Whether it’s backpacking, fishing, paddleboarding, camping, or any other outdoor adventure, we all want our kids to fall in love with the great outdoors. There are so many valuable life lessons to learn, adventures to enjoy, and mysteries to ponder.
In today’s technology-saturated culture, it can be a daunting task to get children to unplug and enjoy some time in nature. Here are some ideas and strategies to help your kids unplug, unwind, and help everyone make great memories outdoors this summer!
Summer Fun Ideas
Here are some fun ideas for summer adventures to get you started, but don’t stop here! Let your creativity and sense of adventure run wild!
Make a summer bucket list
Gather as a family or friend group and create a poster-sized summer bucket list. Be creative! Allow everyone to contribute things they would like to do or try.
Encourage each person to add one thing they want to do that they’ve already experienced and one new thing they would like to try. This encourages children to explore, take healthy risks, and make new memories.
Not all the items on your bucket list need to be outdoor adventures. Allow children to add other things to their list. This encourages them to expand their horizons and explore many interests, topics, and activities. Things like, “try every ice cream store in town and rank the top 5” can be just as adventurous and memory-making as, “try rock climbing”.
Take S’mores to a new level
We’ve all made the regular s’mores with marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Make this summer all about S’mores 2.0! Go camping or build backyard fires and find as many new, yummy s’mores combinations as possible.
If you want to really expand your camping cuisine, dive into the world of pudgy pies! Let kids experiment with ingredient combinations and have a family contest to come up with the best new s’more or pudgy pie recipe!
Hit up your state parks
State parks systems don’t get nearly as much credit as they deserve. Many have great hands-on programs for children during the summer months and opportunities to take ranger-guided tours that are kid-friendly. Not to mention hiking trails, campgrounds, cabins, swimming pools, playgrounds, and many other amenities worth exploring.
Some states have amazing resources for families. The Virginia parks system partnered with the public libraries and the Science Museum of Virginia to create backpacks jammed with a family park day-pass, pocket guides for insects, animal tracks, birds, mammals, trees, and wildflowers. They also have magnifying glasses, port-a-bug field observation containers, dip nets, and other tools to have an extraordinary visit to the state park. And they’re free to check out of the library!
Colorado has a similar state parks backpack program and Oregon offers themed backpacks through their library systems. Other states either have or are developing similar programs and there are countless resources online.
Most kids love solving problems, hunting for treasure, and accomplishing a task. Geocaching is the perfect blend of outdoors and technology! Plus, they’ll be learning valuable navigation and problem-solving skills along the way.
There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy geocaching and it’s easy to adapt to kids of all ages. Geocaching allows you to explore your own community in a new way or enjoy new areas. Some people like to see how many geocaches they can find. Others set a goal to find a cache in all 50 states. The options are only limited by your imagination.
Go fly a kite
Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that bring the most laughter and joy. Go fly a store-bought kite then try building your own! If your kids are a little older, turn it into a friendly competition—see who can build the best kite in the family.
Flying kites is a healthy activity that offers many benefits. Looking up for an extended period of time stretches your neck and promotes flexibility in the ligaments and vertebral joints.
It also promotes mindfulness of your surroundings, reduces stress, and is a fun way to socialize. There are many other benefits to flying kites, whether handmade or store-bought.
Go for a bike ride
Whether everyone is comfortable on expert level mountain biking trails or you are up for an easy pedal around the local park, riding bikes is a fantastic summer pastime. It is a wonderful activity to bring everyone together, enjoy the outdoors, and get some exercise.
When biking with small children, the goal is not to go a certain distance or spend a certain amount of time. The goal is for everyone to have fun. Pack exciting little snacks, fill the water bottles and hit the trails or paths for a leisurely afternoon of pedaling.
Head to the local archery range for a few lessons. Whether you’re an old pro or never picked up a bow, archery can be a great family bonding experience. Many ranges have lessons or camps designed to introduce children to the sport.
Paddle boarding or kayaking
Paddle boarding can be a great family activity! Older kids can learn to paddle their own board and younger kids can ride on your board. It’s the perfect activity for a hot afternoon or evening on the lake or a calm river.
If paddle boarding isn’t your thing, consider kayaking or canoeing! You would be surprised how young children pick up paddling around in a kayak.
Whether it’s a beach cleanup, a trail maintenance day, or roadside trash pickup, there are loads of ways to volunteer to help protect and preserve our outdoor spaces this summer. Another fun place to volunteer is at a local running race. Handing out water and cheering on the runners can inspire kids to try the sport!
Even young children become eager to help accomplish a task and it’s a great opportunity to teach them valuable lessons about caring for the planet and the people around them.
Other Adventure Ideas
Here are a few other ideas to get your creative juices flowing and help you fill your summer with spectacular outdoor adventures.
- Rock Climbing
- Paddle camping (with kayaks or canoes)
- Visit the nature preserve
- Read a book or listen to a podcast about an outdoor adventure
- Go stargazing and/or visit a planetarium to learn about the night sky
- Go fishing
- Visit a local fishery
- Go berry picking
Strategies To Make This The Summer Of Outdoor Fun
Once you have your list ready, you may need a little more help to stick with it. Here are some ideas:
Indoors are off-limits
One of the easiest ways to help children fall in love with the outdoors is to make indoors off-limits for certain amounts of time each week. Decide as a family what these times will be.
Remember how much you wandered the neighborhood as a child? Did you enjoy afternoons catching minnows in the creek with friends or chasing lightning bugs at dusk in the open field down the street? Give your children the freedom to roam within age-appropriate boundaries so they can learn to explore.
Arrange a time to explore local parks, trails, and other adventure opportunities. It’s amazing what outdoor spaces are available, even in urban areas. You’ll be surprised how just enjoying a local trail hike can spark a child’s curiosity and desire for more.
Bring gear for all 5 senses
Young children especially learn best and enjoy activities most when they can use as many of their 5 senses as possible! Binoculars, kites, buckets, nets, magnifying glasses and other tools help children to explore and understand their environment.
While they are exploring, ask open-ended questions to help them hone their observation skills. “What do you like most about that bug?” or “How many things can we observe about this little minnow you caught?” are great open-ended questions that encourage kids to think, express themselves, and be creative.
There are many online resources and books to help with these sorts of activities for kids of all ages:
- Free coloring scavenger hunt for young children
- The National Parks Service has a free downloadable Park Activity Book
- PBSKids has fun, free resources to help children explore nature, including photo scavenger hunts.
- 100 Family Adventures Book
These processes take significant time and energy on your part, but they help your child develop and awe and wonder for the beauty, creativity, and vastness of nature.
Take time to talk and listen
Children of all ages need to know they are heard. Be upfront in an age-appropriate manner about everything your adventure will entail. Encourage them to ask questions, share concerns, and voice their opinion. Allowing children to participate in the planning process creates buy-in and encourages excitement.
Establishing healthy dialogue, even with young children, fosters healthy self-confidence, independence, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.
However, for everyone’s sake, draw the line at whining. Make sure everyone knows there is freedom to talk about any situation and voice concerns or discomfort, but whining for the sake of complaining is not allowed. Everyone will be happier for this mutual agreement.
Summer is just getting started! What’s on your summer bucket list?