Your kids can have epic outdoor adventures in your neighborhood – Outside Online – Outside | Dauktion

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Ask your kids if they want to go to the local park or the Grand Canyon, and they can have a hard time deciding. While adults are often drawn to the awe-inspiring views of well-known natural attractions, children are usually less concerned with the size of the space and more concerned with the fun opportunities that await them.

That’s especially handy this summer, when newly-vaccinated nature lovers are out and about, and popular destinations are seeing longer lines for everything from parking lots to picnic tables.

The ability to avoid crowds — and the disappointment of not being able to secure a reservation at a long-awaited location — lures families to explore outdoor spaces closer to home, says Jessica Carrillo-Alatorre, executive director of the nonprofit Hike it baby With more than 300 offices across North America, the group helps families gather for local outdoor activities. Events include “toddler waddle” (following your two-year-old’s lead and speed), play sessions in city parks, city walks with strollers that can start or end at a neighborhood coffee shop, and more traditional child-led hikes on trails through wooded spaces. Anyone can start or join a Hike It Baby branch by using an online calendar to post the trips they propose and invite others to participate.

After a year of isolation, the benefits of small outdoor excursions like this are great. A recent study in Japan found that accessing green spaces and spending time in nature during the pandemic “were associated with increased levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness, and decreased levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.”

That’s not surprising to Carrillo-Alatorre, who says families simply need help finding their way out. “Just 15 minutes outdoors improves mood, boosts creativity, and provides physical benefits,” she says. “I think every family deserves to know that Mother Nature is there and ready to support her.”

These tips will help your whole family find fun new ways to explore natural spaces near your home.

Bring your own adventure

Sometimes going outside with a new baby is an adventure in itself, but when you’ve done it A pocket adventure helps older children when their energy levels are low. Use a visit to a local park or trail to collect sticks for a fort, or explore geocaching spots before heading out. The Hike It Baby website has ideas for scavenger hunts and other activities you can start at home (like building a bird feeder) and then enjoy outdoors.

Carrillo-Alatorre notes that adding music and storytelling can make a regular walk more entertaining. For example, she suggests going “bear hunt”: hide some stuffed bears along the way, teach your kids the song “We Go Bear Hunt” from the popular Kiboomers YouTube channel, and then take them with you to find bears on a hike.

Take out the inside

Many activities that get your kids’ attention indoors can be done outside, says Carrillo-Alatorre: “It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box a little bit.”

Consider al fresco dining: turning a weekday meal into a picnic makes it fun. “My kids love being in charge of packaging the family snacks, and we let them choose things from the pantry, count portions and items to make sure every family member gets a share,” she says. “They are so proud to offer and distribute them on the trail.”

Cutting food into fun shapes or choosing a theme like “bugs” adds to the enjoyment, she says. (Make ants on a log with raisins and peanut butter on a celery stick, or caterpillars with grapes on a bamboo skewer.) The same goes for nature-based craft projects on picnic tables in the park.

And if your kids are glued to screens, Carrillo-Alatorre suggests a compromise: the Seek app helps users identify plants and animals they see on their outings using the camera on a smartphone or tablet. Your kids can snap pictures of neighborhood bugs, leaves, and rocks, then use the app’s database, operated in partnership with the California Academy of Science and National Geographic, to help them name their finds. They get badges, and the information they add to the database informs other kids (or adults) who may be wondering how many snails, ash trees, or other natural finds there are in the neighborhood, too. Common Sense Media also offers a variety of vetted apps to choose from that enhance outdoor play based on your child’s age and interests.

Turn common spaces into playgrounds

Now that stay-at-home restrictions are being eased, connecting with neighbors can be a great way to lift the children’s spirits. Hike It Baby created a program called Wander Walks with these types of interactions in mind. Hike It Baby ambassadors can borrow a collection of signs with playful instructions (“hop like a grasshopper” or “pretend you’re an owl”) and invite the neighborhood to enjoy them. All signs have instructions in English and Spanish and suggest a mix of physical activities (including modifications for those who may not be able to hop or jump as easily) and I-Spy-like visual prompts to take in your surroundings.

If there isn’t a Wander Walk in the neighborhood, your kids can create something similar. Get out the sidewalk chalk or cardboard and poster paints and create fitness trails on your block. Use an animal theme (crawl like a bear, hop like a frog) or make a yoga sky game to give kids a chance to test their tree pose and sun salutations.

But don’t think you have to plan every minute, Carrillo-Alatorre warns. “Unstructured and risky play in nature is underestimated,” she says. “We live with so many planned activities and rules that having time to just be and explore outside is so beneficial for our young children. Children who have time to let their imaginations run wild also benefit in learning and cognitive development.”

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