March 24, 2020

Back to Nature

20 Easy Nature Play Ideas to Keep Kids Busy, Happy + Healthy

We’re ALL ready a bit of good news these days, so here it is: one of the healthiest things you can do for your family right now is to simply GO OUTSIDE. In addition to being one of the few remaining CDC-approved activities that involve fresh air, nature play has been proven to have powerful benefits for both bodies and brains—not just for kids, but for parents, too!

Physically, studies suggest that nature play helps to reduce anxiety, bolster the immune system, calm inflammation, build strong muscles and bones, and even lower one’s chance of developing chronic health issues like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Mentally, time spent in the outdoors builds confidence, increases attention spans, sparks imagination and develops creative thinking skills.

At Denver Zoo, our 3,000 wild and wonderful animals do this every single day—and there’s never been a better time for you to join us! Here are 20 easy nature play activities you can do with your kiddos. There’s an incredible wilderness waiting in your neighborhood...maybe even in your own urban backyard.

Hike It Bike It

 

1. HIKE IT / BIKE IT.

Dust off those hiking boots and dig up the ol' bicycle pump! Daily family hikes and/or bike rides can help add soothing structure to your days while teaching kids street safety etiquette.

2. ROLL WITH IT.

Found a good hill in your travels around your local environs or neighborhood? After checking the course thoroughly for dog and goose poop (‘tis the season, after all), challenge your kids to a log roll race.

3. BRANCH OUT.

Though you may personally have let your own skills lapse, this is an excellent time for kids to (safely) brush up on their tree-climbing skills. Bonus points for reading The Giving Tree as well.

4. GO BOULDERING.

With public playground equipment off limits for the moment, the next best thing is rock-hopping around your hood—this helps to build balance and promote healthy risk-taking behaviors.

5. BUILD A FORT.

There isn’t a kid alive who doesn’t love building a fort! Taking the project outside will add a healthy dose of Vitamin D, while also creating a special sanctuary for reading and drawing.

Camping

 

6. GO CAMPING.

Not sure you want your couch cushions on the lawn? Haul the tent and sleeping bags out of storage and set it up in your backyard. Bonus points if you’ve got a family fire pit for s’mores!

7. GET MUDDY.

Spring, according to poet e.e. cummings, is both mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful—and we’re positive your kids agree. Treat them to a day of good clean fun in the ooey, gooey mud.

8. BUG OUT.

Denver was treated to a Super Worm Moon on March 9, which means that the season’s first worms, bugs and other creepy crawlers are out and about! See how many your kiddo can identify; there are lots of bug identifier apps out there, but we like Picture Insect for its image recognition abilities.

9. FIND FAIRIES.

We've always known it: fairies are real. Now it’s time to invite them into our world by building a fairy house! Natural materials are best—but otherwise, there’s no wrong way to make one.

10. ART WALK.

Many communities around the world are encouraging chalk art, with wholesome and beautiful results. Encourage your kids to beautify the sidewalk in front of your home with their creations.

11. PICNIC POWER.

Know how everything tastes SO much better when you’re camping? Well, the same goes for picnics. Create a menu together and assign small tasks to your kiddos, lay a blanket down in the yard—then buen provecho!

Cairn contest

 

12. CAIRN CONTEST.

Did you know: those cool rock stacks you may have seen on your last hike are called cairns, and humans have been making them literally forever. Is there a secret “rock star” in your family?

13. SEARCH PARTY.

Scavenger hunts are fun for any age, including yours. Here’s a printable checklist for common natural items you might find in your yard or neighborhood. Check it out, then check ‘em off!

14. KICK THE CAN.

Kick the can, capture the flag, hide and seek—no matter what you call it or where you learned it, there’s a reason this type of game continues to endure. Teach your kids YOUR version and have at it!

Cloud Critters

 

15. CLOUD CRITTERS.

Got some promising fluffy floaters in the sky today? Use the opportunity to roll out a blanket and spend some time a world of pure imagination. Extra credit for finding Denver Zoo animals!

16. CRASH COURSE.

If you get creative, you probably have everything you need for a backyard obstacle course, just lying around the house or yard—including chairs, buckets, rope, pool noodles, hula hoops, sticks/logs, frisbees and other household items. Just Google “DIY obstacle course” for tons of setup ideas.

17. ROCK OUT.

Take your kids on a “rock walk,” then have them paint nature scenes on their favorite finds. Bonus points for going on another walk to deposit painted rocks in your neighbors’ gardens.

18. PRESS KIT.

While it’s a bit early in most of Colorado for spring blooms, there may be some trees and plants that are getting new leaves or needles. Here’s a great bookmark craft using pressed fauna!

19. COLOR HUNT.

Teach your child valuable observation skills by having them select a favorite book, then taking them on a neighborhood “color hunt” to match naturally occurring shades with hues on the page.

Journaling

 

20. FAMILY JOURNAL.

Historians are recommending journaling for people of all ages right now, not just for its therapeutic aspects, but in order to create firsthand written accounts of this unprecedented time. As our busy, connected culture forces itself to slow down and live in the moment, many of us—adults and children alike—will be reconnecting to the natural world in a myriad of unexpectedly wonderful ways.


We encourage you to embrace this silver lining! Include your children in this activity, setting aside time—and preferably setting up a table outside—for the whole crew to create something together in Colorado’s wonderful spring sunshine. Make art. Write about your day. Name three simple things for which you’re grateful. Observe the beautiful world around you as the Earth enjoys its annual season of renewal.

One day, much sooner than you think, you’ll have a wonderful heirloom for your family to treasure. And, in the meantime, everybody will enjoy a healthy, life-affirming dose of Vitamin See.

Be sure to check out Zoo to You: Virtual Safari for daily videos and new activities, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to stay connected with our animals!

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