June is officially designated as Great Outdoors Month, a month-long celebration of the outdoors. As advocates of outdoor play and outdoor learning, we agree that June is a great time to get the kids outdoors and away from television and electronic screens.
While many families may opt to stay closer to home this year, there are many opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors with young children, all while social distancing and encouraging learning.
The National Wildlife Federation encourages families to ditch the digital devices and tune into nature by camping outdoors in June. The Great American Camp Out is a summer-long celebration of exploring the wild outdoors through camping. Whether you camp somewhere in your neighborhood, favorite local or state park, campground or RV site, or even in your backyard, the key is getting the family together, taking part in outdoor activities, and observing nature.
Partake in classic camping activities such as:
- - Birdwatching
- - Bug collecting
- - Rock gathering & rock balancing
- - Fossil hunting
- - Skipping rocks
- - Creeking (catch minnows, tadpoles, and crawfish!)
- - Hiking
Be sure to check the American Camp Association’s guidelines for camping during COVID-19 here.
If camping in the great outdoors away from home is not in the cards this year, camping as a family in your backyard can be equally fun, memorable, and educational during your summer staycation. Pitch a tent, grab the sleeping bags, and get the firepit ready to tell stores around the campfire.
Fun backyard camping activities can include:
- - Hanging string lights to light up the backyard at night
- - Collecting rocks, leaves or sticks
- - Catching fireflies
- - Listening to and identify nature sounds
- - Playing backyard games (toss bean bags, horseshoes, etc.)
- - Singing or playing instruments (use pots & pans if you don’t have any musical instruments!)
- - Doing yoga outside (add yoga music!)
Nature walks are always fun and can take place anywhere. Find a quiet area in your neighborhood, a local park or conservation area, or perhaps your backyard. Just make sure to practice social distancing in public places. Ask children what they see, hear, and smell. Ask them to observe the weather and have them tell you how it feels (is it hot? is it cold? is it sunny?). Ask them to look at and identify any animals or insects they see on the ground or in the air. Ask them to look at trees and if they notice any differences in how the trees look. You could help them by telling them what you see and have them repeat it back to you. Take the learning further by having children record the findings of their nature walks on a notebook or journal. Then, have them compare their findings on each nature walk they take. Did they see the same things? Did they discover something new?
Nature walks don't necessarily have to be limited to rural or suburban areas. City-dwellers can also observe nature in the city. The book Wild Ones: Observing City Critters introduces children to the wildlife that thrives in cities.
The point is for children to walk around, explore, and observe the world around them. Then, after your walk, give children some paper and markers or crayons and ask them to draw what they saw on the nature walk. Ask them about the favorite thing they saw while walking. Nature walks can be fun, simple, and educational.
Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? A backyard scavenger hunt is the perfect outdoor activity for kids in the summertime. Not only does it get children outside, but it can be a fun learning experience in a completely natural way. Setting up an outdoor scavenger hunt doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as taking everyday household objects or items commonly found in nature, like flowers, rocks, leaves, or sticks. Use whatever “loose parts” you have. Children will observe and become aware of their surroundings when they search for these items.
A scavenger hunt doesn’t necessarily have to include physical things; in fact, during these times, it probably better to encourage children to find colors, shapes, sizes, and textures out in nature. How about asking them to find something that begins with a certain letter. As you can see, the sky is the limit when it comes to scavenger hunts.
Speaking of the sky...
Stare at the Stars!
Sometimes it’s fun to stare at the sky and count the stars at night. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce young children to the solar system, planets, constellations and vocabulary words such as astronomy, galaxy, gravity, north star, twinkling, waxing, waning, and so much more! Ask them to count how many stars they see.
If children are afraid of the dark, perhaps ease them into going outside at night by reading them the Flashlight Book. They’ll learn that by using a flashlight, they can see all kinds of things at night and discover magic in the darkness.
There’s obviously so many other ways to enjoy and celebrate the Great Outdoors. We’d love to hear from you and all of the fun activities you’re doing with children this summer.