Who doesn’t love summer? It’s a time of picnics, vacations, and lounging in the shade on hot afternoons. Those warm summer days are also a great time to help your kids develop an appreciation for nature and stretch their imaginations. Here are five easy outdoor activities the whole family can enjoy.
Edible rewards for minimal effort. Don’t have time for a full-blown garden? That’s okay. Sprout a micro-garden of different lettuces and herbs in an indoor pot and then move it outside to enjoy. Varieties like romaine and mesclun offer a mild, crunchy alternative to processed snacks, and summery herbs, such as basil and cilantro, just might encourage your kids to join you in the kitchen to cook dinner. For more ideas, check out British cutie Jamie Oliver’s new book Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals for easy, healthy recipes and a little extra motivation to change the way our kids eat. Or visit his website.
Treasure hunt meets technology. Using a GPS device, kids can go online and find coordinates that will take them to different caches hidden all across the United States. By selecting one nearest to you, kids then use GPS to discover hidden containers filled with various “geocaches”—often a log book that kids can sign and a goodie to exchange. The rules are this simple: “If you take an item, leave an item. And always sign the log book.” Want to make your trip an environmental awareness event? Collect trash on the trails as you search for the hidden booty. Learn more here.
Nature photography without the hype. Given how easy it is to use a digital camera, why not let your child take a walk around the neighborhood, snapping pictures? Encourage him to tell a story about what he sees or to focus on particular colors or elements of nature, like trees or animals. Then, take the camera memory card to a store, print the photos, and assemble them in a flip book that can be revisited in the colder winter months. Or save trees by creating a digital slideshow instead.
Know your world and name it. Naturalists have long enjoyed the pleasures associated with naming trees and flowers, shrubs, and grasses in their respective locations. Discover this same joy and teach your kids to appreciate nature. Try one of the Peterson Field Guides Color-In Books about birds, butterflies, mammals, insects, and wildflowers. After coloring life-like images, children will be able to better identify these same objects in their natural habitats. $8 each on Amazon.
Sunlight as paintbrush. Most craft stores carry sun-sensitive paper, a blue hued canvas for making images and words. Simply put an object on the paper—a leaf, small trinkets from around the house, even paper cut into various shapes—then put the paper in direct sunlight for just a few minutes. Rinse under water. Voila! The shadow of the image turns white and the exposed paper stays blue. Want to make this into a science project? Test various sunscreen strengths, such as an SPF 15 versus an SPF 30, and see what happens. Which one blocks more sun? You can buy sun-sensitive fabric, too. Learn more here.
Richard Louve, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, argues that nature appreciation among children is on the decline. “Today,” he writes, “kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading.” By taking time to encourage our children to explore local neighborhoods and backyards, we can reverse this trend one family at a time.
Jen Henderson is a freelance journalist and amateur storm chaser.