Go Play Outside: Five Ways to Get Your Kids Outdoors
In this day of video games and 24-hour children's TV channels, many kids gravitate towards inside activities. However, spending time outside is important to both your child's physical and emotional health.
"Children learn to understand their world through unstructured play," says Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, pediatrician and author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right. "Outdoor play is also associated with lower obesity rates."
One of the best ways to encourage children to go outside is to spend time outdoors with them and have them see you enjoying it. Dolgoff encourages parents to spend time as a family outdoors. "Nothing brings my family closer than a day spent together in nature," Dolgoff says.
Letterboxing is a great family hobby where you follow clues to find small boxes hidden in parks or other public places. To get started, your family will need a blank journal, a small ink pad and a rubber stamp. Go to www.letterboxing.org to find clues to a letterbox in your area. For your first box, you might want to pick a location that you are already familiar with.
Before you head out, explain to your kids that you may not always find the letterbox, but that part of the fun is enjoying the hike. When you find the letterbox, there will be a small journal and stamp in the box. Stamp your family's journal with the stamp from the box and leave your family stamp in the letterbox journal.
Many families also record some details about their hike in the journal in the letterbox and their own journal, such as who found it or any wildlife observed. Carefully re-hide the box so that it will be there for another letterboxer to find.
Look at stars
Let your kids stay up late on a clear night to look at the stars. Before you venture out, visit www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance to see what planets or constellations are visible. Find a spot away from city lights and take blankets or chairs. Teach your kids how to find the North Star and show them the Big and Little Dipper. For an extra-special evening, go stargazing during a meteor shower. Be sure to pack a fun snack, such as popcorn and lemonade, for your family to enjoy while watching the stars.
If you'd like some more help pinpointing night sky sights, join a sky-watching session hosted by the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, usually at Jordan Lake State Park. Monthly sessions are offered depending on weather, with dates and specifics at www.moreheadplanetarium.org under Events and Activities.
Play a group game
While many kids enjoy playing freeze tag and hide-and-seek, try a new game. Show your kids how to play Four Square and help them draw a court on the driveway with chalk. Organize the neighborhood into a rousing game of Capture the Flag that kids and grownups alike will enjoy. On a warm evening, head outside to play Kick the Can or Ghost in The Graveyard. You can find how to play these and other outdoor group games at www.familyfun.go.com.
Plant a garden
A garden is a fun way to encourage your child to be outside, learn about plants and teach healthy eating. Since many kids are more willing to try vegetables that they grow, plant a small vegetable garden together. If you do not have a yard, you can plant tomatoes or strawberries in containers on your porch.
Encourage your child to take care of the plants by watering and weeding. If you have a bigger area, create a specialty garden, such as a pizza garden, where you grow veggies and herbs you can put on a pizza. Help your child plant some colorful flowers, such as zinnias or sunflowers, from seeds and watch them grow together. Get more ideas on kid-friendly gardening at www.kidsgardening.org.
Take a nature walk
Taking a nature walk together is great exercise and teaches your child about observing nature. One day, take a color nature walk where you look for things during your walk that are yellow. On another day, listen for all the different sounds that you hear and write them in a notebook.
To make your nature walk even more fun, create an Explorer's Kit by putting a magnifying glass, notebook, field guide and set of binoculars in a backpack. A younger child can have their own binoculars by taping two empty rolls of toilet paper together. You can also include some resealable plastic baggies to collect treasures during the walk.
You can find more nature walk ideas at www.greenhour.org. You can also use the Nature Find section of this site run by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to find nearby nature areas. Also check our website, www.carolinaparent.com, for family-friendly environmental resources (search articles for "nature").
Jennifer Gregory is the mom of three kids and two dogs. She has fond memories of playing kick the can on hot summer nights when she was growing up.