Convincing kids to go outside and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air is much more difficult today than it was in the days before video game consoles, smartphones and addictive television programming geared towards holding their attention and priming them for future consumerism.
But we all know that spending time outdoors and staying active is crucial to our physical and mental health, as well as our overall wellness.
When you engage your kids in fun activities and craft projects that can take place outdoors, you provide opportunities for education, physical activity and mental stimulation that promote good health and development.
Even if you have limited space or live in an area where the weather does not always allow for spending lots of time enjoying the outdoors, you can take advantage of the space and time you have to maximize your children’s opportunities to learn the joys of outdoor living while enjoying the benefits of being outside.
Outdoor Games for Kids
If you live in an area like Southern California where the sun shines throughout the year, you probably have some sort of kiddie pool already in your backyard.
If so, you can throw together an impromptu game of Penny Toss for one of more players.
All you need to do is place some open containers to float in the kiddie pool so that participants can toss pennies into them as they bob along the surface.
You can use plastic bowls for an easier option for younger children or smaller-mouthed plastic jars for a more challenging game for older kids.
Have each player take turns standing at a designated line and tossing their pennies, and see who gets the most in!
Bean Bag Toss
With little more than a piece of plywood, a few bean bags and a touch of handiness, you can make a backyard bean bag toss game for parties or afternoon fun.
Simply cut holes in various sizes (for different levels of difficulty) in a piece of plywood. You can either sew your own homemade bean bags or purchase them.
For the simplest project, you can just lean your plywood bean bag board against the house or fence, or you can make a stand for your board to have a free-standing game that can be played anywhere.
As an added outdoor craft project for kids, you can bring out the paint and paintbrushes and let your kids decorate the plywood.
Hot Potato might be an old-fashioned game, but it is still a fun activity that kids really get into while playing.
All you need is a potato and some way to play music outside, such as a portable stereo or MP3 player with speakers.
Have the kids sit in a circle, hand one of them the potato and start the music.
Each child passes the potato to the next and tries to make sure he or she is not holding it when the music stops.
If you do not have a potato on hand, any safe object that is easy for children to pass will do.
The child holding the potato when the music stops leaves the circle, and this continues until there are just two children left.
The last child in the circle without the potato in his or her hands when the music stops is the winner.
Duck, Duck, Goose
Duck, Duck, Goose is a great way to sneak in physical activity while playing games outdoors.
This one does require at least a small group of children, but is a great choice for larger families, parties or afterschool play dates.
This simple game requires that all of the children sit in a circle facing inwards.
One child stands outside the circle and walks around the circle touching each sitting child on the head as they say “duck,” until they select a child to chase them by saying “goose” as they tap their head.
The child must then run around the circle and try to take the goose’s seat before the goose catches them.
If the child makes it to the goose’s seat, the goose becomes the new picker and proceeds by walking around the circle and selecting a new child to chase him or her.
If the goose catches the original child, the goose returns to his or her seat, and the original child proceeds by starting the process over again.
Backyard Family Activities
Who said you need to drive to the desert or beach to camp?
You can have a fun family campout right in your backyard.
You can set up a tent, bring out the sleeping bags, roast marshmallows and hot dogs over a campfire, and tell ghost stories under the stars to make lasting memories without ever leaving home.
While you are partaking in a backyard camping adventure – or simply after an indoor dinner – you and your kids can have some educational nighttime fun by gazing at the stars and looking for constellations.
This is a great way to teach your kids (and maybe yourself) about constellations and astronomy, and you can even check online for meteor showers to pick good nights for wishing on stars and seeing lots of action in the night sky.
Unless you have a pretty good handle on the constellations, you might want to pick up an astronomy book to make this outdoor activity a great learning experience.
Badminton, croquet, horseshoes, T-ball, lawn bowling, miniature golf and kickball are just a few of the options you have for outdoor sporting activities that can take place in your backyard.
You need just some minimal equipment for each of these, which can be picked up for only a few dollars at a garage sale, thrift store or used sporting goods store.
Artificial grass makes an ideal playing field for each of these backyard sports, particularly because it provides a level, safer foundation for running and playing.
Natural grass lawns can also be used, just be sure to watch out for the uneven surfaces, clumps of dirt or grass, and small holes that can be tripping hazards.
If your family enjoys miniature golf, you might consider installing a permanent course with synthetic grass to provide a fun activity you can do at any time.
