Fun Activities for Getting Kids Outside

Crafts and activities that encourage families to spend more time in nature.

  • Sabrina Helas

    Rocket To Me

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make -- and enjoy -- this simple toy.

    1. Cut three triangular fins from paper, fold over an edge to form a flap, and glue the flaps to a toilet paper tube. Draw rocket ship parts on paper and glue them on the tube as shown.
    2. Thread two 6-foot lengths of curling ribbon through the rocket and tie a plastic ring (we used kid-size bangle bracelets) to each of the four ends.
    3. To play, two children each take a pair of rings and stand a few feet apart so that the ribbon is slightly taut. Slide the rocket close to one child. She launches it by quickly spreading the rings apart. The other child returns the rocket in the same way.

  • Elliot Elliot/Etsa Images/Corbis

    Family Biking

    For Omaha, Nebraska, mom Kari Johnson, and her kids, Andy, Will, and Maggie, warm weather means more time on two wheels.

    To encourage themselves to ride, the family commits to biking to any destination less than two miles from home, including the library, grocery store, and barbershop.

    "It's a fun way to get outdoors and discover new things that we might miss if we were driving," says Kari. The kids' favorite find to date: an old-fashioned teeter-totter along a local bike path.

    Originally published in the may 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Jeff Padrick

    Colorful Way to Get Outdoors

    After a fresh snowfall, Jen Davis and her daughter Zoey, age 9, like to head outside and transform their wintry white yard into a rainbow oasis. Using repurposed squirt bottles filled with a mixture of food coloring and water, they cover the snow with patterns and drawings that last for days.

    Originally published the December/January 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Wild About Food

    Karen Monger and her family have an appetite for adventure. Eager to expand their knowledge of the flowers and plants they came across while hiking near their Connecticut home, they discovered the world of foraging eight years ago. Now the family regularly gathers, cooks, and samples wild edibles together, and Karen blogs about their finds at the3foragers.blogspot.com. Even 8-year-old Gillian can identify some of their favorites, such as sassafras, wineberries, and ramps. Want to try foraging? Monger recommends checking out the writings of Steve Brill and Samuel Thayer or connecting with a wild-food expert. (To be safe, get instruction before venturing out on your own and never eat anything you can't positively ID). "Being outside with a goal gives us an opportunity to observe all the wonders around us," says Monger.

    Would you eat these? You can -- they're chestnuts!

    Originally published the October 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Kelly LaDuke

    Night Hike

    A neighborhood stroll can easily morph into an all-out adventure with this simple idea from blogger Debi Huang. Instead of rushing to take their evening walk while there's still daylight, her family switches things up with a nighttime walk after dinner. "The kids are always motivated by getting their own flashlight or a glow stick to wear," says Debi. "It's a fun way to wind down before bed and squeeze in some outside time on busy days."

    Originally published the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Take Nature Home

    Annette Whipple, a mom in Oxford, Pennsylvania, encourages her kids, Evan and Meghan, to explore the outdoors with a digital camera. As a bonus, she says, "Everything that belongs in nature gets to stay at the park." Here's a fun way to take this idea to the next level: Use sticks or rocks to outline a small plot in a natural area, then take pictures of it over several weeks. Compare the photos to see how the plot changes with time.

    Originally published the September 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Andrew Greto

    Color Spy

    Mom blogger Valerie Daneen and her daughter, Clara, age 5, sent us this ingenious idea for encouraging more outside time. Punch holes in used paint chips, then take them with you on an outdoor expedition, placing them over flowers, leaves, and other natural items to find as many matches as you can.

    Originally published in the August 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Idea And Photograph By Aleacia Hitchcock Of Dillydaliart.Com

    Trunk Show

    You can brighten your yard with this temporary art project that highlights (but doesn't harm) a favorite tree. First soak sidewalk chalk in water for a couple of hours to soften it, then go outside and choose a tree that's looking a little drab -- the smoother the bark, the better. Rub the chalk on the trunk to give it a coat of color. Smooth out the chalk and blend the hues with a large paintbrush and water.

