Discover Nature as a Family!

Enjoy time in the great outdoors from toddler to teen

These last several weeks have been far from normal, and we’re still uncertain how summer vacations and plans will be altered. But with the sunny weather, time spent outdoors will boost your moods and break the monotony. Summertime feels familiar, normal, and comforting during these uncertain times. Therefore, we have compiled a few suggestions on how to enjoy time in the great outdoors from toddler to teen.

Toddlers: Fun in the Sun Together
Summer is the perfect time of year to explore the parks, lakes, nature preserves, and forest hikes close to you. Make each outing an adventure in exploration. Purchase an inexpensive bug catcher to catch-and-release little critters or a lightweight plastic shovel to dig up earthworms or to look under rocks and small logs. During your bug hunt, look for ladybugs, spiders, grasshoppers, and ants on your blanket during an afternoon picnic. Run after butterflies, moths, and fireflies at night. It’s also a fun way to learn colors in the beautiful wings of a butterfly or the green of an inchworm. Print bug word cards or make a chart of the insects that you find with a quick sketch to help your child learn each insect by name. Insects offer endless fascination and can be found as close as your backyard.

The simplest pleasures in the warmth of the sun are best shared together. Find a slow, sloping hill to roll down or dip your toes in the water. Spread out a blanket in the grass and lay on your back to spot birds, planes, clouds, or the stars at night. If you and your little one head to the beach, collect rocks, shells, and polished sea glass. If you are off to the woods, gather twigs, leaves, and pinecones. Place your found treasures in a box to take home and examine later or use in a craft project to display. Also, point out the sounds surrounding you during the summer months—birds chirping, waves crashing on the shore, leaves rustling, crickets, frogs, or the buzz of bees. Spend time in nature and see how you can help your little ones see, hear, touch, and smell what is around them.


Elementary: Make the Most of Sunny Days and Warm Nights
Summer is the best time of the year to create childhood memories outdoors. Gather up your scraps of wood, fabric, glue, and wallpaper to put their imagination to work building and crafting summer projects. (And keep the mess outside!) Make a bird feeder to attract songbirds, a bat house that will help cut down on pesky mosquitoes, a bee house for the essential pollinators, or build a boat to bring to the lake or sail in summer rain puddles. If using a saw, screws, hammer, or nails to make something ambitious, work with your child for safety but encourage them to paint and decorate on their own. Use paper or fabric to craft a kite to fly on the next breezy day. Sticks, rocks, pinecones, and dried leaves can be used to create a wreath to add to throughout the summer. Use daisies or buttercups to make a daisy chain crown or see if they can blow a blade of grass like a whistle. An empty notebook can be crafted into a nature journal of pressed flowers, sketches of insects, and found objects that can be taped or glued onto the pages. In this nature journal, they can record favorite summer memories and quick stories. Nature is the perfect inspiration for crafting with an endless supply of materials and beauty!

Your school-aged children may find their fear of the dark fades when they can look for shooting stars or learn the constellations in the night sky or stage a shadow puppet show with their flashlight. Warm summer evenings are perfect for chasing fireflies, playing flashlight tag, or using a lantern to explore the critters and bugs that come out at night. Pitch a tent and pull out the sleeping bags for an overnight campout in the backyard (but leave the backdoor open!). If possible, you can teach your child how to set up a fire, try log cabin, cone, or pyramid styles. It’s also an appropriate time to teach fire safety, supervise igniting the fire, and show how to extinguish a fire properly. And of course, reward their successful fire building with s’mores! If you can’t build a fire safely in a firepit in your yard, scary stories can be shared by flashlight, and s’mores can be made in the microwave and the melty, gooey treats served outdoors!


Teens: Get Your Teen Off Their Screens!
It’s challenging to get your teen off the couch and outdoors—especially when their entire world is online! But try to find hobbies, interests, or sports that will get them into the great outdoors. Encourage your teen to express themselves artistically through photography. This 30-day photo challenge will teach them new techniques like light graffiti and tips for taking photos on a summer night. If they are not a shutterbug, they might enjoy participating in a watersport like kayaking, standup paddle boarding, swimming, or canoeing. Perhaps you can suggest an outdoor activity like golf, frisbee golf, tennis, bike riding, jogging, skateboarding, or a pickup basketball game at the park. Or they could pull their yoga mat outside to stretch or meditate in the peace of your backyard. If they prefer to write, sketch, or paint, encourage them to try these activities outdoors with a comfortable lounge chair to stretch out on while they indulge their artistic side.

Most teens are exploring their independence and want to be seen as capable. Nature provides the best opportunity to exercise those skills. Together as a family, plan a camping trip. Let your teen take part in the details of your adventure and help pick the location! A camping adventure is an opportunity for them to help prep the gear, learn to pitch a tent, practice navigating a hike with a compass, prepare for the elements and emergencies, practice knot tying, review first aid skills, and determine what your family might see near their campsite—animals to look for, waterfalls, lakes, beaches, and trailheads. Teens can put their survival skills to the test while camping to build and start a fire, and then cook a meal on an open flame. A successful camping trip can be a great self-esteem boost for your teenager.

This summer, no matter your age (or what’s in the news), kick off your shoes, run barefoot through the grass, lay on your backs, and count the stars! And don’t forget the s’mores!


Share your family camping trips, nature hikes, or outdoor forts on Instagram. Tag @dreamdinners. We look forward to your family photos enjoying the great outdoors!