I have basically spent the summer making a list in my head of all the fun outdoor activities for kids I can think of. Why? Don’t ask me! It is the slightly tragic nature of a blogger I think, to turn everything you do into a (mostly unpublished) blog post.Every fun thing we have done outside (and there’s been a humoungous about of fun activities- check out Instagram) has gone on The Great List Of Outdoor Activities In My Head.
Well, what is the point of an In-My-Head list? Eh? Eh? NO POINT.
So here it is, the Very Ultimate, the Mostly Free, the Really Fun List of Outdoor Activities for Kids. Thank me later. Actually you probably won’t because you’ll never look at a screen again as you’ll be having too much fun outdoors with the kids. Harumph.
Oh hey, those super dooper organised ones out there – you could print this list out and cut it up and have an instant “Outdoor Activities Jar” and then whenever you are looking for things to do that are free and fun and outside you can pick one out and VOILA!
Why play outside?
Whilst writing my book, 30 Days of Rewilding, I researched just how happy and healthy the outdoors can make us. There is quite a lot of evidence that suggests mud can fight depression (really!) and living with a green space close by makes you live longer (I KNOW!) – connecting with nature has a hugely restorative role.
For children in particular, I feel that the Great Outdoors is BIG enough for them! It can hold their rambunctiousness, their loudness and their energy. We don’t have to say “Use your inside voice” or keep nagging them to stop being so wild. These outside activities don’t come come with a “NO JUMPING NO RUNNING NO SHOUTING NO BALL GAMES” sign like so many areas of our children’s lives do! Because the earth can absorb it all – our children can be fully themselves outdoors.
The wilderness is enough for our children’s wild side.
I love that.
The ideal place for dabbling your feet in the Great Outdoors is obviously your garden! I believe gardeners are up there with oil-rig climbing activists in terms of protecting the planet. Getting children involved in gardening activities is the first step in nurturing nature lovers, I reckon.
Make bird feeders. Collect pine cones, spread lard on the segments and cover with seeds. Hang on the trees!
Little fingers are great at weeding. Show them the easily identifiable weeds to pull.
Get a seed catalogue and let your children chose the flowers they want to grow.
Little hands are great at digging. Get the children to plant the holes for the flowers they want to plant.
Plant a small herb garden with your child, let them know it is theirs to care for.
Let your children pinch out the new shoots on the tomato plants.
Let the children harvest the vegetables – they will only learn to be careful with the practice!
Put the kids in charge of watering – this is a critical job and one they can do so well!
Build a worm bin for your scraps – see a how to here – and put your children in charge of collecting the right scraps and monitoring the worms health.
Build a compost heap your children and put them in charge of checking the temperature – see a how to here!
Make a mud wall. Dig up a little corner of your garden till you get to the kind of clay-like dirt. Plaster a bit of your fence with it and then start moulding faces into it, this is something epic that the kids can work on everyday – it will soon look like you have a wall of gargoyles!
make clay sculptures. Alternatively, take actual clay (not just mud) and mould them into faces on the trees in your garden. Red Ted Art has done this with her children – amazing photos here.
“Our challenge isn’t so much to teach children about the natural world, but to find ways to nurture and sustain the instinctive connections they already carry.”
– Terry Krautwurst
Fun Outdoor Activities for kids in the forest
Every town has a nature reserve – it doesn’t have to be a great forest, a simple local woodland where trees are gathered will do. Cool in the summer, covered in the rain, forests are the ideal environment for outdoor activities.
Build a den. There is a traditional technique where you perch one big long stick in the V of a tree to make a sloping spine for the roof. You then lean long sticks against it. But I’m sure you and the kids will come up with your own way!
Go on a scavenger hunt. Create a list of things to find; mushrooms, feathers, birds nest, badger holes. Go on a mission to find them.
Give the kids a camera and let them make a nature documentary.
Roll a log onto its side and discover all the critters living beneath it.
Make a crown out of leaves and twigs.
Use your den as a stake out, wait and watch and record the wild life you see. (If you do it at dusk you might get lucky and spot some badgers.)
Whittle sticks into arrows and use a tree stump as target practice.
Take paper and pencils and take bark and leaf rubbings. (For those of you who missed out on this as a child: put the paper on top of the thing you want to rub, then gently move your pencil over the top.)
Weave with nature. Make a grid out of twigs tied together with thin strips of flax. Now you can weave weeds and blossoms all the way through it.
Collect a hamper of nature’s wonders to bring home for a seasonal nature table.
Play wild bingo – like a scavenger hunt but better – there are downloadable ones here by the amazing blog Seeds and Stitches.
“If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
Fun Outdoor Activities for kids at the beach
The place I hear the call of the wild the loudest? At the beach! If you go there often enough you need to “do” anything- the sounds of the crashing waves and the amazing textures and treasures are totally enough. But to get started with the fun, check out these activities.
