Outdoor Places to Go with Kids & Getting Kids to Play Outside
Content Updated on May 13, 2009
We all need to get outside for some sunshine and fresh air. If you're having a hard time peeling your kids away from the computer, TV, etc., then maybe they just need some get-outside-and-play motivation. Here are some ideas for new things to do when you're kids get tired of the same old thing.
You can have a picnic anywhere. Just pack it up and bring it with you. You can even have one in your own yard (or in your neighbor's yard if you want to make it a neighborhood event). I don't know what it is about eating outdoors, but the food just tastes better when you're enjoying it in the fresh air, and kids just think it's fun.
If you live near a park with a playground, consider yourself lucky. Kids love playgrounds, even big kids and teenagers. But even if you don't near live a child-friendly park, you may be able to use the playgrounds at your child's school (or other nearby schools). You can also have play dates at the houses of friends who have playgrounds in their back yards. There are even playgrounds that you have to pay to use, and sometimes they can be worth it. Some companies that sell playground equipment will let your kids try out the amazingly-awesome-super-fun-tower-and-swing-set if they think you might buy (if you can put up with the sales people), but if you want to be a bit more honest, they'll often let your rent out their show room for events like parties.
Almost every community has some sort of beautiful garden open to the public (some for a fee). Some gardens are destinations in themselves, such as Japanese gardens, English gardens, elaborate botanical gardens, etc. But some gardens may be a side-attraction, such as at historical sites like mansions. In same cases, you may even be able to find scientific gardens, such as test gardens where horticulturists test different varieties plants to find out which ones have the best qualities. And don't forget about flower farms, the companies that sell flowers via catalog or to nurseries. Many flower farms have promotional events during blooming season. (Our favorite is the Tulip Festival, where we are always sure to dress up our kids and take photos of them sitting in a rainbow, tulip-filled field that seems to go on forever.)
Children may not be able to touch everything they see at a garden, but if you give them a camera, they'll definitely have fun taking photos of all the plants, fountains, birds, etc. You can even give your child some portable art supplies and tell them you're all going to go out and draw pictures of beautiful things in the garden.
Kids may even be inspired to start their own garden when they get home.
Nature parks are perfect for kids of all ages. You can hunt for bugs, go bird watching, hike, climb on rocks, splash in a pond, go on a photo safari to collect pictures of wildlife, create trails to follow, play nature-find bingo (instead of marking off numbers, you mark off things you've found while exploring), dig in the sand, jump in the waves at the beach, explore a cave, camp, and anything else your imagination can dream up. You can also find out about animal migration patterns, so you can see large groups of migrating animals, such as whales (i.e. whale watching) or migrating butterflies.
There's sure to be a nature park somewhere near you. Try your local city, county, metro, or state website for local park information. If you life in the USA, don't forget to check out some of federal sites:
- National Park Service http://www.nps.gov/
- US Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us/
- US Bureau of Land Management http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en.html
- Recreation.gov http://www.recreation.gov
Zoos, Aquariums, and Wild Animal Parks
Kids can't get enough of watching wild animals, especially animals they don't see every day. Zoos, rehabilitation center open to the public, aquariums, and wild animal parks can be wonderful for allowing kids to come face to face with animals they wouldn't normally see in the wild. Just make sure that the animal park you go to is humane (some aren't) and gets their animals ethically (some don't).
Whenever possible, visit zoos and aquariums that have lots of room for animals to run around (wild animal parks are often best for this) and exhibits that recreate the animals' natural habitats. Avoid traveling animal shows, such as circuses, traveling petting zoos, and carnival or fair exhibits, because traveling is very stressful for animals. (If you want to see animals, you should be the one traveling to see them, not the other way around.) Don't visit roadside stands that have animal exhibits unless they often aren't regulated (and sometimes are illegal). Always check the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) http://www.aza.org/ to find out if an animal center is accredited, and be sure to report any inhuman conditions at any animal center to the AZA and the Human Society http://www.hsus.org/.
Amusement parks are rather expensive, but they can also be lots of fun. Most amusement parks have carnival style games, simulator video games, and rides. Some also have attractions like miniature golf and water slides. Of course, we all know about major amusement parkers, like Disney and Six Flags, but the little ones can do just as good of a job filling the day with fun and cost a lot less.
Biking on busy streets isn't always a good idea when you have young children, but biking on a separate biking trail or quiet road can be hours of fun. You can bike on paved streets, dirt trails, gravel paths, downhill, etc. If you can't afford to invest in a bike, don't have storage space for a bike, are worried about getting a flat tire while you're riding, or don't know where to go, then look into paying for a biking tour. Tours often allow you to rent a bike, have somebody fix it if it breaks down, and go with a group of people who know what they're doing and where the good places are to ride. Small children can tag along on bike seats, in bike trailers, or on bike extensions (which are wonderful because the kids can pedal to help you along but they can't break or steer to slow you down).
