When I started this article about fun outdoor activities for kids, it was because many parents practice a screen-free week or month in May. Given the current situation we’re all in, I’m guessing no one is feeling too strict about screen time. However, outside play, from a safe distance, might be just what people of all ages need right now. Here are some ideas for several age groups to get you going:
Babies and Toddlers
- Take a walk. Little ones will enjoy the fresh air no matter the weather. You can talk about what you see if they’re in a carrier, stroller, or walking on their own. Narrating what you see will keep baby engaged and it’s great for promoting language development, too.
- Open your other senses. When you’re out in nature, stop to actually smell the flowers. Encourage your littles to breathe deeply through their noses. Pause and really listen. Even if your child is not yet verbal, you can talk about what you smell—grass, dirt, the ocean mist and hear—waves crashing, leaves crunching, etc. Show them how smooth a rock is or how soft a flower petal feels (and try to keep them from picking them off the stem and eating them!).
Preschoolers and Early Primary
- Mud, mud, mud. Now that the sun has come out, there is mud. Even just a little bit in a bowl to poke with a stick is fun. Or decorate mud pies with small leaves and pine needles. If you want to go all out, make a “mud kitchen” for ongoing outdoor entertainment.
- Paint with water. If mud is too, well, muddy for you, painting with water is mess-free fun. A cup of water and a paint brush is all you need. Any outdoor surface is game: patios, decks, fences. If the sun is out, you can even watch your work “disappear.”
- Big body movement. Outdoor exercise like running, jumping, and rolling is a great release for children who’ve been cooped up. Balls and hula hoops add to the fun!
School Age and Tweenagers
- Take an alphabet hike. This is a riff off the road trip game where you search for things starting with “A” and so on in alphabetical order. When you spot an acorn, then someone else needs to find something that starts with “B.” Go as far as you can even if you don’t make it all the way to “’Z.”
- Scavenger hunts! Older children can help write clues and riddles for younger ones, so the parents don’t have to do all the work. Don’t be afraid to make the riddles challenging so the whole thing isn’t over in 5 minutes.
- Anything sports related. Sure, you can’t play a game of baseball right now, but you can still throw the ball back and forth. Likewise, kicking around a soccer ball. And if there’s not too many people at the court, you can shoot hoops.
Playgrounds may still be off limits, but these fresh ideas will get you out the door. Spring in Maine (and elsewhere) is a beautiful time to get out to some trails, beaches, and open spaces, even if you do have to take a 6-foot detour around any passers-by.
Portland Trails: trails.org
Portland Parks: portlandmaine.gov/1063/Parks-Division
Scavenger Hunt Clue Tips: kidactivities.net/40-scavenger-hunt-riddles-for-kids/
Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and has been featured in The Huffington Post. She’s writing new book Raising Humans With Heart: Not A How-To Manual. A human development nerd, she brings over 25 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to a tweenager who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of Parent & Family.