Trees leafing out and early flowers pushing their showy blooms out of the ground are true signs of spring in Michigan, and that’s all the invitation we need to gather our children or grandchildren and head outside to embrace some warmer weather.
Getting some fresh air is great. But with a little planning, you can turn your family time into an outdoor adventure that will have big benefits. Children of all ages need outside play time more than ever these days. According to the National Wildlife Federation, kids in the United States spend about seven hours in front of some kind of electronic screen each day on average, compared to as few as 30 minutes of unstructured outdoor play. Engaging in outside activities not only teaches kids how to build healthier bodies, but just like in adults, being in nature reduces their stress levels, studies show.
Let’s look at some activities that can fit each age group.
Toddlers to preschoolers. Many kids start heading outside with their families before they can walk, secured in a stroller or being carried comfortably in a backpack by their parents. But once children can move under their own power, the possibilities really expand. To make things easier on your pint-size explorers – and on you – start with regular, easy walks in your neighborhood, local park or playground. To add some extra fun, try these:
- Carry a few sticks of big sidewalk chalk with you, so kids can draw along the way.
- Turn your driveway into an artist’s canvas: Submerge chalk sticks in a cup of water. Wet chalk will glide over pavement in bold strokes.
- Give kids an envelope or small bag to “collect” things along a walk. A pretty rock, a flower, a big leaf.
Elementary school-age to tweens. This age group is big on independence, but they still love to have fun. They’re the perfect age for long walks and hikes. First, make sure each child has their own small backpack or waist pack. They can carry their own water, snacks – even their phones if they want to take photos along the way. Some tips:
- Let them help pick the day’s adventure route.
- Use a map to show them how far you’ll be hiking or biking.
- Talk about the shape of the trail, and what to look for along the way.
- Ask them to take photos to document their trip.
- Encourage them to ask questions, and point out things that are new to them.
- Use pocket guides to identify birds and trees along the way.
Teens. This group is built for full days of adventure. They often like to shoehorn multiple things into a day. While a 10-mile hike might not excite them, breaking a day into a morning hike, an afternoon bike ride and dinner around a backyard campfire – with breaks in between – is one way to make it feel like an action-packed day. Some ideas for kicking off spring:
- Bike to your favorite local restaurant for a to-go breakfast outside.
- If you’ve got a kayak or a paddleboat rental nearby, pair that with a picnic lunch.
- Organize a backyard campout for a small group of their friends.
- Set Family Goals for 2021
- Hiking in Michigan: Where to Go and How to Start
- How to Turn a State Park into a Gym
Photo credit: Getty.
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