Outdoor Shopping Centers
Farmers markets, bizarres, swap meets, and outdoor malls are fun just because they're a change from those usual indoor stores. If you don't normally have a weekly farmers market, bizarre, etc., look in your local community calendar or news for special events like food festivals, art fairs, harvest festivals, and so forth. There's one problem with outdoor shopping, though, and that's adults who forget that the kids want to look too. So when you go, don't just drag your kids with you, forcing them to look at doilies or car parts. Let them lead. Let them guide you from booth to booth and even purchase small items with their own money. It will teach your child leadership skills, let them know that their ideas are respected, and give you some insight into what they're interested in.
Farms, Orchards, and Ranches
Taking your child to a farm is an excellent way to teach them where the food in the grocery store comes from. Many farms have special events during blooming season and harvest season and some will let you pick your own fruit. Farms with animals help your children learn where products like wool, dairy, meat, and eggs come from, but it's often more difficult to visit a farm with animals because of concerns about spreading disease or opening up to trouble from animal rights activists. Still, if you can find such a farm, it's a fantastic learning experience for kids. (Please note that some animal farms and ranches use inhumane practices. Visiting such facilities should be avoided because 1, you don't want to support such inhumane practices, and 2, it can be rather traumatic for kids. Always make sure that any farms you visit treat their animals well before you visit them.)
Whether they're in a kayak, canoe, rowboat, raft, yacht, or speedboat, most kids will love a boat ride. There's nothing quite like traveling over water without getting wet and discovering things you couldn't see from the banks of the river or the shore of the lake. Just make sure that your kids are strong swimmers, are wearing safety gear, such as life jackets, when necessary, receive training first, and are accompanies by an adequate number of responsible adults. And if you're not afraid to get wet, you could also try water skiing sports.
More Water Fun
If you have access to a pool, pond, or water park, slap on the sunscreen and head out to play. (Don't forget the inner tubes and pool toys!) Make sure you have enough responsible adults nearby to keep an eye on everyone, and keep weak swimmers in shallow water. If you don't have access to such places, you could always try running through the sprinklers (check those local water restrictions first) or setting up a water play table outside.
If it's raining outside, don't let that keep your kids from enjoying the water. Give them some rain boots, a rain jacket, and an umbrella. Then let them jump in puddles, catch raindrops in their mouths, carve out mini-rivers, make some worm friends, and slap together some mud pies.
Even if you're not the athletic or sporty type, getting outside and throwing around a disc, kicking a ball, or swinging a bat can be lots of fun. Of course, you can always sign your kid up for the local Little League, but really you don't even need to join a team. Your family can play together, or you can even rig up some inventions, so the kids can play by themselves when you're too tired to go on. (Our kids' favorite rig is a plastic baseball that we attached to a rope. We can hang it from a hook under the eves or over a tree branch. The kids can bat it for hours, even when our pitchers' arms get tired.) Baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, croquet, tennis, volleyball, badminton, racquetball, football, racing, the list just keeps going on. Just visit the sports department of your favorite store and start shopping for sporty ideas. Then send your kids into the yard, or, better yet, go to local park or open field where there's lots of room to run, kick, and throw.
Try an Urban Scavenger Hunt / Treasure Hunt
Perhaps you'd like to go for a walk around the city, but you're kids are bored to death with the idea of walking up and down streets and staring through shop windows. What can you do? Treasure hunt! Make a list of things in the city for your kids to find. As you walk around, they can check off the items they find. If they check off everything on the list, they get a reward, something they want to do.
If the weather is ripe for snow (or if you have a year-round snow park nearby), then head out to those icy slopes. There are so many things you can do in the snow: skiing, sledding, snow boarding, inner tubing, fort making (great for those snowball fights), igloo making (great for making playhouses), snowmen, snow sculpting (don't just stop at snowmen, get imaginative), painting in the snow using juice or food coloring, and so forth.
You don't always need a beach to play in the sand. Sandboxes can work as well. Many parks have enormous sandpits. If you have access to water, you and your kids can build the worlds biggest sand castle or a life-size sand sculpture of your favorite animal.
Get two or more kids together, give them water guns, sponges filled with water, hoses, etc. and let them hunt for each other. When they find each other, they try to soak each other. You could also play this game using laser tag guns, which is good for any older kids considering a future in law enforcement or the military. (Please note, some kids with violent tendencies or obsessions with weapons and fighting should not participate in such games without the approval of a mental health professional.)
Outdoor Concerts, Dances, and Plays
Almost every community has some sort of outdoor theater or concert event. Some places have them regularly. There are even night events like laser shows and movies projected onto walls (does anybody remember drive-ins?). These events are perfect for introducing your kids to the performing arts without being stuck in a dark, crowded theater. Kids can usually get up, stretch, wander around a little, or lay down and take a nap. If they're bored, you can bring books and games for them to do while everyone else enjoys the show. Some performances geared toward children will actually let the kids get up and participate in the show.