This summer, ditch the electronics and send kids outside to play the REAL way! Read on for science-backed reasons to encourage outdoor play, plus get some amazing ideas on how to make it a summer that your family never forgets (even if you’re on a tight budget)!
Ditch the iPad & Send Kids Outside to Play the REAL Way This Summer
Technology has undeniably made our lives easier. No one can argue that. However, for every benefit, there’s a drawback. Social media helps us stay connected…but sometimes those connections endanger our lives or mental health. Online banking helps us keep track of finances…but also puts our money at risk from hackers. Laptops make it easier to work from home…but often at the expense of our work/life balance.
For kids, the drawbacks are even more extreme!
When it comes to our kids, technology is loaded with benefits. Online schooling, easy access to educational websites and programming, and- let’s be honest- a quick way to get them focused on something other than us while we’re trying to do chores.
The drawbacks, though, are even more extreme than they are with adults. Yep, even worse than losing all of our money to hackers- too much tech can rot our kids’ brains, and not just in the proverbial sense. Multiple studies show that excessive screen time actually changes the entire structure of our brains. It also damages our kids’ eyes, causes speech delays in very young children, and even interferes with overall development.
On the flip side, playing outside has far more benefits than drawbacks. Let’s look at just a few science-backed reasons to send your kids outside to play. Then, we’ll check out some of my favorite ways to turn your backyard into a summer camp!
Benefits of sending kids outside to play this summer
I’ll keep this relatively brief, because I think we all know that playing outdoors is far more beneficial than sitting in front of a TV or iPad, even without experts saying so. Still, it’s nice to know that our parenting instincts are backed up by scientific studies, right? So, here you go:
- In 2014, researchers at MSU discovered that kids who spend a lot of time outside “could have a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and purpose than those who don’t.”
- A 2016 study found that playing outdoors actually helped improve kids’ academic scores AND prevented childhood obesity.
- Children diagnosed with ADHD experienced a “significant reduction of symptoms” when they spent more time outside in nature.
- According to this Harvard doctor, playing outside improves kids’ critical thinking skills.
- One Sanford Health doc explains that it can actually boost our kids’ immune system! See, letting kids get dirty is good for their health!
- Even playing alone outside has benefits. A 2020 study showed that “solitary activities,” like fishing or exploring, improved kids’ overall bond with nature (which in turn makes them care more about the planet).
- Speaking of caring about the planet, a 2017 study from the University of British Columbia found that kids who spend time playing outside are more likely to protect nature as adults.
I could go on and on. These are just a sampling of the massive body of research out there on the topic. Long story short, when you send your kids outside to play instead of letting them waste away the days in front of a screen, you’re improving their physical and mental health in ways that will last a lifetime.
Fun Outdoor Activities for Your Own Summer Camp at Home
If you have the money to spend on something like summer camp or pool memberships, it’s not really a major challenge to get kids outdoors. However, not everyone can afford that. Plus, depending on where you live, camp may not even be an option.
Don’t worry, though; there are SOOO many things you can do at home that cost little to no money. In fact, you can practically recreate summer camp in your own backyard. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Start your own family garden
Plant a whole field of veggies or just a small container of your favorite herbs on your balcony. Give each of your kids their own section of the garden (or a pot on the balcony) and let them handle every aspect of growing their plants (with a little guidance, of course, for younger kids).
They’ll revel in the experience of growing something with their own little hands, and you’ll all reap the rewards when it’s harvest time! Check out my tips for starting a backyard garden for more ideas.
2. Go on nature scavenger hunts
Scavenger hunts are always a blast, especially when you participate in one as a family. Just make up a list of things to search for in your neighborhood or on your favorite hiking trail before you head out. If you need to send your older kids outside to play on their own while you get some work done, tailor the list for things they can find without leaving the safety of your backyard.
You can also grab this nifty GoFindIt Outdoor Scavenger Hunt game. It has a bunch of cards with just one or two words on them, like “Furry” or “Round.” Your kids have to find something that matches the card.
