It’s a full-time job keeping kids engaged and active while playing outside. Especially for high energy kids, time spent in fun outdoor activities has many benefits. Kids today spend half the time outdoors that their parents did, and their development is worse for it. Outdoor time in the previous century was less structured, but there are still plenty of outdoor activity ideas for getting kids outside and active. No surprise, you’ll also gain advantages from getting outdoors with your kids. Time spent in nature improves both body and mind in people of all ages.
There’s plenty of research into why time spent outside is so beneficial for kids. The Child Mind Institute studies the changes in cognitive function for kids who spend time outdoors. They describe a few of the benefits:
- Responsibility: There are consequences of being destructive in nature. Plants will die if kids pull them from the ground or pull off their leaves. Kids learn consequences of actions.
- Exercise: With no need to join a sports team; just spending time outside lets kids release energy, leaving them more focused and calm.
- Stress Reduction: Screens and urban environments force the brain to ignore its surroundings, causing stress. Instead, nature creates feelings of pleasure for brains.
Kids who spend the whole day in class and after-school programs need to engage in fun outdoor activities to release stress and promote creativity. Their brains will later focus for homework and relax for a restful night’s sleep.
Keep reading for fun year round outdoor activities...
Summer Outdoor Activities
School’s only been out for two days, and your kids are already climbing the walls complaining about boredom. Even when they want to be outside, unstructured time can devolve into boredom. With a little planning and using materials you already have around the house, you can turn boring days into lifelong memories of summer fun with ease.
- Sidewalk Painting with Water. This is a fun and affordable alternative to sidewalk chalk. Kids just need sponge brushes or condiment squeeze bottles filled with water. They can ‘paint’ with water on the sidewalk or draw with the squeeze bottles. When it’s a scorcher the water evaporates quickly for fast re-painting.
- Frisbee Tic-Tac-Toe. Set up a giant six-foot square Tic-Tac-Toe board in the yard, drawing the grid with streamers. You’ll need a collection of frisbees, usually you can find them cheap at the dollar store. Have kids stand a set distance away and try to get the frisbees into the squares.
- Glow in the Dark Bowling. Staying out after the streetlights come on is one of the best parts of summer. Set up a night time bowling lane for your kids to play after it gets dark. Save ten plastic water bottles. Fill them a quarter full with sand so they’ll stay upright. You can get sets of glow sticks at the dollar store. Crack ten and put them into the bottles. Use a small ball heavy enough to knock the pins over and have fun!
- Lawn Twister: Use sprayable water-based chalk paint to create a twister board on the lawn. Use the spinner from a traditional Twister game set. Kids will have a blast getting tangled up outside, and the spray paint will wash away with the sprinklers or the next rain.
- Sun Crayons: Gather up old and broken crayons from around the house. Head outside and set up a crayon factory. Place aluminum foil on an old baking sheet or paper plate. Put down cookie cutters on the aluminum foil. Place broken crayons in the cookie cutters. Kids can watch the old crayons melt. Take them inside to let them cool and reset, and they’ll be ready to use.
- Obstacle Course: Challenge kids to turn outdoor toys and equipment into events in an obstacle course. Some ideas to get you started: balance beam, hurdles, water balloon crawl course, beanbag target throw, and a tunnel crawl. Use existing play objects in the yard and make new ones from stuff you find around the house and garage.
- Field Hockey: You can make an all-age version of field hockey by using pool noodles, a balloon, and goal posts. Kids use the pool noodle to guide the balloon across the field and hit it in between the goal posts. Solo kid can play against parents, work on their technique and practice shooting with a game of Around the World.
Next time boredom strikes, reach for this list of activities and challenge kids to come up with their own variations.
Fun Outdoor Winter Activities
Depending on where you live, winter weather can drive your kids inside and in front of their screens on weekends and winter break. Who doesn’t have beloved childhood memories of bundling up to make snowmen, have snowball fights, and sled? Cold-weather activities are a great way to motivate your kids to get outside in winter weather. If you live somewhere that winter means sixty degrees, then this section isn’t for you.
- Ice Art: When it drops below freezing, leave out shallow containers of water to freeze overnight. The next day, kids can use table salt to melt little caves into the ice, and then decorate with watercolor paint, glitter, and glitter glue. Add more water on top and refreeze the ‘painting’ or just let them thaw in the sink for clean-up.
- Swedish Snowball Lanterns: When there’s enough wet snow to make snowballs, kids can do this constructive activity. Form small uniform snowballs and make a ring about a foot wide. Stack more snowball on top to form a hollow pyramid. Parents will need to light & place a tea light inside the snow lantern, kids will love how they glow!
