, or even your apartment balcony:
Add water. Never underestimate a good ol’ bucket of H2O. Use sponges for water tag or set up targets to knock over with a water gun (like the carnival games). No pool? No problem! A few boxes or scrap wood and a tarp make an easy DIY splash pad. Not a sunny day? Embrace the rain by putting on your swimsuits and telling the kids to take a ‘rain shower.’
Add bugs. Bugs are fun, fascinating, and spark lots of interesting conversation. Try leaving out a piece of wood or bark for a week or so. All sorts of bugs like living close to the surface of dirt but like to be able to hide under something.
Add a fort. You don’t have to have a playhouse or a tree to make a great little fort. Put up a tent or make a fort out of chairs or a cardboard box by laying a tarp or sheet over top.
Add the night sky. Part of memorable outdoor moments is creating an experience. Set up cozy chairs or blankets and check the weather for a clear night sky. Grab your snacks, hot chocolate or cider, and marvel at the stars. If you have a pair of binoculars, they can enhance what you are able to see. Check the NASA website to check times for night sky phenomena, passing satellites, or a chance to spot the space station!
Add plants. Taking care of plants can be a fun family affair, and you don’t need much to start. You can upcycle many different containers into planting containers or get creative with Lego to create your own plant pot. Make sure you have holes in the bottom of the container or a good layer of gravel for drainage. No seeds in sight? You can regrow many grocery-store fruits and veggies by allowing them to root in some shallow water first.
Add art. One thing people underestimate about spending time outdoors with your kids is that being ‘outdoorsy’ can mean you enjoy reading a book in the shade, having lunch on the deck, or doodling in the grass. Make your own sidewalk chalk paint with equal parts cornstarch and water, and then add a few drops of food coloring. Or try making natural paints by mixing a bit of water with squished-up berries, flowers, or plants. Try collecting natural fallen objects and using them as paintbrushes.
Add birds. If you build it, they will come! DIY bird feeders can come in almost any shape and size - you’ll find design inspiration on Pinterest. Small birds need high-energy foods to survive in a variety of outdoor conditions year-round. When buying bird seed, choose blends made up mainly of oil seeds like niger, sunflower, or canola. If you’re not keen to make or buy a feeder, you can start with ground feeding (avoid places where cats can easily hide). The Audubon Bird App is free and can help you identify bird species based on calls and characteristics.
Add tech. Oh yeah - I said it! Technology is not the enemy, it’s a part of our lives. There are a lot of cool ways to bridge the analog and digital world. Have an outdoor photo hunt, geocache, or plan an outdoor movie night. For a fun photo hunt, go around your yard or neighbourhood and take close-ups of obscure items and then have the kids try to figure out what it is and where it’s located. There are some incredible bird and plant apps that allow you to identify plants and animals.
The one thing I’ve learned to embrace when exploring in your own backyard: Messes are temporary, but memories last forever. You don’t have to go far to explore and discover, and being outdoors doesn’t have to mean lakes, mountains, and trails. Adventures don’t have to be epic to count as memorable for kids, so start in your own backyard and neighborhood parks. Have a simply wonderful magical summer and may you find many outdoor adventures big and small - wherever you are.
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