Little Kids

12 tips for getting your kids outdoors

Convincing your kids to play outdoors isn't always easy. Read on for new ideas to get them going.

Photo: Algonquin Books Photo: Algonquin Books

You don't have to be a naturalist to lead a nature-rich life. Richard Louv's Vitamin N offers 500 activities for the whole family to connect to the natural world, whether you're in your home, the inner city or the wild countryside.

1. Practice wildcrafting by gathering plants for food or crafts. This isn't your grandmother's leaf pressing (though that's fun, too). Forage for herbs in the city or go mushroom hunting in the woods.

2. Play outdoor games from around the world. Here are a few:

  • Rede, Tanzania To play rede, players sit in a circle around a mound of sand. An upright stick is plunged into the top of the mound. Players take turns removing a handful of sand from around the stick. When the stick falls over, the player who removed the last bit of sand must run to touch a home base—this could be a rock or a spare hoodie to mark the spot—before the others can tag her. Reset the stick and start digging again. Once a player is tagged a predetermined number of times, she's eliminated from the game.
  • Marbles Sliding Game, Cree (Native American) In this traditional Cree game, a dirt slope or snowbank is made into a ramp for marbles. The ramp should be about five feet long. Players dig 12 small holes at the bottom of the ramp and assign each a different point value. Players take turns trying to accumulate points by rolling a marble down the slope and trying to get it into one of the holes. The person with the most points wins.
  • Ten Sticks, Finland In this ancient game, a hide-and-seek variation, a board is placed on a stone and ten small sticks are placed on one side of the board. Someone stomps the board, sending the sticks flying, and a "seeker" has to collect them and put them back on the board before setting out to find the rest of the players.

3. Go on a belly hike. Have kids inch along on their bellies, covering just a few feet, viewing the drama of ant life, a beetle passing by, pollen on the petals of a flower, a new plant pushing up through the dirt.

4. Experiment with rooftop camping, especially if you don't have a yard. Rooftop camping is catching on with urban families and romantic couples. Set up a tent and leave the electronics behind.

5. Grow a radish inside a balloon by placing a funnel in the neck of a clear balloon and pouring in half a cup of dirt. Add a quarter cup of water and a few radish seeds, then blow up the balloon, tie it off and hang it in a window where it will serve as a greenhouse.


6. Count urban birds. Gather and exchange data on wildlife migration online, like the budding of plants, changes in the light levels, and other seasonal events. What's the first migratory bird that you spot?

7. Go geocaching using a handheld geocaching app. Navigate your way to the coordinates like an electronic treasure hunt.

8. Create your own nature gym in the backyard. Exercising outside offers more benefits than an indoor workout.

9. Take up the sport of orienteering. Using a map and compass, outdoor racing can be done on foot, skis or mountain bikes.

10. Finesse the art of tracking and following animal signs. Understanding and observing the signs that wild animals—from the largest predators to the smallest birds—leave behind is fun for all ages. See if an acorn has been split by a human foot or a deer hoof, or if it has been gnawed by a specific species of squirrel.


11. Help start a school garden made with plants, scented herbs, smooth river rocks, and other natural elements to stimulate the five basic senses.

12. Organize a family nature club. Work together with other families to set up a system for the group to explore nature together and feel safer doing it—meet at the park and go for a hike or plant a neighbourhood garden.

Excerpted from Vitamin N by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books). Copyright © 2016. Used with permission of the publisher.

This article was originally published on Apr 19, 2016

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