Float a log out to see and then try and sink it by throwing stones at it. (Tim and I used to play this all the time before we had kids HA HA – genuinely fun!)
Create a dam system right by the tide mark – help your children stoke up their engineering minds by working out a plan for building a dam. You need a lower bed of stones/ sand, and then you need to build the dam bit up. Too much fun to try and capture water in it, without letting the dam wash a way.
Chasing waves – it is a classic not to be overlooked. This is perfect for children of all ages. If it is a nice day you need more of a penalty than “got wet by an incoming wave” – work out some kind of jail for kids to go in when they get wet.
Body surfing – there is a technique for this awesome surfing with out a board – check it out here.
Sand sculptures – like sand castles but more intense. My girls love making giant, fancy mermaids using all the stuff the tide washes up.
Drift wood monsters – build up monsters using driftwood and seaweed.
Crabbing – turn over rocks at low tide to see some great ones. Alternatively grab a net, some bait and a wharf (ideally.) Crabs are such fascinating creatures, with their weird goggly eyes and drunken stagger.
Fun Games to Play Outside
As well as activities there are loads of games for kids to play outside. Here are a few new ones and a few classics too.
Kubb is one of those games I have been recently introduced to which I love. It does need a bit of makey do before hand, but once you have it it will basically become a family heirloom. Think chucking bits of wood around in a systematic, strategic way. Yep, you got it: Viking Chess. Here is how to make and play Kubb.
Bowls… Whatever it is NOT just for grandmas. You see, you, the toddlers and the teens will get right into this, you will! And there is a set of bowls in every charity shop I have ever been in ever. So. yeah.
Hit the target. If going out and getting a fancy set of bowls doesn’t float your boat, simply set up a bit of target practice with whatever you have to hand. Pin a scarf on to a tree and then collect a load of pine cones. Wile away hours trying to hit bullseye. You will. you really will!
Sardines – I was tempted to say “Hide and Seek” but you can see this list is an original one and Hide and Seek has no place on an original list of things to do outside, hello?! Ha. Sardines on the other hand – it is quite an underrated classic! In this game once person hides while the whole crowd counts to 50. Then the crowd split up to hunt down the hider. When they find them they just hide with them, until everybody is hiding there. It makes me giggle just to think about it!
What time is it Mister Wolf? Oh, talking about fits of giggles! This is a childhood game that involves kids of all ages, perfect for outside. You have a wolf, with her back to you, and a set of keys (or another item) set just below her back. All the kids stand 6 metres away and ask “What’s the time Mister Wolf?” while she is thinking of and saying her answer the kids trying and sneak up to grab the keys and take them back to the finish line. But after the wolf has said “XXX o clock” she turns around and everyone has to freeze. If she sees someone moving they are out, and if the keys are gone she has to guess who is holding them. FUN FUN FUN!
Fun Outdoor Activities for kids on a camping trip
A lot of the beauty of camping lies in the being – you know? Not busying yourself with activities and games… but sometimes you need a bit of inspo, right? These outdoor activities are great for any time but ESPECIALLY whilst camping!
Build a fire, wrap potatoes in two layers of tin foil and cook them up. The taste of fire-baked spuds is out of this world!
Star gaze. It is such an obvious one, but when you are flat on your back with a rug wrapped around you, while the milky way reveals itself to you, you realise why it has become such a classic wild activity!
Create a camping tableau. As you go through each day bring back to your pitch daily mementos. Gather your rocks and pine cones and shells into a beautiful nature shrine.
Leaf Garlands. Use strips of flax to stitch leaves you have collected together. Wrap them around your guy ropes.
Create a nature welcome mat. Make your site feel like home by collecting small rocks and spell out WELCOME at the start of your pitch.
Forage for nettles and make nettle tea or chuck them into your dinner. Chop and fry an onion, 3 cloves of garlic in a huge knob of butter, add 6 cups of stock and 6 handfuls of nettle. Cook through, blend and eat! Heat takes the prickle out but wear gloves for harvesting!
Tree spotting. Bring along a book about the native plant life. Tick off the ones you spot. (Outdoor activities for kids always involve learning! But this is one of the most schooly ones!)
Introduce your children to the tradition of campfire stories. Sing some songs from your childhood, tell some tales and see the whole family getting into it!
Choco-Bananas on the fire. Split your bananas open with a knife, chuck in as much chocolate as you want. Wrap in two layers of tin foil and bake them.
Build a swing. A campsite isn’t home until it has a little rope swing hanging somewhere. You need sturdy rope, a thin but strong log and a knife to carve out a hole for the rope to go through. Toss it over a healthy, thick branch two times and have fun!
“As children observe, reflect, record, and share nature’s patterns and rhythms, they are participating in a process that promotes scientific and ecological awareness, problem solving, and creativity.”
