As a mom of two nature-loving young boys – outdoor play is a daily occurrence no matter the temperature outside. Now that spring is officially here and the days are longer, we spend most of our time outside. Plus, stepping outdoors is an easier feat without all of the added layers of winter clothes, so we are out the door quicker.
There are numerous health and developmental benefits of outdoor time for kids and adults. According to multiple studies, playing outside increases our Vitamin D levels and lowers cortisol levels, resulting in better moods and lower stress. It even improves your vision after staring at electronics and computers daily. There are also scientific studies linking outside play to improved mental clarity and concentration, which has helped children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There's no excuse for not spending time outdoors, from lowering blood pressure to increased immunity and better sleep.
I love researching new activities to play with my kids, and I also love incorporating old-school fun that I enjoyed as a child. Most importantly, I need to stick to a budget, so employing free and low-cost activities is a plus. So, let's look at some creative ways to get your kids off the couch and enjoy family time outside without breaking the bank.
Photo Credit: ©Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash
1. Let's Jump Rope
The Easter Bunny likes to leave my boys outdoor and swim toys between the chocolate bunnies in their baskets. This year, the floppy-eared hare left these Double Dutch jump ropes and a book with a 163 Jump Rope Rhymes gathered from many generations and several countries. The tradition of skipping and rhyming connects generations and brings back a wave of nostalgia about childhood before the invasion of technology. You can also perform a quick internet search to learn skipping rhymes for a free option. Try turning simple Bible verses into rhymes for a great exercise in verse memorization. Music education helps children foster better memory skills.
Buy short jump ropes if you don't have enough kids and adults to hold the ends of the long jump ropes. You can also tie one end to a chair arm or something of similar height, and one person can swing the untied end of the rope. Skipping rope is an excellent driveway or street activity for summer evenings when it is cooler outside. If you have a trampoline available, you can get extra bouncy with the challenge of jumping rope on top of the trampoline. This challenge might take some practice!
Don't leave all the jumping to the kids. Did you know it's possible to burn 15 – 20 calories per minute of skipping rope? That equates to a 200 to 300 calorie burn on average by working out with your jump rope for 15 minutes only. You get to enjoy the health benefits of time spent outdoors, but you can also add the benefits of cardio exercise to the list.
2. Play Rock Fairy
Over the moon elated, my six-year-old ran into the house with a small rock in his hand. The sneaky Rock Fairy had left a surprise for him in the grass by the mailbox. It was hand-painted with a dragonfly using every color of the rainbow. My curious and intelligent son immediately noticed the seven colors of the rainbow. It reminded me of God's promise in Genesis 9:13, "I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth."
Want a great way to spread the love of Jesus? Get a paint pen and write a Bible verse number on the back. You could also write an abbreviated version of the Bible verse or your favorite inspirational quote on the front and let your child paint a picture on the other side. Pray over the rock that God gets the message to the right person who needs it. You never know how that tiny rock with a bit of the Gospel can change someone's life.
Paint the rocks outside on top of an old blanket or plastic tablecloth to keep the mess minimal. You can buy a kit or pick up a small bag of flat river rocks from your local garden center and some kid-friendly paints from the craft store. The mission of the Rock Fairy is to surprise the recipient, so go for a night walk with your children and have fun hiding the rocks for your neighbors!
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Kiana Bosman
3. Get Creative with Chalk
One of my favorite things to do with the kids outside is drawing with chalk on the driveway. It's probably my favorite because I get to sit down (when I'm not playing hopscotch). If you are somewhat good at drawing, you should try creating scenes where your children pose for photos. You need chalk, a chair to stand on to take the picture from up high, and willing participants to snap some hilarious, creative images. Perform a quick search on Pinterest for sidewalk chalk games, and you will walk away with hundreds of ideas thanks to super creative moms and dads. Check out this article on One Little Project for some inspiration.
While you have the chalk out, an old-fashioned game of hopscotch is always a blast and an easy energy reducer. You can make a chalk obstacle course or even work on learning the alphabet or practice math equations with older children. You can turn any game into an educational one, especially sharing stories from the Bible. Draw the story of Jonah and the Whale or Noah's Ark for a fun way to bring the stories to life. You can also practice Bible verse memorization with your children by writing out the verses on the sidewalk.
Get creative making stained glass chalk art with some painter's tape and various chalk colors. Make your own fizzy homemade sidewalk chalk paint if you don't mind creative messes. What Mom's Love has an article with 101 Genius Sidewalk Chalk Ideas. It includes tons (101 to be exact) of great games and activities for preschool ages and up, all using inexpensive sidewalk chalk.
4. Sell Lemonade and Baked Goods
There is a lemonade stand or bake sale in my neighborhood every weekend during the spring and summer. We live in a community of young, aspiring entrepreneurs! The kids with snaggletooth grins make the best salesmen because who can say "no" to their cute smiles and misspelled homemade signs. You don't have to get fancy with making a stand. A couple of chairs, a folding table, and cardboard signs work just fine. Borrow a popup tent from your neighbor if you don't have one to beat the heat. If you get the DIY bug, check out this simple and cute market stand made out of crates from Little Lifelong Learners. Post a picture of the kids with the time and date of the sale to your community page if you have one.
Let their creative juices flow with different flavors of lemonade. This article on She Knows has eleven simple variations of lemonade and a handy graphic with all of the recipes on one page. Don't just stop at lemonade. Kids can sell baked goods, coffee (adult supervision needed), ice cream, donuts, or other store-bought goodies. Krispy Kreme donuts sell like hotcakes in my community. Some of the kids in our neighborhood sell handmade crafts, cards, and jewelry.
Often, these angels raise money for their favorite charity, giving it all away or only keeping part of the profits. Encouraging entrepreneurship at a young age has so many benefits. Kids will learn customer service skills, cooking and baking skills, counting money and giving change, and calculating profit. It is also a great way to teach about tithing to the church. The preparation process and cleanup afterward teach the value of a hard-earned dollar.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Erol Ahme
5. Name That Cloud
I remember many spring and summer days spent lying in the thick emerald blades of grass with my hands clasped behind my head. Staring at the clouds, I would spend time conversing with God, searching for animals in the clouds, and simply daydreaming. My black Labrador, Streak, was my constant companion on these warm sunny days.
A simple game of finding cloud animals and shapes can be a magical mix of rest and play for you and your children. It's a great time to talk about the Creation Story in Genesis and answer any questions they might bring up. Turn this low-key activity into a valuable science lesson as you seek to find the different types of clouds by scientific name. I found a Cloud Facts and Fun sheet on Exploring Nature.
Remember, you can turn almost any activity into a meaningful Bible lesson for your children. I recently listened to a video by Lisa Bevere where she talked about incorporating talks about Jesus into your daily activities, from cleaning the dishes to bath time with your children. She mentioned how the kids were not engaged when she set aside a specific time to do daily devotionals with her children so, instead, she made Jesus part of the normal conversation.
There are so many great ideas and resources on the internet to get outside with your kids. Check out your local travel guides, libraries, and city websites for free activities for kids including festivals and new places to explore. You can also keep it simple with a sprinkler, picnics, hide and seek, and catching reptiles.
Originally published Wednesday, 04 May 2022.