Ten Outdoor Things Every Child Should Do Before They Are Too Cool For School

Laure Latham
April 3, 2013

So you've checked all the boxes. Playdates... check. Organized activities... check. Homework... check. Healthy snacks... check. Good job, right? Wait! What about the outdoors? Oh, we're not talking commando backpacking trips in remote wilderness areas, here. Just simple things like biking, smelling flowers or skipping stones. Snippets of outdoors really, simple and yet not so easy to fit in today's overscheduled weeks.

If you have fond memories of running wild outside in your childhood, be a good sport and give your kids the same experience today. To help you out, here is a list of ten outdoor activities that every child should do before they're too cool for school.

  1. Explore nature. Let's start with the basics. What does dirt feel like when you dig in it with your fingers? Do these flowers smell nice? Are there any 4-leaf clovers in this forest? Is that a tree tunnel? Over here, did the rain bring out some snails? Whether in open spaces or urban parks, nature is full of surprises for curious minds. Let kids explore and follow their lead.
  2. Splash in the ocean, a river or a lake. Yes, swimming pools are great on cold rainy days but once the sun comes out and days warm up, how about the real thing under the sun? Kids love treading crystal clear streams, splashing in the waves with sand under their feet, building a rock dam on a river, sailing boats or swimming in a lake under blue skies. Wild water is cool!
  3. Climb a tree. Before the climbing gym at your neighborhood playground, there was a tree in the neighbor's backyard or in a field at the edge of your grandpa's town. Wasn't it great to climb that tree? Climbing trees doesn't just combine the best of balance and hand eye coordination. It takes a good deal of critical thinking to find the best way up and once kids are on top, ain't it the best view? Plus, you might encounter a mystery bird's nest.
  4. Follow a trail. Think of it as a treasure hunt, a scavenger hunt or an adventure. Following a trail can lead to many a discovery and you just never know when a bunny's gonna come out of the bushes, where a banana slug will leave its slimy trail or how much observation a beautiful rock deserves.
  5. Camp under the stars. S'mores, anyone? Camping in the wild creates great childhood memories of running in the dark, lifting logs to find bugs or seeing stars in the night sky for the first time. Camping with friends is even more fun than sleepovers—rules are usually more relaxed. Can't wait to see what's cooking for breakfast!
  6. Climb rocks. Now who feels like they're king or queen of the world? Rocks are great things to climb with bare hands. Big boulders even have slanted sides that can serve as slides, small caves that can turn into hideouts or tiny outcroppings you can use to traverse the thing a few inches from the ground. Rock on!
  7. Catch and release fish, frogs, bugs. Gross, cool, yuck... What is it? Creepy crawlies and water animals are the epitome of awesomeness for the preschool set. Generally safe (watch for insects that sting!), they are small enough and fun for kids to observe in their microcosm. Now the absolute best way to watch bugs, amphibians or fish is to pack a bug box or a half plastic bottle so you can scoop out the creatures and observe them in their containers. Snap a picture, return them to their home and learn more about them at home.
  8. Play in the mud. No kidding, mud is the absolute play-dough and you don't even have to pay for it. Shape it, punch it, dig in it, share it - you can do anything you want with mud so dress accordingly and for one day, forget about not getting dirty. IT's OK to be messy once in a while!
  9. Visit a working farm or ranch. Ever seen a child pull up a carrot by the stem and extract it from the store's veggie beds? Precisely... it's nonsense! Take your kids to a farm or ranch and show them where their food comes from, how cows graze in fields, how local insects pollinate fruit trees, how the seasons influence the crops. If you have u-pick farms in your area, check their yearly calendar. If anything can motivate kids to try new foods, it's seeing first hand where they come from and try them under the sun at the best of their flavor.
  10. Learn about plants. A is for acorn, B is for blackberry, C is for coyote brush and so on. Don't know your local plants? No worries. A trip to your local botanical gardens should fix that, or simply head to the library and check out an illustrated guide to your local plants. There are tons of plant books for kids that even tell you fun facts about them, with big images and cross sections. Say, did you know that Native Americans used to chew willow bark to relieve toothache?

From the Parents

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