The free-range parenting style we all grew up with where you left the house at dawn and played outside with your friends all day until the streetlights came on, gave its last gasp in the ’90s. For the last 20 years or so we’ve developed a more safety-focused “helicopter” style of parenting that has led to children spending lots more time indoors. Outdoor activities for preschoolers and children of all ages have declined greatly, the new-age online culture makes it even less likely that kids will spend time playing outside. In fact, according to this article in the Washington Post, today’s kids spend 6-8 hours in front of a digital screen per day.
Now that we do so much online, spending time outdoors as a family is more important than ever. Kids of all ages, but especially preschool children, need the health and social benefits of outdoor play–which can set them up for a lifetime of better physical and emotional health. Harvard Medical School published a list of amazing benefits young children gain from spending more time outside. Here are some of their highlights:
- Sunlight – While we all need to be aware of UV rays and wear our sunscreen, daylight has important health benefits such as giving our bodies vitamin D for bone development and a healthy immune system. It also helps regulate our sleep cycle.
- Exercise – Getting outside to walk, bike, or play for at least 30 minutes per day can decrease the risk of obesity in children.
- Unstructured time: Unstructured outdoor play enhances executive functions of the brain including planning, multitasking, and troubleshooting skills.
- Socialization – Playing outside gives children a way to meet friends and socialize.
- Appreciation of nature – Our planet’s survival depends on us raising a generation of kids that have reconnected with nature and appreciates its beauty and necessity.
Spending time outdoors can be as simple as neighborhood walks or playing in the backyard, but if you need some stimulating ideas/resources to trigger ideas to encourage your whole family to move, here are some ideas:
5 Outdoor Activities For Preschoolers That Will Never Lose Their Charm
#1. Learn About Nature And Conservation With Ranger Rick
The National Wildlife Federation has a fantastic website for kids and families to help them appreciate and conserve wildlife and the environment. From colorful birds to fluffy bunnies, wildlife will be naturally fascinating to children. This website will give you a ton of ideas to do outside including nature walks, crafts, and other activities. You can also enter nature photo contests and subscribe to their monthly magazine with more great information about preserving nature.
#2. Build An Obstacle Course
If you don’t have a playground nearby, you can create one in your own backyard that will keep kids entertained for hours. You can build your own obstacle course cheaply using things you probably already have around the house. Keep in mind your children’s ages and ability levels when designing your course. You can have timed obstacle runs or family-friendly competitions in the backyard. Here are some ideas of things to include in your DIY obstacle course:
- Use pool noodles to create obstacles you can jump over or crawl under.
- Use hula hoops placed on the ground for places to hop.
- Have a station to throw water balloons into a bucket.
- Use planks of wood for a balance beam.
- Have a jump rope station.
- Balance an egg on a spoon as you walk through the obstacle course to add difficulty for older children that want to join in the fun.
Check out this adorable story of a man cheering up a little kid with a driveway chalk course:
#3. Plant A Garden
Gardening with children helps them learn where their food comes from and encourages them to spend more time outside. Even small toddlers can help dig in the dirt, water, or care for plants, and pick healthy vegetables. Gardening is a great activity for large and small motor skills. They will also be physically active lifting, carrying, bending down, and walking around the garden. Gardening also offers practice in organization, planning, colors, and other educational skills. It’s also a great opportunity to bond with your child while working together towards a common goal. Once the food is picked, you can also cook and eat it together for a full circle effect.
#4. Chalk Art And Other Outdoor Art Experiences
Get outside and chalk the walk! Preschool-aged children love to color with chalk, so why not take the fun outside? You can buy jumbo chalk sticks made for chalking outdoor surfaces like driveways and sidewalks. The best part is, a good rain or a soaking with the hose and the whole thing melts away. Besides free-form art projects, you can also practice writing letters. Here are a few more outdoor art projects you can try:
- Paint with bubbles mixed with food coloring.
- Paint sticks and hang them from rope to make colorful wind chimes.
- Find and paint rocks for hiding, decorating, or using for an outdoor game of tic-tac-toe.
- Paint flower pots for your garden or landscaping.
#5. Park Passport / Scavenger Hunts
If you want to expand your outdoor activities beyond your backyard, you can make a game of exploring different parks, lakes, and hiking areas around your city. To add some flair, print up an outdoor fun passport or scavenger hunt and fold it into a book. Have your child collect something from each spot to add to their book or use a fun stamp to mark your progress. Research some fun outdoor spots to visit and you’ll be on your way. Each week visit a new location and do a new fun activity outside. You can go for a boat ride, take a hike, visit a new playground, or go see some animals at a nature reserve or petting zoo. This is a great way to get some exercise, some sun, and do a little socialization at the same time.
As Activity Director at LadyBug and Friends, I can tell you one thing: Getting outside with your little ones will be an enriching and rewarding experience for the whole family. Try to spend at least 30 to 60 minutes outside playing each day that the weather permits. You can do longer family excursions on weekends. Soak up the sun, but keep your sunscreen handy.