3. Nature arts and crafts
From leaf rubbings to rock painting, there are so many ways to use nature in arts and crafts that you could do one a day all summer long and still not run out of ideas. If you need some inspiration, Mother Natured has a massive list of 101 different ideas, most of which require little more than what you can find outside and a few very inexpensive supplies (paint, crayons, twine, and such).
4. Learn new outdoor living skills
Most camps teach kids “survival skills,” but that phrase brings to mind things like a zombie apocalypse or doomsday scenario. While that may be fun for grownup fans of The Walking Dead, it’s not exactly something I want my kids worrying about. So, let’s call them outdoor living skills. Grab a book from your local library tailored towards your kids’ ages, then learn together as a family.
Some not-so-scary ideas include identifying edible plants in your area, learning how to build your own little shelter out of what you can find in nature, and how to use a compass (or better yet, the sun) to find your way around.
5. Do a “night and day” comparison of your backyard
Our kids mostly play outside during the day, so they may be surprised by just how much their little world changes once the sun sets. Over the course of a week, ask your kids to keep a day/night journal. During the day, they’ll note down the things that they see and hear in your yard on one page. Then, at night, go out together as a family and do it again.
At the end of the week, compare the two pages. Talk about the different birds and bugs that come out at night and identify the sounds off in the distance. Not only does this give your kids a better appreciation of your local ecosystem, for little ones it can actually help soothe their fears of the dark. After all, when they know what’s making that creepy noise, they’re less afraid.
6. Outdoor science experiments
Your backyard is the perfect place to let kids experiment with science, especially if you’re not all that keen on letting them make huge messes in the kitchen. If you need some ideas, just search “messy science experiments” on Google. There are TONS of them that will help get your kids outside AND learning all summer long. I also really love this book. It has 50+ outdoor science experiments for kids of all ages, and it’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited. It’s geared towards kids ages 5-10.
Here are a few others, including some for younger and older kids:
7. Leave them alone (within reason)
A 2020 North Carolina University study found that kids need to spend time alone in nature to truly bond with and appreciate it. Let them have it, within reason of course. Obviously, you’re not going to send your toddler outside alone, but you can still give them the sense of being on their own. Instead of sitting right next to them and guiding their playtime, take a step back. Supervise them without interfering (unless they’re about to do something dangerous, of course).
8. Picnic in the Park
Pack a delicious healthy lunch and head to a nearby park for a fun-filled picnic. Enjoy the fresh air, play some outdoor games like frisbee or catch, and savor your homemade meal together. Make it even more exciting by exploring a new park each time or inviting other families to join in for a larger gathering. Don’t forget to bring a blanket, sunscreen, and plenty of water!
9. DIY Water Park
Beat the summer heat by creating your own water park right in your backyard. Set up a sprinkler, fill up a small pool or water balloons, and let the kids splash around. You can also incorporate a water slide using a tarp and a hose for added fun. It’s a great way to keep cool and enjoy some quality family time without breaking the bank.
If you want to get REALLY fancy, check out the video below for creating a more elaborate backyard water park:
10. Try Geocaching
Back in its early days, you needed a fancy GPS device to do geocaching. Today, though, it’s easier than ever thanks to smartphones. Just download a geocaching app or visit a geocaching website to find hidden containers or “caches” in your area. These caches can be tucked away in parks, forests, or urban areas. Using GPS coordinates, follow the clues and work together as a family to find them. Don’t forget to bring small trinkets or toys to trade in the caches you discover.
11. Just let them play
Remember summers when we were little? We rarely had an “itinerary” of activities. We put on our shoes, walked out the front door, and just waited to see where the day took us. Kids need time to exercise their imaginations, and they can’t do that if we’re scheduling every moment of their days. So, resist the urge to “guide” playtime. Just send your kids outside and let them see where their day takes them.
If you still need more ideas to fill those long days? Check out my list of 10 affordable family-friendly activities for summer.
While no one is saying that you can’t ever let your kids play on your iPad or even spend an occasional rainy afternoon binge-watching their favorite cartoon, sending kids outside to play the REAL way this summer is definitely the better alternative, don’t you agree? I’ll leave you with one reminder: our kids only get 18 summers in their entire childhoods. So, make them count!
Last update on 2022-11-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API