Outside activities take advantage of good weather and fresh air and do not have to be expensive. Get your six to ten year old away from the video and computer games out into the great outdoors!
The following activities require a bit of pre-planning, but with small outlays for supplies and a little ingenuity can provide hours of interesting and educational diversion.
- Breakfast in the park: Pack a picnic breakfast, including easily portable fare such fruit, yoghurt cups, milk in a thermos, a table cloth or blanket and head for the neighborhood park with your young one. If there isn’t a park nearby, make your own in your backyard!
- Neighborhood art show: A week or more in advance, enlist neighborhood kids in producing art in person or by issuing fun paper invitations or via email. Clearly specify the date and time and invite the kids to come early to hang their art. Hang it where? If you’ve got a clothesline—it is the perfect means to suspend the colorful artwork in the fresh air and sunshine! If you don’t have a clothesline you can hang one temporarily between porch posts or trees. Have the parents come a bit later, offer up prizes (homemade or bought from a local party favor store) for the artists—with enough categories for wins that everyone goes home with an award! You can also sell the art pieces afterward—with the money going to a favorite charity or to fund another group neighborhood activity.
- Stargazing: this is an activity that is best accomplished away from city lights and may involve a bit of a drive into the country, although the brightest constellations can often be seen from suburban neighborhoods. Let the kids stay up later than usual for best viewing, take a blanket into the back yard away from lights, have a book on astronomy and a flashlight, lie on your backs and try to identify constellations. Research the stories behind some of them before hand and you’ll dazzle your young ones as well as educate them.
- Natural Treasure Hunt: Arm your children with a large paper bag and a predetermined list of “treasure hunt” objects. The objects should be easily findable, and should not disrupt or disturb animal and bird nests or harm living organisms. Leaves, rocks, shed feathers, pine cones, shells can all be on the list—which can be different for each child or all the same. Place a time limit on the search and of course, carefully control the range of searching for safety. The first child to get all the items on his list is the winner! End the activity with a show and tell where each child reveals their finds, where they found it and maybe something about it.
- Urban Bird Watching: This can be done anywhere but is especially fun for city dwellers that don’t often get to see wildlife. Secure a window box to the ledge of an outside window or a patio, and fill with potting soil. Plant bird safe and friendly seeds, encourage your child to help and to tend to the shoots that come up. Once the greens are growing, place a weighted open container within the window box and fill with water (rainwater is best, you’ll have to have means to collect it) for a mini birdbath. Attract birds with raisins, cranberries and other bits of fruit strewn about the ledge or strung on a string. Encourage your child to quiet watching so as not to startle and scare off any birds attracted. Have a bird identifying book on hand so you can look up the species of feathered friends who drop by. Once identified, have your child research facts about the birds who come to your window box, including range, and migratory patterns.
- Nature or Garden Tour: This is especially great if you have a large yard or park nearby. Armed with notebooks, pencils (if at a park) Popsicle sticks and permanent markers (if in your own yard) go on a walk around the outside area and try to identify as many plants and other natural objects as possible. Caution your child not to disturb the nests or dwellings of birds or animals, but encourage their interest in them. In your own yard, use the Popsicle sticks to write the names of the plants and stick into the ground next to them. Encourage the child to research each plant. The next time playmates come over to play, or visitors come to your house, your child can conduct a tour and show off their newly acquired knowledge!
- Plant a Tree: Buy seedling trees from your local nursery—or check out nature conservancy and Arbor Day groups that offer seedlings free. Have your child research the type of tree to be planted, its care and information about rates of growth, expected size at maturity and so forth. Pick a good spot in the yard that fits the type of seedling to be planted (some young trees need to grown in indirect light, others thrive in full sunshine), and dig a hole bigger than the seedling root ball. Put the seedling into the hole and fill the dirt back in. Place appropriate “organic tree food” near but not touching the seedling trunk (wood chips, bark, leaves, compost provide mulch) and water frequently in the first few weeks. Encourage your child to care for the tree and log its progress in growth.
- Car wash: This is an especially good activity for children at the older end of this age group, and can teach the value of doing a good and thorough job. Set up a car wash area in your driveway, and arm the kids with buckets of water, a garden hose, detergent, clothes and drying towels. Invite neighbors —or relatives gathered for another activity, to avail themselves of the car wash service for a nominal fee. Donate money raised to a favorite charity or towards funding other neighborhood group activities.
With just a little thought and preparation, summertime doldrums can be transformed into fun and educational outdoor activities that foster responsibility, hone observational and research skills and teach the value of nature and a job well done. And all without breaking the bank! If you have younger kids you may want to take a look at my list of outside kids activities for five and under.