Creating a backyard vegetable garden is a great way to get your kids outdoors and provide educational opportunities, while also enjoying time together as a family.
Sticking to simple, easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, squash or carrots is a good way to start and to ensure a successful, satisfying gardening experience.
Gardening with your children gives you the opportunity to teach your kids about where food comes from and allows your kids to see their food go from a tiny seed to a tasty meal.
Keep in mind that some seemingly innocent plants – like potatoes – can actually be poisonous in the right circumstances and should be avoided when growing a vegetable garden with small children.
Yard waste and food scraps can be turned into an excellent mulch to use in your garden, and you can even add worms to make it more exciting for the kids.
If you do not have room for a small garden, you can also plant an herb garden that can be in a single container on a patio or in multiple containers on a windowsill.
Build a Rock Garden
Building a rock garden in your backyard does not require a landscape architect or special landscape design skills; you can install a simple backyard rock garden as a family project with the help of your kids.
Select an area of your yard to use for the rock garden, and collect or purchase small rocks that your children can carry or roll.
Work with your kids to create a visually appealing design with the rocks.
If you would like to include plants, add soil and select native species that require little water and maintenance.
Once your rock garden is set up, teach your kids how to water, weed and care for the plants as a regular family activity.
To limit weed growth and enhance the look of your rock garden, consider using natural ground cover options to cover any bare soil, such as bark, compost, wood chips or mulch.
Outdoor Crafts for Kids
Make a Kite
This one is actually a craft and an activity, since you can fly the kites with your kids after you make them.
Making a simple kite for backyard use is easy and is a fun activity that kids will enjoy.
You can either use online kite-making instructions or cheat and purchase a kite-making kit at your local toy store.
Let your kids decorate the fabric or paper that will be used as the kite cover to create unique, personalized kites, and then head to your backyard or a local park to test out their new toy.
Create Colorful Placemats with Leaves
There is no reason to confine your kids’ artwork to the refrigerator when you can help them create fun placemats that will display their creations right at the dinner table.
There are a few different ways to create placemats using fallen leaves from your yard, but these are two of the easiest options.
The first option is to have your kids collect leaves in different sizes and shapes.
Cover part of your patio or grass with newspaper, pour some paint on paper plates, provide each child with poster board or tag board cut into the shape you want for your placemats, and have your kids dip the leaves into the paint and stamp their leaf design on the placemat.
Let them dry, and you have festive leaf placemats to use for Thanksgiving or regular family meals.
Another way to let your kids create placemats from fallen leaves is to press the leaves between wax paper.
Have your kids look for leaves that are thin and relatively flat.
While they are on the hunt, bring out your ironing board, iron and a couple of dish towels.
Cover your ironing board with one of the dish towels to protect it from wax, and heat your iron to medium.
Place the leaves between two pieces of wax paper on your ironing board, and then place the second dish towel on top.
Lightly run the iron over the dish towel until the two sheets of wax paper begin to seal together.
Once this happens, the leaves are less likely to move, and you can press harder with your iron to make sure the wax paper is thoroughly sealed.
Once your placemats cool, you can use these festive leaf decorations for your next family dinner.
You can use this same method to make bookmarks as well.
Paint Rocks for Your Vegetable Garden, Rock Garden or Patio
Painting rocks is a simple, fun activity for kids of all ages.
Acrylic paints work well for this, and your kids can use paintbrushes or sponges to create unique designs.
Once your kids have painted the rocks, use a water-based varnish to seal in their artwork.
You and your children can paint rocks to use as plant markers in your backyard vegetable garden, as colorful artwork for your rock garden or as patio decorations.
It may be more difficult to convince kids to play outdoors these days, but it is well worth the effort.
By presenting enticing ideas that will pique their interest, you can encourage your kids to spend more time outside experiencing the benefits of physical activity, social interaction and learning about nature.
Fun kids’ crafts, exciting outdoor games, and family activities that are easy to organize and will create lasting memories are an excellent use of your backyard and allow you to spend quality time with your kids.
Most of the ideas mentioned in this article are easy to pull together with things you likely already have at home, but don’t forget to get creative and come up with other options that will be of particular interest to your family members.
Photo credits (in order of appearance): stock.xchng, annisat; stock.xchng, chidsey; stock.xchng, Piku; stock.xchng, hortongrou.