No matter what the weather brings, playing outside is good for kids. There is scientific evidence that playing outdoors can improve health, and children of all ages love it.
“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, outdoor time and nature exploration are safe for most kids,” said Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP. “And we know that the more time a child spends in nature, the more likely they are to grow up to be good stewards of our planet—an environmental win!”
Kids to Parks Day is a national day of outdoor play celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May, which falls on May 21 this year. Families don’t necessarily need to travel far to enjoy nature. Families can connect with nature in a school playground, backyard, table-top garden, or even virtually (though without all the benefits). Find out what parks are nearby based on zip code, and if you can get to them by walking or taking public transportation. Many public green spaces have features and programs for all ages and abilities.
Tips for babies and toddlers:
- The earlier you share nature with your baby, the more likely they are to develop a life-long love of the outdoors. Even infants and toddlers can play and learn in nature. Take a walk through the trees using a carrier or stroller. Throw down a blanket on the grass or soft earth. Let your baby enjoy the fresh breezes, bird songs, forest smells and plant textures. Give them some outside tummy time, blowing bubbles for them to reach for and watch glisten in the sun.
- Explore with preschoolers and younger children. Young children are developing and learning from every experience.
- Build nature sculptures with twigs, leaves, cones, rocks and more by sticking the collected items into a play dough base. Ask your child what kind of patterns they see with the different items. Or, let your child play in mud with old pots, pans, utensils and household tools to develop senses and motor skills.
- Bike or walk with the family in your neighborhood or find a new park to explore. If you have a bicycle trailer or your child can bike, get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors. Describe what you see along the way and talk about the weather. Use a lot of details to help them learn new words and engage all their senses.
- Grab a blanket, some books and find a shady spot to read with your child outdoors. Pick books that talk about nature and help your child make connections.
- Meet up with friends outdoors to build social connections for both children and adults.
For older children and teens:
- Stay engaged with the outdoors as a family. Take advantage of this time to bond over games and activities you all enjoy or challenge yourselves with something new.
- Hold a nature scavenger hunt or start a nature collection. Look for local plants, trees, animals and birds. Collect rocks, acorns, leaves or pinecones. See how many items children can find on a list or gather objects to add to a collection.
- Organize with parents of your children’s friends to send kids on “secret spy missions.” One family goes on a walk with sidewalk chalk, drawing arrows and letters along the way to spell out a secret message. The other family must then follow the arrows along the way to record the letters in the message.
- Kicking a soccer ball, throwing a frisbee, jumping rope or playing any sports you all enjoy can keep the outdoors fun as children get older.
- Pack a picnic or plan a barbeque outside with friends and family. Share a meal, take a walk or play a game together while you enjoy the outdoors.
- Getting outside provides more than a fun break for children and teenagers. It is also good for their physical and mental health and development.