By Boys & Girls Clubs of America
For many of us, the natural world was a playground of possibilities growing up. Even today, stopping to smell the flowers, pointing out birds as they fly overhead or jumping into a pile of leaves can conjure up feelings of nostalgia, laughter and joy. But as our lives get busier, finding the time and motivation to be active in nature can get harder to prioritize, especially for families. The good news is that no matter where your family lives – be it an urban jungle, rural countryside or somewhere in between – there are plenty of simple, flexible activities to get you and your kids outdoors.
At Boys & Girls Clubs, kids and teens participate in a variety of outdoor programs that drive STEM learning and nurture curiosity, leadership and other social-emotional skills. Our partnership with L.L.Bean fosters these opportunities by supporting Clubs in facilitating nature-inspired learning activities for youth of all ages with the Outdoor Social Recreation Playbook for Boys & Girls Clubs.
Take a page out of our playbook with three activities to get your family exploring, learning and playing out in nature, together.
Bird watching – or birding – is like real-life Pokémon Go! Whether you’re in a backyard or traveling somewhere new, birding allows youth to connect with wildlife around them as they try to “catch ‘em all” … Or rather, identify as many types of birds as possible.
How to Bird Watch:
Birds can sometimes be hard to spot, but they are usually easy to hear. Have kids close their eyes and listen. Then, have them point to where the birds’ songs are coming from and imitate their sounds.
While spotting birds can be easier with the assistance of binoculars or a camera, they’re not required to have a good time. Pick a spot with your child and focus on staying still, looking and listening for movements of birds (or any other animals!).
Turn it into a game! Create a bird-watching bingo card and fill it with names and images of birds local to the area. DIY binoculars from household items, and if you’re struggling to find actual birds, look for signs they leave behind instead like nests, cracked seeds and pellets!
Nature journaling allows you to record your observations, thoughts and feelings as you explore or relax in an outdoor setting. It also creates space for nurturing creativity, while grounding emotions and achieving mental clarity.
How to Nature Journal:
Have kids collect a notebook, journal or stack of paper and a writing utensil. Then, encourage them to let their creativity run wild by DIY-ing their own nature journal. Have coloring materials like markers, pens or paint available or even fill a scrapbook with nature photography.
While nature journaling, find a comfortable spot and challenge youth to be present by focusing on their surroundings, listening and even smelling the world around them.
Provide youth with guiding prompts such as:
- I notice…
- I wonder…
- This reminds me of…
Or, have them simply draw, write, doodle and color as thoughts and feelings ignite their imagination.
Building Bird Feeders
Designing and building bird feeders is a great way to welcome more birds and color into your outdoor spaces, and use up materials already on hand! The result is a beautiful decoration that simultaneously provides a food source for the local bird community – perfect for colder seasons.
How to Build a Bird Feeder:
Explore bird feeder guides online and find one that uses materials easily available to you, such as glass bottles, paper rolls or even apple cores.
Gather your materials and bird seed to assemble the bird feeder and customize it with decorations.
Make sure the bird feeder is clean and the bird seed is as dry as possible.
Place the bird feeder in a safe location like in a tree or near other shrubs so the birds can feel safe when they visit. Be patient! It could take a few weeks for birds to discover the feeder. Feel free to experiment with hanging it up in different locations and spreading seed out around areas near the feeder to attract birds.
When young people build outdoor recreation skills and healthy habits, they become present in the world around them with life skills that boost their emotional well-being and physical health.