Categories
Adventure/Outdoors Community Service Environmental Hiking Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Nature Programs Play/Outdoor

Outdoor Activities for Earth Day

Getting outside is healthy for the body and the mind. This Earth Day, why not get the whole family outdoors for some memorable adventures?

By Wendy Chou

Research has shown that getting outside keeps kids moving, lowering the risk of childhood obesity. Another health benefit from being out and about: added Vitamin D, which strengthens bones and is thought to help the immune system fight off infection. Some health experts say that spending time outdoors also relieves some symptoms of hyperactivity, including short attention span.

Every year since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22. It was originally created to bring attention to environmental goals like cleaner air and water. Today Earth Day reminds us to step out into nature. Try these kid-approved outdoor activities highlighting science, crafts, sports, and helping the community. Find these activities and many more in The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, an excellent user-friendly guide for kindling the adventurous spirit in all of us.

Little Scientists

Go outside at an unusual time: nighttime! Go stargazing or take a walk to admire the moon. Visit kidsastronomy.com for tips.

Start a compost pile from kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. If your family has a garden, generating your own rich compost (so-called “black gold”) is not only fun, but also useful. It’s also a great tool for teaching kids about nature’s version of recycling. Tips for beginners.  

Watch a sunset. Watching colors change can inspire a lifelong appreciation for the environment. Find details on specific sunrise and sunset times at timeanddate.com

Arts and Crafts Lovers

Paint a birdhouse. Using a more natural palette such as gray, dull green, brown, or tan will help keep birds safe from eagle-eyed predators. And steer clear of metallic, iridescent, lead-based, or neon-colored paints which contain additives that are unsafe for wildlife.

Play “Nature bingo”. This game is a variation on a scavenger hunt. Create a bingo card for each player on sturdy paper or cardboard. You’ll need 16 assorted images arranged in a 4 x 4 grid: either paste on stickers, or draw/clip out pictures from magazines. Some examples are ladybug, leaf, flower, bird. After you design the bingo cards, have a blast exploring nature and looking for your items.

Make a nature mosaic. For this textured craft, first gather small items of roughly the same shape and size, like small pebbles, dried flower petals, or seeds. Take a paper plate and draw your desired shape with pen or pencil (for instance, outline your handprint). Working with one small section at a time, add a thin layer of glue and press the objects down to secure them. (If you apply glue over too large an area at once, it will dry before you’ve finished pasting.) Let dry and it’s done!

Love being in nature? Find outdoor kids’ camps with ActivityHero!

Ready, Set, Move!

Roll down a grassy hill. Who doesn’t love doing this on a sunny day?

Go for a bike ride. There’s nothing quite like coasting along on the open road. Safety first: study the biker’s checklist before you head out!

Make homemade trail mix and take it on a hike.

Try geocaching, a modern take on treasure hunting. This activity relies on GPS technology to hide or find caches. To get started, check out geocaching.com.  

Community-Minded

Join a volunteer event. Find an organization near you (check your city or county listings) that is sponsoring an Earth Day event, such as a river cleanup or tree planting.

Visit a farmers’ market. You’ll find fresher fruits and vegetables here with less wasteful plastic packaging. People selling their wares often enjoy telling you where and how they grew their food –and sometimes let you try a sample for free.

Beautify your neighborhood. Clean up trash, prune or weed a garden, or do some other type of community service to show your appreciation for Mother Earth.

Be Adventurous Beyond Earth Day

Save the date for Kids to Parks Day, an annual event to encourage youth to get out and play in nature. Learn more: https://www.parktrust.org/kids-to-parks-day/. Getting outside isn’t just something to do on Earth Day!

Find summer camps featuring the outdoors. Camp is a great way to spend time outside. Emily Moeschler has over ten years of experience in adventure education and the outdoor industries. She is currently a leader at Avid4Adventure Camp in Boulder, CO. Her top tip: “Give your kids permission to get dirty!”

Be inspired. Have your own brainstorming session to come up with even more outdoor activities. There’s really no “right” way to explore, just get outside and have fun!

