Getting outside is really good for us. That just feels like common sense, but Harvard Health has backed us up, saying that being outdoors is good for:
- Making sure we get enough Vitamin D – important for growth and development
- Getting more exercise – we move more when we’re outside
- Being happy – more light outside means a lighter mood
- Better concentration – children with ADHD have better focus after spending time outside
- Improved healing – patients who were exposed to natural sunlight reported lower levels of pain and healed faster.
All that, plus being in the great outdoors is a whole load of fun! So it’s good we parents are constantly urging the kids to “go outside and play,” right? Because outside is exactly where they should be. Of course, one of the quickest ways to get the kids outside is to go outside with them… lots of us need reminding of that from time to time.
Here are 10 more ways to entice them out the back door and into the fresh air:
1. Create a scavenger hunt
- They encourage kids to work together to solve a problem
- They allow for independent play
- They are suitable for any age
- They are a ‘set and forget’ play solution for busy parents
- They offer a sense of achievement for kids
- They are super-simple to put together
- Who doesn’t love a collection!?
These school holidays we are going to have a different type of hunt each day. Try these ideas for inspiration:
- Pool scavenger hunt
- A simple shades of colour hunt
- Nature treasure hunt for non-readers
- Nature treasure hunt for readers (with poem)
- The colours of nature hunt
- Make a summertime observational walk around the garden
- A hunt to photograph all the colours of the rainbow
- Take a counting number find walk
- We’re going on a word hunt
Click here for loads more ideas.
2. Set up camp
Even if the kids don’t sleep out there, set up the tent, drag over a few chairs and create a fun little cubby house for them to enjoy. You can use a play tent or a real tent, or make your own by draping a sheet over a small table. Add some cushions and blankets to make things cosy. You can further inspire their camping play by bringing out some props to encourage different creative play:
Box 1 – Safari adventure
Binoculars; magnifying glass; old camera; stuffed animal toys
Box 2 – Campfire play
Sticks and red / orange / yellow cellophane to make their own campfire; marshmallows; tin cups; cloud identification tool
Box 3 – Wild West pretend
Feathers; bandannas; dress ups; rope for lassos; a broom for a horse (or make your own)
Box 4 – Deserted island fun
Blue fabric for the ocean; paper fish; coconuts; volleyball (hello Wilson!)
3. Get into wildlife
The backyard has a surprising number of insects, bird life and mini-beasts. Encourage the kids to explore by recording what they find in a nature journal. Arm them with a pair of binoculars, magnifying glass, camera and their journal and see who can find the most mini-beasts in an afternoon. Make a pine cone bird feeder together to really up the chances of finding birds in the garden. To record their sightings, the kids can make a simple journal from a single sheet of paper:
Find the full set of instructions here.
4. Climb a tree
Kids don’t climb trees like they used to, but there is bound to be at least one tree in your garden or a neighbour’s garden that is begging for a child. My dad hammered small planks of wood into the side of a tree so we had some steps to climb up to the nearest bough. This is an easy thing to do and as far as I know, no tree was harmed in the making of our tree house! Be sure to test each branch that the kids are allowed on before they go up. Other things that trees are great for are:
- Being ‘base’ for a game of hide and seek
- Decorating with leftover Christmas decorations
- Painting with chalk paint
- Adding a fairy door to the base
- Collecting the nuts and berries that drop
- Suspending a swing from
- Adding a rope ladder for climbing
- Holding one end of the rope for a skipping game
5. Make art from nature
Collecting bits and pieces to make art is a relaxing way for kids to walk around the garden. Then you can set up an art table under a tree and help them get busy creating something special. The great thing about art outdoors is that the kids can get as messy as they like. Get the paints out! Here are some ideas to get the kids started:
6. Let them get really, really dirty
Dirt is only dirt and if the kids are in their swimmers or a set of old clothes, there is absolutely nothing that mud can do that can’t be undone. Children just love getting squishy in the mud and it’s easy to make a corner of your backyard the ‘mud corner’. Rake up a load of dirt and set up lots of plastic containers, sticks and spoons for the kids to make their own mud kitchen. Then just add water! A mud pie kitchen is an easy thing to set up to really make the mud corner fun. Make two even stacks of bricks, set a plant of wood between them, draw a stove and sink on the plank and then add some old plastic cups and plates from the kitchen. Be prepared to eat lots of mud pies!
