Today marks the start of screen free week and it is vital that in a world full of screens parents and educators of young children encourage time spent outdoors.
As the weather starts to get warmer and winter melts into spring, there is no excuse not to put down the tablets and turn off the TVs in favour for some fun outdoor activities.
Not only does being outside encourage active play which is a great way to get children to get their weekly dose of exercise, but it also exposes them to that all-important vitamin D.
Here are a few outdoor activities that will suit children as young as toddlers all the way up to pre-teens, keeping them entertained while benefitting from being closer to nature and out of the house.
1. Nature Eye-Spy
Instead of having a game of eye-spy in the car where the most interesting thing you are likely to spot is a tree, cloud or car, encourage children to play a game of eye-spy on a long walk.
Walks can seem like a chore to little ones, particularly in woodland or across a field. Parents are often met with a chorus of “I’m bored”, which can negate the relaxing and peaceful aspects of a hike. While distracted with a game, children are likely to walk further and remain active for longer.
You can increase the level of exercise by making eye-spy a physical challenge. Instead of shouting their guesses they should run and point to what they think the object is. This is also a great sensory activity, allowing them to touch different textures and get close to different smells.
If you child is older you can make the challenge harder by referring to species of trees and plants, but be sure not to let them touch anything that is a potential irritant or worse, poisonous.
2. Fly Kites
Kite flying is very weather dependent. It is the type of activity that needs to be done spontaneously when the conditions are right. If storms and rain are predicted it is a complete no-go, similarly if the sun is out but there is no wind, it is a pointless venture.
Weather permitting, kite flying can provide endless giggles and fun for young children. Watching a colourful kite take flight and frantically dance in the air is undoubtedly going to put a smile on little faces.
This activity is best achieved in a wide open space, such as a large green park or field. This way you can save tears that will inevitably come with a kite being stuck in a tree.
For an optimum flying experience move around 20 metres away from the kite. There shouldn’t be any obstacles where you set off the kite. Wait for a gust of wind before releasing the kite. As it is released you or your child should provide some friction by pulling the string, this will help it lift.
Pay attention to the direction of the wind. If it changes, you’ll have to adapt to it.
3. Scavenger Hunts
Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt?
A little friendly competition between siblings and friends is a great way to spend an afternoon outside.
Create a tick sheet of things you would typically see in the area you are going to. So for woodland it may include – pine cones, bluebells, squirrels etc. Hand one of these out to each child and as you walk along let them try and find all the things on the list.
The first to tick off all the things on their list wins a small prize. Make sure there are little runner up prizes as well to avoid jealousy.
If you cannot think what to include in your list then you find a readymade one online, such as this one from Triangle Land Conservancy.
Scavenger hunts can also be an educational activity. If you decide to visit an attraction such as a museum or zoo, children can be challenged to read the signs around the locations to find the thing from the list but also learn something about it in the process.
4. Creepy Crawley Hunt
Some children can become scared and squeamish of insects, which can last well into adulthood. Therefore, it is best to introduce children to creepy crawlies from a young age. And the best way to do this is to make it fun!
Make the bug hunt a creepy crawly safari. Encourage children to go out and try and spot different types of insects and arachnids. Without causing hard to the bugs, allow the little ones to hold them, assuring them they are safe to be around.
Print off some sheets with different types of bugs on it and ask the children to tally how many of each type they find over the course of their time outside. Prepare for questions by researching common bugs beforehand so you are armed to educate. If the children are a little older, you can even throw in a few interesting facts, like dragonflies have been on earth for 300 million years!
Gardening can be a great way to teach children responsibility. By giving them their own patch they can learn about where food comes from, learn to water and care for the plants and reap the rewards of their efforts.
Gardening is an educational activity for little ones, so much so that some nurseries such as Kiddi Caru, who have a nursery in Basingstoke with a planting garden, have introduced gardens and planting activities to the children that attend. It is a great way for educators and parents to show the lifecycle of a plant, they can even encourage little ones to keep a diary of the progress.
Easy plants to grow include tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes and hardier herbs, such as mint and thyme. Each plant will introduce children to textures, smells and eventually tastes, perhaps even convincing veggie dodgers to try something they have grown themselves.
6. Chalk Art
If your little one isn’t the adventurous outdoors type it may be a struggle to get them out the door. However, there is a way to make outside appealing to nature shy individuals, making sure they still get a recommended amount of vitamin D and fresh air.
Although children are encouraged not to draw on walls and floors indoors, outside can be made an exception to this rule, making a more appealing prospect.
Give little hands some giant chalk and allow them to let their imaginations run wild by inviting them to draw on the exterior walls of the house, on paving slabs and even the pavement outside if you live on a safe street or cul-de-sac.
Chalk washes away so there is no risk of leaving the house and street looking messy, and if you can’t wait until the next bout of rain a simple splash of the hose will wash away the handy work.
So, next time the little one asks to have a certain TV show or film put on, take a look out of the window, if the weather looks inviting, take them out!