Give your children blank journals or notebooks and have them personalize the cover. Set aside fifteen minutes each day as journaling time and have them write about their day.
Find an out-of-the-way place to build a fairy house, such as at the base of a tree or in a corner of the yard. Then let your child search for sticks, pine cones, and rocks that can be turned into household items for elusive “woodland fairies.”
Tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, and sunflowers are good plants for you and your child to start with. You'll learn in your first year and can expand upon your knowledge the next year. Keep a garden notebook to record your successes and challenges.
A nature center is often a community's best-kept secret. These outdoor education centers typically offer helpful programs about local plants and animals, and nature center naturalists are great resources for information about activities in your area.
Have your child pick a favorite tree in your yard or neighborhood to make his own. Put a ribbon around it or something simple that declares it "his" tree. Name the tree and watch how it changes throughout the year.
Help your child find his own secret hideaway in the yard, woods, or at a park. This can be a hidden place for him to read a book, play, and imagine. It can even become a spiritual place of sorts, such as a prayer rock or quiet spot under a tree.
There is nothing like picking your own berries on a warm, sunny day. Look for local farms with pick-your-own opportunities. Or look for wild areas with berries ripe for the picking — for free. Be sure all berry pickers are wearing hats and shoes.
Creeks are great for wading, water fights, crawdad-hunting, rock-hopping, and exploring. Find a favorite spot and allow your child time to play and explore. Check water quality through local municipalities and utilities to make sure the creeks are safe.
Place a bird feeder near a window or in the yard and watch who comes to visit. Purchase a bird guide such as The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America to help identify the birds. Check online for local birdwatching groups.
Buy a blank notebook and some colored pencils and voila, you have a nature notebook. Pack the journal in a backpack for walks, hikes, and canoe trips and encourage your child to draw whatever he sees.
Gather acorns or other nuts in a basket, put them out for the squirrels, and watch to see if you have any takers. If you set up a squirrel feeder (dried corn-on-the-cob will work), create a fun maze for the squirrels using ropes or other deterrents.
American children spend an average of 30 minutes of unstructured time outdoors each week, according to recent studies. Give your child the gift of unstructured play time to discover, create, and imagine while outside in nature.
Rock painting is a great way to excite children about exploring outdoors. The most important part is the rock hunt, which can be done in the backyard. Have your child search for "special" rocks. Then sit outside with non-toxic paints to create rock art.
Look online for state parks in your area and plan a weekend getaway. Many state parks offer camping or cabin rentals, as well as outdoor fun, such as fishing, hiking, canoeing, and swimming.
Campfires represent everything wonderful about being outside: camping, friends, family, hot dogs, and s'mores. Check with your local fire department about campfire regulations. If you can have a safe campfire in your backyard, invite the neighbors over.
Forts, tree houses, and playhouses can be rustic or extravagant. There are many books today that offer wonderful and practical ideas for creating childhood getaways. Or use your imagination — and your child's — to create your own space.
The moon affects nature and all living things, but it is so easy to overlook its changing beauty. Take a month to watch the moon phases. Each night at the same time, step outside and look up. Have your child draw each night's moon phase.
Find a special place outdoors to read: under a tree, in a hammock, on a porch, or at the park. Pack your backpack with books and snacks and head out to read with your child. This takes away all the distractions of home.
Canoeing is a fun way to explore local waterways, as well as to quietly observe the plants and animals that live around water. If you have never canoed, call a local nature center or outdoor recreation retail store for information about canoe outfitters.
Hiking is great exercise and a fun way to spend family time. Look online or ask around for local trails. Fill a backpack with snacks and water and set off for an easy outdoor adventure.
Find an old basket to keep anything beautiful that your kids find while exploring the outdoors, like rocks, sticks, shells, fossils, or pine cones. Be sure not to disturb anything growing or take anything that should remain outdoors (such as bird nests).
Children come alive when they believe they have discovered something. Help your child think like an archaeologist, anthropologist, or historian by opening your mind to what you could be looking at in nature.
Invite friends over for water fun in the yard or a park to cool off on hot summer days. A small pool isn't necessary, but if you have space, use it. Make bubble buckets with water and soap or play with water balloons.
Turn off the parent voice in your head that says, "Get out of the rain!" and let your child stomp in puddles and get muddy and soaking wet. (Rain boots and an umbrella are optional.)
Play in the Mud
Build a Fairy House
Grow a Garden
Visit a Nature Center
Make a Tree Your Friend
Find a Secret Hideaway
Go Berry Picking
Rock Hop in a Creek
Learn About Songbirds
Start a Nature Journal
Feed the Squirrels
Visit a State Park
Enjoy a Campfire
Build a Fort
Follow the Phases of the Moon
Pack up Some Books and Read Outside
Explore in a Canoe
Take a Hike
Start a Nature Basket
Inspire the Imagination
Host a Water Day
Play in the Rain