Not everything that you do with children and the outdoors needs to be a big adventure. There are lots of timeless activities that kids through generations have been doing in the outdoors and having a blast with. Best thing is… a lot of them are free, all they require is a little time, and possibly a short drive. Studies show that even thirty minutes of outdoor play significantly boosts mental health and happiness.
1. Have a budding Picasso on your hands? Or just a creative little soul? Grab some sidewalk chalk and turn your driveway, sidewalk, deck or fence into a vibrant work of art! Sidewalk chalk comes in so many forms and colors these days that there is endless opportunity for every child. I have even come across glow in the dark chalk! With something to satisfy everyone, get the whole family out in the sunshine making their own personal masterpieces, or work collaboratively on a collage. Use a spray bottle or water gun to get the chalk wet and it acts more like a pastel. Invite neighbors and friends to come and join in on the fun or have a “viewing” of the art. Kids always love showing of their artistic talents , and getting all dirty. My son always tends to turn himself into a dusty work of art by the end of the chalk play. The best part? Clean up is easy…just get out the hose and wash it all away! If it is a hot day, cleanup can turn into a little fun in the sprinkler.
2. Is the sun shining outside, ( if you are in the Sacramento Valley chances are good) then why eat indoors? Make a picnic lunch to enjoy in your backyard or at a local park. Davis has over 400 acres of parks and greenbelts perfect for a picnic. For a great listing of local Davis parks check here:http://daviswiki.org/Parks Have the kids help in preparing the food, making sandwiches and cutting up fruits and veggies. Kids will love making their own trail mix, ants on a log or other fun creations and being a “chef” creating a yummy and fresh outdoor meal the whole family can enjoy. Check here for ants on a log and other fun snack recipes http://www.kidskuisine.com/?p=32
3. Live in the vicinity of a lake, stream or pond? Skip stones! This is a great activity that introduces kids to the early concepts of physics and science. It can help with hand/eye coordination and motor skills in a natural setting. Kids will have fun exploring the riverbanks or landscape in search of the perfect, flat edged skipping stone. It is a hands on nature activity that is easy and fun. Bonus: The locations for skipping stones usually offer other opportunities for interacting with nature!
4. Got binoculars, or a pretty good set of peepers? Go Bird watching. Sacramento and Yolo counties are home to many wildlife preserves and parks perfect for bird watching. We are fortunate to live right in the midst of the Pacific Flyway. Notable locations in our immediate area along the Pacific Flyway include: The Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area http://www.yolobasin.org/wildlife.cfm, the Suisun Marsh, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. A bird watching or species field guide can be picked up at almost any bookstore or outdoor gear retailer, and many stores carry a version that is kid friendly and easy to follow. Kids and adults will feel like treasure hunters of sorts searching for and identifying all the different species that are native or migrating through our local parks and preserves.
5. Have Dirt? Dig in it! Use plastic shovels or hand trowels to dig in the dirt around your home. Kids love to get dirty and sink their hands (and toes) into the soil. Supply a magnifying glass (most local dollar stores carry these) to let them sift through the dirt and find all of it’s crawly creatures that call it home. Help kids identify the critters, and keep a log book where they can draw a picture and provide a short description of the critter or insects they find. Use an insect book to see how these bugs benefit nature and where they fit into the food chain. Kids will enjoy getting dirty with your permission and creating a field journal of their discoveries to share with friends and family.
6. Have a green thumb? Plant a garden! There are a variety of easily grown and cared for veggies and flowers that are great for planting with kids. Discuss with them if they would like to have a garden that attracts bugs and birds, or if they would like to have a vegetable and fruit garden and grow their own edibles. Easily grown varieties for an edible garden include; strawberries, tomatoes, squash, fruit trees, radish, and carrots. For an insect and bird attracting garden try; honeysuckle, buddleia, clematis, poppy or daisy. Kids will love digging in the soil, selecting and planting their plants, caring for and watching them grow, and eating or inspecting the creatures that are attracted to the garden.