Deb Matthews Hensley
Fun Nature Craft Activities for kids
When we do nature crafts we not only use nature but we tend to do them all outside too. Doing nature activities outside means there is very little stress about mess.
Get the glue, a bowl and some autumn leaves outside and craft up a beautiful bowl. See a video tutorial here.
Painting pine cones with fun colours.
Painting sticks and hanging them up.
Use biros to draw faces onto acorns, with their little caps on- I made a minion once, by accident. He was awesome.
Nature mobiles – cross two sticks over each other to make a cross. Use thread to hang leaves or shells or feathers from it. (To be fair these are beautiful in a very rustic way – possibly too witchy looking to hang above a baby’s crib.)
Leaf Kebab sculptures – thread leaves onto a super thin (perhaps whittled – see below!) stick almost like a kebab. Place them in the ground or on show somewhere.
Ice hangings- place flowers and leaves inside plastic bowls, with a loop of string coming out of them – freeze them and you have an incredible looking bit of ice art!
Replace the flowers and leaves with seeds and nuts and not only do you have a crafty garden decoration but you have a bird feeder. Amazing. See this and more over at Red Ted Art.
Use whatever you can find, wherever you are to make Land Art – see the Artful Parent for a SUPER inspiring interview with Richard Shilling about Land Art for kids.
Things to do with sticks
A brilliant bushcraft any child over three can get involved with is whittling. There is a real sense of joy to be found in whittling a stick nice and smooth! These sticks can be turned into all sorts of things.
Make a wand!
Make a sword.
Make a javelin and have a tournament.
Play pooh sticks – race your sticks down the stream. (Many of these outdoor activities for kids are actually ancient! Played since the stone age I reckon!)
Outdoor Activities for toddlers and small children
One of the ways you can really help the little people in your life fall in love with nature is to set up an Outdoor Play group – for babies to older children. See how to do that here. But here are some everyday outdoor activities for toddlers…
Chalking. Give your children a little package of chalks and let them chalk up the patio, the trees, anything in their path. This is amazingly liberating for them!
Natural painting – with just some different mixing bowls and paintbrushes get them to mix up different coloured paints. It is amazing the difference colours leaves and muds can produce and kids LOVE this activity!
Mudpies. The ultimate small child entertainment system! Grab some wooden spoons and bowls, head to a muddy area and let them go for it!
Ice smashing. A great one for winter and summer. Freeze some little plastic figures in ice cream containers of water. ONce they are frozen solid give your child some utensils to bosh them out. We do this ALL THE TIME – and no injuries yet. Just a lot of delight!
The middle years – roughly six to twelve – is a time of greatly expanded interest, curiosity and capacity for assimilating knowledge and understanding the natural world. Rapid cognitive and intellectual growth occurs, including many critical thinking skills achieved through interaction and coping in the nonhuman environment.Intellectual development at this stage is especially facilitated by direct contact with nearby natural settings, where a world of exploration, imagination and discovery becomes increasingly evident to the child.
Stephen R. Kellert
Outdoor activities for older children and teens
Nature play isn’t just for young kids, my friends. In 30 Days of Rewilding I interview a few people who have seen – or experienced – something amazing in the great Outdoors. Youth- at – risk who have got their lives on track by wilderness trails or teenagers who have found themselves by being lost in nature.
Bushcraft. Older children can thrive learning survival skills, learning how to use good tools and how to identify edible plants. (Youtube is one place to start learning!)
Weaving flax flowers. Kids from about 7 plus will be able to make these beautiful flowers using this tutorial.
Camping out by themselves.
Overnight trails. We used to do this when I was a teenager as a youth group, to fundraise but it is also possible in larger teams through Oxfam Trailwalker. An amazing challenge for young people.
Ice sliding. Fill a deep over tray with water and freeze it – rush to a hill and SLIDE. I took a bunch of young people to do this once when I was a youthworker and we were all crying with laughter. It is probably the most memorable of all of these outdoor activities for kids.
Hill sliding. So simple, but when we did this the majority of people around us were teenagers and they were having a right royal blast! Literally, get a box, a steep hill, and go for it! Check out photos here.
Playing outside is such a simple way that families can reap all the happy-making, health-boosting benefits of the Great Outdoors, whilst also nurturing our in-built love of nature. I reckon that a childhood spent playing outside, the chance to be loud and wild and create adventures, is a great gift we can give our children, and one that sets them up to be resilient, content adults.
What do parents owe their young that is more important than a warm and trusting connection to the Earth?
I would love to hear your own suggestions for outdoor activities for kids!
Some of these activities you will find in my BRAND NEW EBOOK! 30 Days of Rewilding – find your place in nature and watch your family bloom. Discover a load of inspiration for you and your family to go on a beautiful, nature loving adventure. Buy from Amazon Kindle or my own store as a pdf downloadable on any device or computer.