Other activities that might like to try in the dirt include:
- Building mud castles
- Building walls with LEGO and dirt mortar
- Painting the fence with mud
- Burying things for each other to find in the mud
- Planting a leaf and branch garden in the mud
- Making mud shapes and seeing what happens when the mud dries
- Playing with plastic animals in the mud
- Making mud foot and hand prints on the cement
- Throwing mud at a chalk target on the fence or footpath
7. Give them their own patch
Kids love getting their hands dirty in the garden and school-aged kids are ready for the responsibility of caring for their own patch. Use string to rope them off a little corner (or a whole bed if you can spare the room) and allow them to plant whatever they wish. Starting with sunflowers is a good idea as these are so easy to grow and they start growing within the week for fast reward. The kids could also plant some bulbs, make a herb garden or grow their favourite vegetables. If you’re short on space, container gardening is an option. You can use any kind of container to grow herbs and vegetables. The kids will love helping you fossick for the perfect vessel. Here are some suggestions:
- Tyres laid on the ground and filled with potting mix
- The bag the potting mix comes in (just cut a square out of one side of the bag and plant straight in)
- Old food vessels like tins, fruit punnets, egg cartons, plastic jars
- Old kitchen containers like colanders, plastic tubs, bowls and teapots
- Drawers from old cabinets (check the side of the road on clean up day)
- Old bathtubs and sinks (your local salvage yard might have something for you)
- Old toys like dump trucks, wheelbarrows and carts
8. Make your own backyard geocache
Your kids can use a smartphone to hide treasure and set the coordinates for their siblings to find it. Hide something small in the garden and use your phone to display the latitude and longitude coordinates of the hidden location. Record the degrees, minutes and seconds using the Compass app in your phone:
- Turn Location Services on by going to Settings then Location Services then flicking the button to ‘on’
- In the apps listed in Location Services, make sure Compass is on
- Press the Home button to exit Settings
- Open the Compass app
- Put the phone right next to your hidden geocache and the GPS coordinates are displayed at the bottom of the screen.
You then give these coordinates to the kids and encourage them to use the Compass to find the geocache. It might be tricky for them the first couple of times, but once they get the hang of it, there will be no stopping them! Remind them to be creative with what they hide in their geocache container, or even where they hide it. You can buy in a few small toys for them to hide for each other or they can hide some sweets, a note, a drawing, a joke or even a secret.
9. Make an obstacle course
You don’t have to build anything to get an obstacle course going in the backyard. Think of all the ways kids can go over, under, around and through what’s already set up. They will enjoy racing each other or a timer. You can change the obstacle course around as regularly as you please, but you can also use the same course over and over, just racing to beat their personal best score. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Race around the clothesline five times, back to touch the back steps, jump 10 times up and down, race over to touch the tree, do five star jumps, come back to the back steps and touch each step three times, run back to the clothes line and FINISH.
- Walk backward for 20 steps, turn around three times, crawl over to the back fence and touch it three times, hop to the clothes line and spin it around five times, walk backwards over to the tree and hug it and FINISH.
- Run five times around the whole garden, walk once as fast as you can, crawl from one side to the other, race around three more times and FINISH.
You can add things in, depending on what’s in your garden. Under the trampoline is a good one. Leaping over the herb garden another.
10. Bring on the water works
With kids, just add water for fun! You might be lucky enough to have a pool for instant backyard fun, but it’s not the only way to enjoy water at home. Check water restrictions and then try some of these ideas for instant holiday fun:
- An empty plastic bottle, a large tray and some coloured water are all you need for a water table
- Run the hose and whip it back and forth for the kids to jump over the ‘snake’
- Take a backyard bath – fill the toddler pool with warm water and pass the soap
- Fill water balloons and have a fight
- Make some oobleck
- Let the kids paint the back fence with water
- Play with a simple bucket and hose
- Try some old-fashioned pool games
What’s your kids favourite outdoor game?
Do you head outside with them?