At Home With Littles? Try these outdoor-themed activities

Outdoor activities abound, even in times of social distancing. So, do that, and stay 6 feet from each other….ADN image from a story I wrote about the Alaska Forest School a few years ago. 

It’s getting serious now, folks. Alaska’s mandates are coming fast and furious, the latest warning that all travelers returning to the state (i.e. most of us and spring break) must self-quarantine for 14 days (that’s 336 hours; or 20,160 minutes, for those math whizzes among us). How can parents of little ones stay engaged, active, and learning during this time of physical and social distancing. 

Last week I wrote about some ideas for big kids, but have had a number of resources flow my way since for younger children. Additionally, the Alaska Department of Health sent out an email to their subscribers (I highly recommend you sign up HERE), letting parents and caregivers know that it is perfectly OK, and advantageous, to get kids outside during this time of confinement and distancing. 

Outdoor activities are critical during this confusing time: Not only will getting outdoors physically benefit the whole family, but mentally and emotionally, nature is a proven healer. It’s also a great opportunity to teach, something we’re all tasked with, now. 

Here are some ideas for kids age two and up:  

Take your littles and explore the world during our time of social distancing. Outdoor activities will help us all feel better. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Focus on a theme that will provide some structure to the day. 

  • Shapes 
  • Colors
  • Textures 
  • Measuring 

Take the themes and go outdoors with these activities.

  • Explore shapes with twigs, leaves, rocks, or even yourselves. Look for “natural shapes” in trees, on the ground,  or in the clouds. 
  • Pick a “color of the day,” and make everything about it. Dress in your chosen color, see how many shades of the color you can find outside in nature, or on man-made objects. Draw using that color, and maybe even cook something using ingredients of your chosen color. Fill a spray bottle with water and food coloring and paint the snow. Get crazy! Take pictures! 
  • Investigate what “textures” mean. Look at snow, for example. It is “soft” when it first falls, but then melts and freezes to become hard. Feel the trunks of several trees; are they rough or smooth? What about leaves? Touching things is inherent to most smaller children, anyway, and nature is generally a safe space for exploring textures (within reason, of course — you know your kids, and your natural environment best). 
  • Learn about “measuring” concepts by using bigger, smaller, wider, shorter, taller, heavier, and lighter. Ask “How many sticks will it take to stretch across our driveway/trail/yard? How much water will we need to fill up everyone’s bottle before our hike (use a measuring cup for reference)? Let’s measure the size of this tree using our arms, then a tape measure.” Compare, contrast, use real life examples, and let kids drive the thinking. 

Also, don’t forget the value of free play. Kids need to have time to do their own outdoor activities with  little guidance from us other than providing a few tools. Here are some things my sons enjoyed when they were little: 

  • Have blocks of wood left over from a project? Hand ’em over in a big bin and say “Go!” 
  • Put all the sports equipment you can find in a big pile, and join your child in a bit of outdoor sport. Of course kids can kick a ball in snow gear. And hey, why not add snowshoes or skis to this. It’s a great time to start working on balance and maneuverability on the boards. 
  • Make an obstacle course from items in your storage shed or garage. This is a great gross-motor activity, and encourages climbing and jumping and balancing in productive ways. An excellent way to use those spare tires in the back yard, also. Ahem. 
  • Create an outdoor picnic for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One of my most treasured memories harkens back to my childhood “campground breakfasts,” whereby my parents would pack up the camp stove, ingredients for pancakes, sausage, et al, and take us to a local outdoor site in the morning. So far, many of our public lands and parks are still open, so get out there and dine al fresco, letting your kids help with the planning and preparation. Bring sleds, snowshoes, skis — whatever you want for a fun family activity in the outdoors. 

Break out the snowshoes! Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Need additional resources? 

Alaska Forest School

Teaching Two and Three-Year Olds

Outdoor Families Magazine


Posted in Life in Alaska, Little Kid.