Outdoor time is good for the whole family. Whether you live on a farm or a city block, your young children need experiences in the natural world. Have fun together—running, swinging, climbing, riding bikes, pulling a wagon, going for a walk, and kicking and throwing balls. Or take inside activities outside. You can read, paint, do puzzles, eat, and make music outdoors.    

Enjoy all kinds of weather

With the right clothes and gear, you can go outdoors almost every day. Your child will love walking in the rain; just wear waterproof boots and raincoats and carry an umbrella. In cold or hot weather, keep activities shorter. Layer up when it’s cold—as you get warmer, shed a jacket, hat, or mittens. In summer, wear a sun hat and sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Add a short walk to your evening routine

After dinner and dishes, hit the pavement. Watch the sunset, look up at the stars, listen to the sounds of the night, tell a story about when you were young, or ask your child to tell you about his or her day.

Plant, tend, and harvest flowers or vegetables

Plant seeds or plants in a container (pot, window box, bucket, or even a trash can) in your yard or a neighborhood garden plot. You and your child will enjoy digging, weeding, and watching the plants flourish. Perhaps you could grow salad—cherry tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and lettuce—or plant flowers of different colors and heights, like zinnias and sunflowers.

Play games

Share the games you played as a child, like hopscotch, jacks, Simon Says, and charades. Play board games on a picnic table or blanket. Introduce skills your child will one day use to play sports, such as kicking or dribbling a ball or hitting a foam ball back and forth using light rackets.

Enjoy the nature all around you

Whether they live on farms or in apartments, children need experiences in the natural world. Point out the new leaves on trees in the spring, bugs living under a rock or in a decaying tree stump, birds flying from bush to bush. Go pick strawberries or apples and visit a park, nature center, or farmers’ market. Bring along nature guides, paper, crayons, measuring tools, containers, a magnifying glass, and binoculars so you can help your child become an enthusiastic nature investigator.


Source: Adapted from the Message in a Backpack for NAEYC, 2009, "What Do We Do and Learn Outdoors?," Picturing Good Practice, Teaching Young Children 2 (5): 16–19.

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