Updated: Apr 24
In a time of increased anxiety, spending time outside can help. Nature is not limited to forests, mountains, or beaches - backyards, sidewalks, and local parks provide ample opportunity to experience what nature has to offer. If you and the kids are hitting that boredom threshold these days, we're here to help. Below, we've rounded up 3 ways for the whole family to explore more outside and have fun together. From tapping into the senses to collecting in creative ways, we're hoping these tips get your clan out in nature and making memories in your local greenspaces.
3 Fun Ways for families to Explore More Outside
1) Play with your senses
Taste. Touch. Sight. Smell. Hearing. Explore one more deeply or use all five to get in tune with the natural world. Tapping into the senses is a great way to start a grounding exercise, especially for younger children. While we might love the idea of mini yogis getting meditative in the backyard, we also know that it can be a challenge for little ones to embrace stillness when their minds and bodies just want to go go go! That's where sensory play can come in handy, and the great outdoors offer plenty to get all of those senses tingling. Try some of the following to tap into the senses when out in nature:
Try going barefoot on different surfaces - grass, gravel, sand, mud. How does it feel underneath your feet and between your toes? How does it move with your steps? How can you play with it in your hands?
With transportation noise decreased, take advantage of the sounds of Spring. What sounds do you hear? Do you notice any patterns in those sounds? Can you mimic the sound with your own voice or body?
Identifying colors, shapes, and visual textures are great exercises of sight for young children, and observational drawing in nature is a fun way for people of all ages to explore that sense outdoors.
There are so many ways to explore nature using just your senses! Be sure to encourage treating our environment with respect and doing so safely by handling objects with care, tasting only what you know is safe, and being attentive to your surroundings and how others (including wildlife) are sharing that space.
2) Gather some gear
The next step up from using your senses when exploring nature is incorporating tools! Even just breaking out one tool, like a measuring tape, can provide endless opportunities for deeper exploration outside. Here's a list of some gear you can try incorporating to outside time with your family:
a magnifying glass - don't have one handy? There's a magnification feature on most phones under the accessibility settings! This will allow you to zoom in on up-close details. You can even take photos in this setting. Here's how to use it for Apple products. And, here's the info for Android.
a measuring tape - a soft measuring tape used for sewing allows you to get measurements around the circumference of objects, while those used for building and home improvement are ideal for distance and height measurements.
a flashlight or headlamp for evening explorations, tunnels, holes, and other dark spaces
scissors and perhaps a pocketknife for nature explorers taught and trusted to use them safely
paper and pencil - starting a nature journal is a great activity for anyone looking to document their observations outside! Incorporate simple art tools, like tape, crayons or pastels, and watercolors
jars, tupperware, baskets, and other containers for collecting specimens to look at more closely
a camera to document your explorations
4) Collect and share your nature finds in creative ways
Who doesn't love souvenirs? With stay home orders in effect, we're not going to be vacationing anytime soon, but that doesn't mean that the collectors in your family have to miss out! Objects in nature can be collected (with care) and put to creative uses. Click through the slideshow at left to get some visual inspiration for the following ideas:
Create a hands-free collection accessory! A loop of duct tape around the wrist (sticky-side out!) creates the perfect wearable canvas for collecting specimens on a nature hike.
Try a nature pal exchange with friends or family. If you have a loved one you're unable to see at the moment - maybe a faraway friend or an elder in a nursing care facility - you can organize a special gift by sharing some of your nature finds. This would be an awesome project to do with someone living in another state - how might what you collect in North Carolina be different from what you might see from a friend living in Arizona? You don't need much to get this going, but we like the idea of organizing specimens in a box with compartments, which you can make yourself from scrap cardboard. Dried specimens tend to travel best, and just make sure you're not sending any live critters along the way! Label your finds with information identifying them and notes on where they were found in your area.
Arrange collections into artistic displays. Artist-photographer Ja Soon Kim arranges her nature finds in artful compositions. Get inspired to do the same by organizing your collected items by textures or colors and creating patterns and new shapes. You can arrange these temporarily to snap a photo or organize them into a permanent collage by gluing them into place! Can you imagine a wall filled with these beautiful displays?
Looking for more ideas to bring more park to your life? Check out our Tips for Using What You've Got to Bring More Green Into Your Life and GSO Downtown Parks Zoom Backgrounds