Ideas to get your kids playing outside

Childhood memories today are mostly made indoors and many children (grown-ups too) live without "Vitamin N" (N = nature). Sometimes, regardless of all the benefits of spending time outdoors, getting children leave their building blocks, or cartoons is easier said than done.

Here are some activities that (almost) always motivate our two boys to put on their shoes and get busy exploring the city or the forest.

Treasure hunt.

This type of activity can be simplified for younger children and quite complicated for older ones. Easy versions can include only pictures or illustrations of different objects, plants, or animals children are supposed to find and mark as found. This is something our boys did when they had their first treasure hunt at their friend's fourth birthday party. They got a list of things to find and put in a bag, and all went outside. Some of the items listed were small stones, pinecones, green and brown leaves, and sticks in different sizes. It was all in pictures, and they had to tick items they had found.

For older children, a treasure hunt activity can be in the form of questions, clues, include a map... We did something like this when we were in Scotland, visiting the Loch of the Lowes and Wildlife Reserve. Our kids got a list with some information missing. They had to find a matching number on the info papers somewhere on the path, write the answer and the missing letter. During this treasure hunt, we learned that the loch is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and that ospreys have a special transparent eyelid like a contact lens that protects their eyes underwater.

kids on a treasure hunt with daddy

This activity is a great way to combine exploration, reading and learning about something new. Afterwards, you can always do some arts and crafts. Whether it is snails, bugs, or plants, children can observe, touch (no matter how slimy a slug or an earthworm can be), read about it, and create something afterwards. It can also be the other way around – first something children hear or read sparks their interest. Then you can go outside to investigate.

Exploring tools.

Both of our kids love spending time outdoors. But ever since they got their little explorers` kit, getting them inside the house has been even more difficult. So - a magnifying glass, flashlight, whistle, compass - and they can keep themselves busy for hours.

kid looking through a magnifying glass
Bikes (and balance bikes).

Now, before we get into the topic of spending time outside and bikes, it is imperative to learn the difference between a bike and a balance bike (you can read more explanations and ideas kids have here). Going for a ride, if possible, through the thickest forest with the biggest bumps and off-road tracks, can be a great motivation for kids to spend some time outdoors. Parks with bike ramps are also fascinating for many children.

Fruit, plants and vegetable picking.

In Bayern, there are a lot of places to go fruit-, flowers- and vegetable picking, and most kids find it very interesting. It is a great way to meet other children (and grown-ups), get some fresh fruits or vegetables and spend time outdoors. Our kids adore nettle juice. So, whenever I say that we have to go to the forest and pick some nettles, it takes them less than a minute to take a pair of gloves and a bag, and get ready.

kid picking tomatoes
Taking a hike with the family.

Many children love spending time with their aunts, uncles, and other family members. Why not make the best out of it and go hiking? Bring a picnic blanket, some food, and have fun chasing butterflies or watching grasshoppers.

kid hiking with dad
Building something.

Just say the magic words: hammers, nails, building, and most children are already outside waiting.

Skiing (or not).

Some kids just love skiing, and you don't need many motivational words to get them outside. Even our boys were super excited about their first skiing weekend. But, I guess they expected this skiing thing to be more like: put on your skies and speed down the slope. When they realised it actually meant learning to fall down and get up, putting skis on and taking them off before even getting to the hill, they decided skiing was not for them. Instead, they found sledging the most exciting activity ever. That was when they were with their dad and uncle. Mummy and aunty were not so fast, and consequently, not so interesting. 

two kids on a sledge
Stories and role-play.

Besides equipping children with language and communication skills, stories and role-plays can be a great motivator to get kids outside. Currently, we are in a LOTR phase. They are finishing the second book. For spending some time outdoors, all we need is a ring, and off we go, looking for hidden paths or hiding from orcs. My little hobbits and whoever they ask me to be.

Dino rescue.

dino rescue

This is a part of our ongoing project about dinosaurs. The aim of this activity is to rescue dinosaurs (or any other animals) frozen in a block of ice. When we first did this venture of rescuing dinos, we agreed that it is something they can do only outside. So, when you have to motivate your kids to get out of the house, dino rescue comes to rescue.

"Catching" butterflies

Simply cut out a shape of a butterfly, grab your kid and a camera, and take some photos.

tree crust butterfly

And sometimes, as we all know, it is not our kids who need extra motivation to go outside and jump in a puddle.