With the end of school fast approaching, you may be dealing with some conflicting emotions. On one hand, you’re relieved not to worry about fixing lunches, carpooling kids or juggling schedules and extracurricular activities.
However, you may be stressing about how you’ll keep the kids entertained and active for an entire summer without resorting to too much screen time and sedentary behavior. Use these ideas for eight fun activities to do outdoors to help relieve your anxiety.
Most of these activities are either free or incredibly low cost, but pay big rewards in improving your family’s emotional, mental and physical well-being.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, and your family’s preferences may differ from ours. However, you may enjoy trying some new activities, or our ideas may just jump start your own creativity.
1. Backyard Bonanzas
Sometimes just hanging out in your own backyard can be loads of fun. We own some acreage with our property so we have lots of woods to explore and trails to ramble. However, even if you live in an urban jungle, there’s bound to be some nearby parks or nature trails your kids can take advantage of. Here’s some activities to consider doing outdoors for fun:
1. Jump rope: Get your kid’s heart rates up and help them work off a few pounds by encouraging them to jumping rope. While they don’t have to recite rhymes while jumping, it is a part of the tradition so why not pass on your favorite rhymes to your kids? Our favorite one is based on saying the letters of the alphabet and goes like this:
A my name is Annie and my boyfriend’s name is Andy, we live in Arizona and sell artichokes. Repeat with the letters B through Z or until you miss a jump. To make it more challenging, have the next jumper repeat all the previous letters, names, states and food items before adding their own.
2. Play ball: Depending on how much room there is to play, kids can enjoy popular ball games such as kickball, soccer, football, basketball and on and on. Participating in any or all of these ball games teaches them to play cooperatively and helps develop good sportsmanship.
3. Other ball games: Your family may not be as familiar with games like croquet and badminton but they are quite challenging and good ways to while away long lazy days.
Croquet is played with by hitting wooden balls with wooden mallets to put them through metal wickets, and was quite popular during Victorian times because it enabled women to participate in sports outdoors. Its origins date back to England in the 1850s and the sport became popular in the US around 1960. If you don’t own a croquet set, it’s well worth investment. It’s not as challenging as golf so the younger kids can compete but it definitely requires some skill and strategy.
4. Badminton: While you may or may not agree that badminton qualifies as a ball game because it is played with a shuttlecock, the Macmillan Dictionary defines it as a ball game so for our purposes here, we’ll include it.
The basic playing equipment is rackets and a shuttlecock and the game can be played by two or four players. The object is to be the first to score 21 points by using the rackets to bat the shuttlecock over the net. This game, as well as croquet, is portable, which means you can enjoy it at home, at picnics or camp sites and parks.
Whether you pitch a tent in your backyard or in a campground, few outdoor activities are more satisfying. You can spend the day exploring nature, observing birds and wildlife or playing outdoor games. Nights can include fun and delicious activities like making smores over the campfire, singing campfire songs or star gazing.
3. Sky & Star Gazing
Isn’t it fun sometimes to just throw a blanket or towel on the ground and spend some time with your kids watching clouds drift across the sky? We live in a rural area with clear skies unmarred by pollution so cloud watching is a huge favorite of ours.
Star gazing is just as cool as cloud gazing and might even be more fun. You aren’t battling the sun’s rays trying to see, and there is something almost mystical about the twinkling stars in the nighttime skies.
Since you can’t star gazing until the stars come up, it could mean staying up past bedtime, which most kids always love. Use the 2013 Meteor Showers calendar to plan the optimum times for your star gazing activities.
4. Naturalist in Training
With some simple equipment like notebooks, pencils, colored pencils or markers, or even a digital camera, your child can start training for a future career as a naturalist. (Who knows? You may be parenting a future John James Audubon.)
Encourage them to log their daily activities outside and keep notes on what they saw, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. (For safety’s sake, teach them not to eat any vegetation, berries and so forth without adult approval).
Depending on how you feel about creepy, crawly bugs or slithering snakes, you may want to set up some rules about capturing live specimens. Our personal rule is all visiting creatures must be securely contained. They can spend no more than a day (24 hours) with us, and then they must be returned alive to their natural homes.
You might want to invest in a bird, plant or tree identification book so they can research their discoveries, but if you want to keep your expenses to a minimum, check your local library’s shelves before you shell out your hard-earned money.
We have well-established bird feeders with a steady clientele accented by periodic visits from turkeys, quail and deer so our little guy has built up quite a library of journals and stories about his various friends. You may want to consider adding some bird feeders or hummingbird feeders or planting some butterfly attracting plants to entice nature to visit your home.
5. Visit Historic Sites
Check with your local historical societies to see what sites are in your locality or use the website United States National Register of Historic Places Listing, where you’ll find the sites listed by state and territory. As an example, we discovered that in our state (Virginia) and in the closest city/county (Roanoke), there are 52 sites.
Since we’ve only been to the Roanoke Star (number 34 on their list), it looks like we are in for some fun this summer! The closer the better for economy purposes, but don’t limit yourself because of fluctuating fuel prices.
6. Patronize Local Parks &Hiking Trails
Don’t overlook your local parks as a cheap source of fun outdoor activities. Most are equipped with a full-range of kid-friendly, safe playground equipment, and many offer additional amenities such as hiking trails, nature trails or swimming. You can find these parks by calling your local parks and recreation centers or doing an Internet search on the term parks and recreation plus your city and state.
7. Discover Your National Parks and Monuments
The National Parks Service maintains a National Register of Historic Places. You can use the search feature on the website to find parks located close to you, or you can search by areas of interest such as discovering history or exploring nature.
8. Take Some Quests
These kid-approved quests may cost you a few cents or a few dollars but the return on your investment can be major in terms of family entertainment. Set a few ground rules first, then choose an activity and start your quest.
Some suggested guidelines are for the adults to decide how far the family can travel (next door or to the next town), how long the activity can last, and how much (if any) money can be spent. Set a goal for each quest: learn something new about a location or activity, try a new activity or learn more about local history.
Choose several possible activities for the day such as visiting a historic site or picnicking at a local park etc. Write the names of the activities on slips of paper, fold the papers and put them in a paper bag. Choose a family member to pick one of the slips to find out what your quest for the day will be.
Tip: Instead of starting with the youngest or oldest child, start with the middle child or the one closest to be in the middle by age. Middle children often feel left out because of the preference given to to the oldest or youngest child.
Make a Back-up Plan
Having fun in the sun for hours and hours is every child’s dream but a rainstorm or inclement weather can put a really damper on those plans and your children’s attitude. Be sure to plan fun activities for a rainy day or have a few craft ideas as your back-up plan in case you need to switch gears in a hurry and head back indoors.
What other kinds of fun outdoor activities does your family enjoy?
Image of “buddies” by je1196 under royalty free license via SXC
Image of “boys will be boys” by sraburton under royalty free license via SXC
All other images copyright 2013 by Donna Cosmato – all rights reserved