Best holiday activity – spending time in nature play

Why not go for the trifecta with your children these holidays—spend quality time together, get out into nature and nurture their imaginations.  Spending time together in nature is the best gift you can give your children—it builds close bonds, is an antidote to stress, increases health and wellbeing—and many outdoor activities are free or low cost.  It’s hard to find any downside, the biggest challenge is finding the time, but it’s worth the effort.

A great resource by the Children & Nature Network, Together in Nature says, ‘in many ways, the natural world seems to invite and facilitate parent-child connection and sensitive interactions. Today’s homes are filled with distractions: household chores begging to be done, plus TVs, computers and telephones inviting parents to multi-task rather than focus on their baby.’

Unplugging from outside media and taking a child into the backyard, a park, or a nearby natural area can eliminate those distractions, making it easier for parents to be emotionally available to the child—one of the most important factors in building attachment.

Whether it’s one-on-one time with one child, or you invite other families to join you here are some wonderful outdoor activities to try these holidays.

Great outdoor activities for children of all ages


Walk the Walk. Wander outdoors with your baby in a pack or in your arms. Vow to leave your mobile phone in your pocket, ringer off, so you’re more present for your baby. Gaze around you at the sky and trees. Point out the colours, say hello to birds and other creatures. Listen to the wind in the trees. Ooh and aah.

Mellow Fellows. Is your baby fussy? Take him or her outside. Sit on a swing or rock the baby under the dappled light of a tree. Take a walk in the moonlight. You might be amazed at what a good pacifier nature can be!

The Magic Touch. Help your baby touch wonderful pieces of nature. What does the bark of a tree feel like? Grass? Lichen? Smooth pebbles? Pond water? Share these discoveries together. If your baby finds something she loves the feel of, let her linger as long as her attention holds her there.

Natural Nursery. The next time the weather is lovely, head outdoors for the whole of a morning or afternoon. Spread a big blanket under a tree. Bring books, snacks, and a couple of soft toys. Let your baby crawl over and on you. Watch the birds and the leafy shadows on the ground. Curl up together for a little nap. Breathe deep.


Water Bugs. Visit a puddle, creek, pond, or beach and invite little ones to throw pebbles into the water. They’ll love collecting different sized pebbles and listening to the plinks and plunks they make in the water. Try a whole handful for a pebble symphony. Stay nearby and listen together. Don’t be surprised if your toddler can stick with this activity for a long time! Be patient and enjoy the moment.

Nature’s Show and Tell. Young children love collecting objects in nature. If your child finds a special treasure, crouch down and take a moment to respond and talk about it. You might even set up a table in your house to display acorns, leaves, shells, feathers, rocks, seedpods, and other natural wonders from your neighbourhood and beyond.

Dig Deep. Has your child just discovered a great mud patch or a sweet stretch of sand? If possible, plop down and dig in! You might get out some tools, such as shovels, pots, and spoons. Or just use your hands and know you can always wash up later. Order up some sand pies or mud cookies and let your child know how “delicious” they are. Shape a house and let your child help you build and decorate it with you.

Room to Romp. Toddlers are often game for hearty explorations outdoors if they have the security of a parent or grandparent right nearby. Hold your little ones’ hands as they clamber over fallen logs or wade through a shallow creek or chase the wind. Give them a lift through tall grasses or deep snow. Crouch close together to watch rabbits, worms, or other neighbourhood wildlife. Lie side by side to count clouds or stars.

School-age children

A Green Thumbs-Up. Ask your children if they’d like to plant flowerpots or even a whole garden. Invite them to select the colours and the plants. They can even select a theme, such as a butterfly garden (designed to attract butterflies) or a salsa garden (complete with tomatoes or capsicum, onions, and basil). Spend time together planning and planting your garden, tending it, and enjoying its fruition.

Happy Trails. School-age children make great hikers, especially if you focus on having playful fun instead of covering lots of miles. Start by using your local bookstore and online sources to find appealing places to explore. Once you’re there, follow your children’s lead as much as possible. Maybe they want to grab a stick and make it a sword or a magic wand. Maybe they want to climb a tree. Maybe they want to build a dam across a little rivulet. You can honour their impulses even as you provide oversight. As you and your children develop confidence outdoors, allow them the freedom to roam away from you as much as feels right. An important aspect of parent-child attachment is providing a secure base from which your child begins to develop independence.

Green Architects. Next time you’re hanging out beside a stream or even under a city tree, consider asking if anyone wants to build fairy or elf houses. Use sticks, rocks, leaves, grasses, and other natural objects to build your structures and decorate them with pebbles, sticks, flowers, and more. You can make this a shared activity by having everyone in the family construct a different room or even a separate cottage in the same mini village.

Stick Races. You may have read about these in Winnie the Pooh so why not introduce your children to the silly fun of stick races. Begin by visiting a river or creek with a footbridge across it. Have everyone select a small stick, take them to the upstream side of the bridge, then drop the sticks into the water at the count of three. Race to the other side of the bridge and watch to see whose stick emerges first. Like pebble-throwing for toddlers, this is an activity that can consume a tremendous amount of time and attention as kids select their sticks, come up with strategies to make them faster, and cheer them on. Be ready to linger…and enjoy!

Read more: Together in Nature: Pathways to a Stronger, Closer Family
                 © 2013, 2011 Children & Nature Network |

More ideas for outdoor and free holiday fun