    Originally published in the March 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • A Nature Craft That Rocks

    On a recent camping trip, my family collected some cool rocks near a creek bed. We used crayons to turn them into eyes, noses, and mouths that we could arrange into faces and switch around à la Mr. Potato Head. The kids added moss and sticks for hair and other body parts. We had so much fun decorating the rocks and making silly faces! Before we left the campsite, the kids arranged the faces on tree stumps as a surprise for the next campers. --The Sams Family Kamiah, ID

    Originally published in the November 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Mark Mantegna

    Tree Tapestry

    This weaving project looks lovely as a mobile, but you can also use it as a net for catching fairies. (Note: Results not guaranteed.)

    You'll need a sturdy, Y-shaped branch. To make the loom's warp (the strands that act as the foundation of the weaving), tie the end of a ball of yarn near the base of the branch's fork. Wrap the yarn once around one leg of the fork, then cross to the other leg and wrap the yarn once around it. Repeat, keeping the yarn fairly tight, until you reach the ends of the fork. Tie off the yarn.

    For the weft (the yarn you weave through the warp), thread a piece of yarn that's about five times the length of the branch into a plastic yarn needle. Tie the end of the yarn to the bottom-most thread of the warp. With the needle, pull the yarn in and out of the warp. It will seem a little strange at first because half the warp threads will be higher than the others -- just treat them as though they were flat. When you've used up the length of yarn, tie another piece to the end and continue weaving. When you're done, tie the yarn end to the warp or just tuck it into the tapestry.

    Originally published in the August 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Mark Mantegna

    Pebble Plaque

    This project starts with a trip outdoors to collect a basket of small, beautiful stones for an all-natural mosaic. Make sure the pebbles are clean and dry before you press them into the dough.

    When you have your pebbles, mix up the salt dough. Our recipe makes enough for three 6-inch-round plaques.

    You will need:

    3 cups flour

    1 1/4 cups water (plus up to an additional 1/4 cup, as needed)

    Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the ingredients together until a ball forms. If the mixture is still crumbly, add more water.

    Knead the dough until it's smooth. Divide the dough into three balls. Place each ball on a piece of foil and flatten it into a disk. Press pebbles into the dough to create a design.

    Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Transfer the foil and dough onto a baking sheet. Bake the plaques for two hours, then let them cool completely. Check to see if any pebbles are loose; if so, remove them, add a drop of tacky glue, and replace them.

    Originally published in the August 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Mark Mantegna

    Stick Figures

    The designs of these wild creatures were partly inspired by animalitos, brightly-painted sculptures made in Oaxaca, Mexico.

    Find a fallen branch or stick with distinctive features, such as knots or forks. Clean the stick, and if the bark is loose, remove it. Cover the stick with white acrylic paint and let it dry. (The base coat will make your final colors much brighter.) Paint your creature. Add yarn hair and tails with tacky glue.

    Originally published in the August 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Mark Mantegna

    The Yarney Stone

    Wrap colorful yarn around smooth rocks to make artful objects that are satisfying to stack or simply to admire.

    Brush a ring of tacky glue around the middle of a clean rock. Starting from the center, wrap yarn around the rock, spiraling toward one end. Add more glue as you go. Repeat the process to cover the other half, again wrapping from the center to the end.

    Originally published in the August 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Mark Mantegna

    Rocky the Hedgehog

    You'll want just the right rock for this spiky guy. Ours is oblong and about 6 inches long. To protect your table from scratches, glue felt to the bottom of the stone. Brush a generous amount of tacky glue around the middle and press dry pine needles in it. The needles should point toward the tail of the hedgehog. Glue a second row of needles in front of the first, leaving a blank space for the face. For ears, glue on small pinecones or pebbles. Add a face with either black acrylic paint or a permanent marker.

    Originally published in the August 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.