father and son exploring outdoors

Summertime means play time for many, especially kids. We’ve compiled 7 kid-friendly outdoor green summer activities that are sure to excite. But first, let’s take a look at some worrisome trends.

  • A recent study of 12,000 children in 10 countries found that a majority of children ages 5 to 12 play outside for an hour or less per day.
  • One in three children spends less than half an hour outdoors. This literally means that many children spend less time outside than maximum security prison inmates.
  • Of the countries surveyed, children in the U.S. and the U.K. spent the least time outdoors.
  • Eight in ten parents reported that their kids often will not play outdoors without some form of technology being involved.
young boy with headphones playing video game
One in three children spends less than half an hour outdoors. Image Credit: luckat / Shutterstock

Many child development experts agree about the importance of outdoor play and activities. It is a great way for children to learn about the world, develop gross and fine motor skills, and get exercise.

Green summer activities

If you want to get kids off the couch and unplugged from their gadgets this summer, it might take a bit of creativity or a fun activity. Here are 7 outdoor green summer activities for your little ones.  Try just one or all seven!

1. Read books together on nature-inspired topics

This is a great way to inspire children and get them excited about the world around them. I read books about frogs that live in my area with my kids last spring, and then they were delighted to go for night walks where we would listen for them. This spring we dissected owl pellets, read about owls, and then went for an owl walk. The possibilities are endless, even if you live in an urban area. You can learn about how to make a compost pile and then build a compost bin together or learn about bugs and then go on a bug hunt. You can learn about astronomy and then study the night sky or take up bird watching.

young girl reading outside
Image Credit: BestPhotoStudio / Shutterstock

2. Garden with children

Growing flowers or vegetables is a great way for children to learn first-hand about the cycles of nature while hopefully boosting their interest in eating vegetables. If you have enough space, give your children a small plot to tend and let them choose what to plant. Some crops that are especially suitable for young gardeners are sunflowers, carrots, pumpkins, snow peas, cherry tomatoes, nasturtiums, green beans and potatoes, because they are easy to grow and fun to harvest.

When my daughter was just two years old, she planted and maintained six pots with sunflowers that were on a patio right next to a rain barrel. She really enjoyed filling the watering can herself and sprinkling the flowers every day or two.

It is helpful to make gardening a positive experience. If your children looses interest in the middle of the growing season, help them out or find a fun new way to engage them. I give my young children relatively small plots because I don’t expect them to have the stamina required to maintain a large plot without help. My kids really enjoy contributing vegetables to dinner and seem very proud when a meal features one of their crops.

If you do not have yard space for a garden, there may be community garden space available in your area. Otherwise a container garden using pots on an outside patio or stairwell may be an option.

3. Organize a treasure hunt

Most kids from young children to teenagers are delighted to participate in a treasure hunt. It is generally the most fun if there is a small group of children, so invite friends or neighbors to join in. Keep the children and ages in mind when writing the clues to encourage active participation from all the children. If the group has a large span of ages, ask kids to wait until all the children are present before reading clues to foster inclusivity.

young girl outdoors
Image Credit: Maria Evseyeva / Shutterstock

When planning a treasure hunt for younger children, keep the clues relatively close together, and draw pictures on clues for young children that have not learned to read yet. For older children, spread out the clues and the kids will get more exercise. If there is a treasure at the end of the hunt, it can be a necessary material for another project, such as seeds for the garden or books about outdoor projects.

4. Participate in citizen science projects

A wide variety of organizations sponsor citizen science projects, allowing non-scientists to contribute to the advancement of the sciences. Although these projects can vary quite widely, many of them do involve spending time in the great outdoors. Monitoring wildlife, water quality, air quality, and other outdoor activities are all common for such endeavors. This is a great way to help encourage children to learn about science while befitting a given project.

5. Discover outdoor volunteer activities

Once a week, my children help maintain the gardens at the local middle school. This helps encourage children to contribute to the community, while also learning about plants and spending time outside. Wildlife restoration projects, maintaining a food pantry garden, walking dogs for the local animal shelter, and maintaining hiking trails or local parks are all possibilities. Find out about local volunteer opportunities by speaking with organizations or conduct an online search. Some organizations might have rules prohibiting the participation of volunteers under the age of 18.

group volunteering
Image Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

6. Create nature-friendly projects

Making bird feeders, bat boxes, bird houses, a compost pile, or a rainwater harvesting system are great ways to involve children in green projects. My children also really enjoy making sculptures with found objects in nature. It can be helpful to find a canvas (a clear space) to begin building or add decorations to trees or boulders. If you know of any local sources of clay, perhaps by a riverbed or lake, children may enjoy making pots, masks, or figures and leaving them to dry in the sun.

7. Make an obstacle course

This is a fun activity that doesn’t require buying supplies. To make this activity as simple and green as possible, try using items that you already own. Use a garden hose or spare board to create a balance beam or tight rope, or lay a stick across two chairs and have children crawl underneath. Ask children to crawl through a large cardboard box, jump over chalk lines on the sidewalk, or throw items into a bucket. If you have older children, encourage them to make the obstacle course and then invite younger children to participate.

Feature image credit: gpointstudio / Shutterstock 

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.