- Snow Paintings: Fill reusable squeeze bottles with colored water; either food coloring or a drop of water-based paint work well. Head outside armed with your spray-bottle paint brushes, and kids can spray colored water on snow drifts to make works of art. Kids can practice color mixing and watch how their art changes as the snow melts. Use neon paints & a blacklight for a fun glow-in-the-dark version.
- Backyard Winter Olympics: Help kids to come up with events to compete in such as snow sprinting, throwing snowballs at a target, balance beam, snow long-jump, sled race, and tallest snowman. Kids can make their own versions of gold, silver & bronze medals, then head outside to compete. For solo kids, have them compete against their best times.
- Winter Scavenger Hunt: You can do two different scavenger hunts in the winter. One is to print out a scavenger sheet for a nature walk. Kids listen, look, and feel for different winter items. The other is to use molds and food coloring to make colorful ice sculptures. Kids can hide them for each other, or you can hide them for kids and send them out into the yard to find among the snow.
- Blowing Bubbles: Prepare for this fun outdoor activity by putting bubble solution in the refrigerator; this activity will work better with a cold solution. It’s ideal for getting kids outside on cold days when the temperature dips below freezing. Blow bubbles & watch as they crystallize before hitting the ground. Try it over the sidewalks and watch the ice bubbles bounce and roll instead of bursting when they hit.
- Tree Catalog: Naturalist kids can collect pine cones and needles from evergreen trees in the yard, park, and on nature hikes. Allow them to use a parent’s phone to take pictures of the trees they collect from. Using the Internet or library, identify the trees and craft a book with the samples pasted on pages & descriptions of the trees.
Winter outdoor activities are so much more than just snowmen. Time spent outdoors in cold weather makes hot chocolate sweeter and blankets cozier. Kids will be eager to layer up and play outside after trying a few of these winter fun outdoor activities.
Spring & Fall Outdoor Activities for Kids
Seasonal weather can be a little unpredictable, but these activities are ideal for those surprise mild days early and late in the year. When torrential downpours and high winds happen in the spring and fall, these outdoor activities have indoor craft components.
- Geocaching: his activity requires a GPS device or GPS enabled phone. During poor weather: find nearby caches (hidden containers marked by gps coordinates), and plan how to get to them. Kids can also make/find things to leave in the geocache when you go hunting. During good weather: load the GPS coordinates into the device, or use the free Geocaching app, and embark on an adventure!
- Kite building: This is a great indoor/outdoor activity. During poor weather: make a kite with a plastic bag and dowels. Kids can decorate the kites to get ready for better weather. During good weather: Head out to a park or yard away from trees and power lines and fly your home made kites.
- Gardening: Teach young kids to take care of living things. During poor weather: plant seeds in starter pots. Kids can water them and watch for the sprouts to emerge. During good weather: after the last frost of the year, kids can plant their sprouts in pots outside or garden beds. Plant flowers and herbs they can harvest all summer long.
- Leaf Collection: During good weather: kids can collect fallen leaves while on a nature walk. Try to find as many colors and shapes of leaves as possible. Keep the leaves separated between sheets of paper during collecting and storage. During poor weather: using the Internet or books from the library, identify the leaves and mount them on pages of a notebook with the tree name.
- Paper Boat Race: During poor weather: kids can make and decorate paper boats. They can form an armada or make different styles of boats. During good weather: head outside to a kiddie pool to race the boats by blowing on them with straws, or to a stream where kids can see how their boats do on ‘white water rapids’.
- Windchimes: There are all kinds of windchimes perfect for a kids’ craft project. Make some with materials you already have around the house, or let the kids make a few different designs for different sounds. During poor weather: construct wind chimes together. During good weather: head outside to hang wind chimes on the porch, patio, or in trees in the yard.
- Bird feeders: These easy bird feeders are a great way to attract wildlife to your yard and introduce kids to different species of birds. During poor weather: Tie yarn around the top of a pine cone for hanging, then cover the pine cone with peanut butter and roll it in birdseed and sunflower seeds. During good weather: hang the bird feeder some place where kids can watch visitors to the feeder. They can take pictures of the birds and then use the internet or library to identify the species.
These two-parter activities are perfect for the spotty weather in the spring and fall. Use days when it’s gross outside to work on crafts and get ready for outdoor fun. When clear skies and mild days come around again, you’re primed and ready for the outdoor activity.
Year-round Outdoor Activities Benefit Kids
I’m sure you remember your parents telling you to go play outside when you were a kid. These days, parents may not feel comfortable sending kids outdoors to play by themselves. But it’s good for you to get into nature with your kids for fun outdoor activities. There’s a name for spending too much time indoors; nature-deficit disorder. The phrase is just to highlight a problem with contemporary life, but the benefits from time spent in nature are real.
Both adults and kids who do outdoor activities are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious. So do yourself a favor and make a little time to get outdoors and get active with your kids.