7. Crafty? Make decorations for your garden with wood, cement or re-use broken household items. Bird houses, bird baths, stepping stones and other statuary beautify and give the garden a whimsical quirkiness that is all your own. Paint a terra cotta pot to jazz up a container garden. Use left over ceramic tiles, glass beads, broken pottery (with safe edges and supervision) fallen leaves, rocks…or just about anything to make designs and prints into stepping stones. Create a small mosaic table or stool from old, weathered furniture. Buy a bird house kit and let the kids paint it and decorate it after assembling it together. Find a place to hang it that is serene and secure for the birds, but still visible for bird watching. Create a bird bath out of an old plate or ceramic baking dish, place it on the ground or on a pedestal. Art is always a good option for kids and these forms allow them to incorporate natural elements into works of art to place into their gardens. A wonderful Old Town Sacramento store Trailmix.net offers in house arts and crafts where kids can create their own bird house. Best part is that they supply all the materials for a minimal cost, and clean it all up once you are finished! Find them at: http://store.trailmix.net/t-sacramento-kids-activities.aspx
8. Feeling a little sluggish? Lay outside on a blanket and watch the clouds go by! No physical activity required for this one, just creativity. Lay flat on your back with your kids and stare up into the wondrous sky. What shapes are the clouds? What do you see in the clouds? For older kids it is a great way to introduce some meteorological science. Can they identify the different types of clouds (Cirrus, Altocumulus, Stratus, Cumulonimbus) and use their presence as an indicator for the weather to come? Cirrus clouds are wispy and form high in the atmosphere. They are usually a predictor of bright mild and sunny weather. Altocumulus clouds are fluffy, partially grey and appear in groups. These can indicate that rain is coming soon. Stratus clouds are thick and gray and form across the whole sky. They indicate that there will be light to moderate rains. Cumulonimbus clouds are tall clouds with flat tops, very reminiscent of a mushroom shape. If you see these, pack up the blanket and head back inside, a thunderstorm is probably near. Have fun seeing bowls of ice-cream or half moons in the sky or helping to nurture the next local meteorologist. You will be sparking their natural imaginations and getting some much needed fresh air.
9. Take advantage of our wonderful local waterways. Go fishing! We are surrounded by beautiful bodies of water that are perfect for fishing. Many of our area parks have their ponds and lakes stocked with fish so that families can enjoy the experience and not have to go very far. If you are just beginning, please visit: http://www.aa-fishing.com/ca/california-kids-fishing.html for some wonderful tips on keeping it simple and making it fun for the kids. If the kids are older and more advanced consider one of the magnificent rivers, creeks or lakes in our area. For more information on fishing in the Sacramento and Delta please go to : http://www.fishingworks.com/lakes/california/sacramento For Yolo county, please visit: http://www.fishingworks.com/lakes/california/yolo/
10. We live in a valley where a good wind gust is usually a daily occurrence for us. Go fly a kite! Choose one of our great open spaces or parks (preferably without many trees) and experience the joy and calm of flying a kite. This is a great activity for adults as well as children. There is no better feeling than getting that kite up in the air and listening to the ripples of air cut around it as the tail flaps around majestically dancing in the wind. Kites are beautiful to watch, and are often made from bright colored fabric. There are many different types to choose from as well as skill levels. A great place to buy kites in Old Sacramento: http://www.kitesatoldcity.com In Davis, please check out the kite selection at: http://www.alphabetmoontoystore.com/index.html
No excuses, from adventurous to simple, staying at home and enjoying nature or taking a small drive, free to moderately expensive, choose one (or more) of these great timeless activities and get out into nature!
For outdoor supplies and tools for gardening, bug hunting, birding, and just about everything outdoors geared towards kids, please visit: http://store.trailmix.net/
Please share your adventures and places where your timeless activity took place, I would love to hear from you!