Nature Play for Families

Engaging with nature boosts individual well-being and family bonding.

Nature play - Mother and kids hiking in sunny forest
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Getting outside is good for the soul, and it's good for the family too. Even if you think of yourself as an indoorsy person, nature play is important for you and your kids. It helps builds muscles and bones, improves mood, and inspires you to care for the environment. Remember "think globally, act locally"? If you have children, nature play is "acting local" at its best, and most fun! No matter where you live, you can incorporate more nature into your family's life with these suggestions.

Join (or Start) a Family Nature Club

Family Nature Clubs help people "get time in nature back on the family calendar" by scheduling family hikes, paddles, camping trips, and other opportunities for kids to play freely in natural environments (that's according to the Children and Nature Network). To find a club, look at event listings for your area in newspapers, magazines, and hyperlocal websites, or search "nature club" plus the name of your city, town, or region. You can also download a toolkit on starting a club from C&NN. Basically, you'll want to plan a few simple events, spread the word, and see what happens. Some family nature clubs now have hundreds of members!

Create a Wildlife Habitat

You don't need a huge backyard to create a viable habitat for wildlife. You can create shelter, food, and water sources on a small patio or balcony too. Or work with your school's science or environmental club to place a habitat in the school yard.

The National Wildlife Federation has instructions for how to do it, and will even certify your habitat (for a small fee).

Find a Geocache

Geocaching and its lower-tech cousin, letterboxing, create cool incentives for nature play. To find hidden caches, kids must explore outdoor areas thoroughly. Overturning rocks, running your hand along a tree's bark, looking closely at walls and fences: All are part of the game!

Go Hiking

Taking kids hiking is one of the simplest ways to help them experience and enjoy nature. It doesn't have to be grueling or take hours and hours. Follow your children's lead and stop often to look and listen to your surroundings.

Go Mountain Biking

If you prefer a little more speed than hiking offers, mountain biking might be your best bet. You still get the natural-world experience, but can cover more ground (and experience more thrills).

Plant a Garden

As with a wildlife habitat, remember that you don't need a lot of outdoor space to plant some flowers and vegetables with your kids. Containers will do the job just fine. Or you can seek space in a community garden for an opportunity to both plant your own garden and meet fellow gardeners in your area.

Visit a Farmers' Market

Supplement your own garden harvest, or your supermarket trips, with produce from the farmers' market. You'll support local farmers, try fresh and unique products, and stroll outside while you do it.

See a National Park

Did you know that every fourth-grader in the U.S. can get a free National Parks pass (one that admits your whole family to the parks)? The initiative is called Every Kid in a Park. What an awesome opportunity for kids to explore public lands!