Love being in nature? Find outdoor kids’ camps with ActivityHero!

About Wendy Chou

Wendy Chou is an environment writer and parent based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Categories
Guest Posts Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Why It’s Physiologically Vital for Kids to Play Outdoors (and 5 Easy Ways to Do it)

kids play outdoors 1
Image © Kassandra Brown

When parents call me for parent coaching services because the are having trouble with disrespect, inattention, poor behavior, poor follow-through, and poor listening, one of the most common questions I ask is “What’s your relationship to play outdoors?”

The Importance of Movement

Getting outside and playing builds balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination. When we don’t practice, we lose these skills. (This is true for adults as well as kids.) I’m amazed at how after a day on the computer, I’m not really in my body. I’m more likely to bump into walls, trip over my feet, and make poor word choices.

I’m not used to interacting with human beings if I’ve been typing all day. It takes effort and concentration for me to shift back into my body. When I get outside and toss a ball with my girls, I have to exert effort to track it. And I’m an adult with my brain wiring largely in place.

For kids big muscle and outdoor play may be even more important since their brains are still forming neural connections so rapidly. If they don’t practice moving their bodies and connecting with the earth while they are young, it will likely be harder for them to develop coordination later.

Movement makes people happier and healthier in more ways than just cardiovascular fitness:

  • When we move we breathe more deeply, bringing in more oxygen and cleansing our bodies more fully of carbon dioxide.
  • Our joints get lubricated through movement, our muscles get stronger, and our proprioception (felt sense of where we are in space) gets better.
  • The horizon is farther away and our eyes get to focus up close and far away, making the eyes stronger and less likely to need glasses.
  • Running, jumping, walking and playing take the focus off of small muscle tasks like writing, art, computer work, computer games, and crafts, letting those fine motor skills muscles relax and recover while giving the bigger muscles a chance to get stronger and engages different parts of the brain.

Sounds great, right? Moving around outside generally makes people happier, less frustrated, and healthier. Here are some simple ways to practice right now. No toys or accessories needed.

5 Easy Ways to Play Outdoors

kids play outdoors 3
Image © Kassandra Brown

1. Visit Local Water

We have a pond we like to go to for swimming, playing in the mud, hanging out with friends, and challenging our ‘ick’ factor. Catching frogs and crawdads gets us closer to nature. Watching the snapping turtle and water snake give us a better respect for the non-malevolence of nature and how to co-exist with it.

2. Engage in Winter Fun

Making snow angels, cracking ice at the pond, and sledding are good winter activities. Broom ball, hockey and ice skating are good for slightly older kids. It’s so vital to get outside, get some sun and fresh air and feel free of the confines of indoors in the winter.

3. Volunteer at a Local Farm

We like to visit our friend’s farm. They have three daughters close in age to my own girls. These three girls are responsible and helpful on their farm. They do not just play with the animals. Children also need to learn responsibility, and taking care of animals or plants outdoors is a good way for them to learn to care for another living creature. The best way to teach them this? Have them see other people their age being responsible as well as seeing you volunteer, help out, and learn even if you’re not good at it yet.

4. Take Quiet Time Together

Familykids play outdoors 2
Image © Kassandra Brown

Try going for a walk together at sunset. This is good for babies in arms (wear them) and older children. As a quiet bonding activity that the whole family can take at their own pace, evening walks can help with the transition from daytime frenzy to nighttime quiet. Bikes or scooters allow bigger kids to go a head at their own pace. To make it more special, you can have a shared destination or even a dinner picnic at the end of the walk.

5. Relish Spontaneous Moments

My daughter and I chased the trash truck for a half hour around our neighborhood. We were both barefoot because I thought we were just going out onto the porch for a moment to watch the truck at our house. Instead we enjoyed lots of laughing and fun watching the arm come out of the truck over and over again and pick up the trash cans. We made the driver’s day too.

What do you like to do outside? What activities bring you together with your kids? Let us know in the comments.

Kassandra Brown is a parent coach and yoga teacher living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural Missouri. She coaches through Skype and phone and commutes with her two feet while walking outside.