Despite our best intentions, kids’ schedules can get busy when you combine school and sports and activities. This sometimes leaves less time for the outdoors, but busy kids still need nature. We could easily argue that busy kids need nature even more!
Kids need time away from structured activities to breathe, to decompress, to let their minds and imaginations wander. Good news: This can easily be accomplished outside, for whatever amount of time you have! Time in nature is rejuvenating, relaxing, resetting.
But if their days are packed, jumping from one activity to the other, what can we do?
Let’s let go of parental guilt and do what we can in our current schedule. Let’s grab snatches of unstructured time in nature, even if just a few minutes here and there. We can pledge to find a way for nature time to fit into our lives, in whatever way works best for our own family.
Alastair Humphreys introduced us to the idea of the microadventure — “an overnight outdoor adventure that is ‘small and achievable, for normal people with real lives'”. I love this idea — bringing the scale down, enjoying adventure together in a bite-sized, achievable way.
Richard Louv reminds us that:
“Expeditions to the mountains or national parks often pale, in a child’s eyes, in comparison with the mysteries of the ravine at the end of the cul de sac.”
When even microadventures seem hard to fit in, what if we decided to adopt — at the very least — nanoadventures? Your kids may only have 5-30 minutes a day to spend outdoors during the week. Although I would argue this is less than ideal, let’s not ignore the fact that even 10 minutes outdoors can be valuable.
Maybe next season you’ll aim for more unstructured time, a more relaxed schedule, but for now — embrace the possibilities that those 10 minutes hold! There are innumerable nanoadventures that you can take.
fitting nature into your busy kid’s daily life
daily routines and nanoadventures
1. Take an evening walk
Make a new routine: evening walks in the neighborhood. You don’t have to go far, but evening walks are a great way for kids to get out their pre-bedtime wiggles, to talk about their day, and to enjoy the quiet of twilight. My husband and sons have made this a routine and it’s one of their favorite times of the day. Sometimes they talk about important subjects, sometimes they talk about gaming, sometimes they just walk in silence.
(Feel free to bring along some bubbles or scooter to make it more enticing!)
2. Bring your snacks and meals outside.
You don’t have you have a patio set or even chairs. Sit on your front steps (that’s what we do), set up camping chairs (another favorite), or bring out a blanket for a picnic theme.
3. Pick a book and take it outside.
Take reading break, and take it outside! My son loves to read on his saucer swing, but your child can find their own sit spot. Or they can create their own shelter — lean-to or tent — that becomes their official reading spot.
4. Encourage your child to take your homework outside.
If you don’t have a table outside, use a clipboard or large book as a writing surface. And if your kids have math or spelling practice, challenge them do it in chalk on the driveway! (If their teacher requires evidence, just send them a photo if permitted.)
5. Go stargazing.
Spend 5 minutes longer outside gazing up at the dark skies. Lay back and look for bright stars, planets, or constellations. Use an app to help orient yourself and identify the constellations above you. (We like Night Sky.) It doesn’t even matter if you don’t know what you’re looking at! It can be a very relaxing and peaceful activity.
6. Play “show me some nature”.
When you find yourself in an environment that’s not very nature-y (parking lot, city street), challenge your kids to find evidence of nature: plants growing up through cracks in the sidewalk, a bird perched on a street light, a squirrel darting across the street, etc. Without a doubt, even if you’re in an urban (or suburban) environment, you can still take time for nature!
7. Pitch a tent in the backyard.
Set up a tent in your backyard. Take a nap, read a book, or have a weekend sleep-out. Tents can also come in handy on a rainy day — no more excuses for not getting outside! (And there’s something special about cocooning in a tent when it’s wet weather out!).
8. In between activities, take a quick nature walk around your neighborhood or at a local park.
Make it a simple, no-agenda, open-ended walk, or choose a focus if you think it will make the walk more appealing: worm hunt, rainbow walk, search for animal life, scavenger hunt, etc.
9. Take an art break outside.
Grab some paper and pencil and head outside for a quick “en plein air” session to quickly sketch what you see. Sidewalk chalk is another great option!
10. Send your kids on a mini treasure hunt
Make up a quick treasure hunt on the fly. “Go outside and find 5 pinecones, 3 acorns and 4 smooth rocks and one surprise,” or, “go outside and find your favorite stick, then explain to me why you love it”. Give them a time limit, depending on how long you have to spend. It can be as little as 5 minutes!
11. Make a sensory bin.
Put together a collection of found items in nature that feature different textures: something smooth, something spiky, something rough, something velvety, etc. Add to it gradually, whenever you have time for a few minutes in nature.
Check out our Outdoor Sensory Activity Pack for more sensory-themed ideas.
12. Take your dog for a walk.
If you don’t have your own dog, offer to walk a neighbor’s dog!
13. Start a nature table or curiosity box.
Periodically ask your kids to go out and look for (small) curiosities to add to it. A feather, a striped rock, a tiny pinecone, etc.!
14. Schedule weekly family nature time and keep it sacred.
Build nature time into your schedule. Don’t let it become secondary to other activities — make it a priority and build your schedule around it, whenever possible.
15. Take your exercise outdoors.
Encourage your kids to get in a little exercise before school, and take it outside! In as little as 10-15 minutes, you can get some outdoor time and help get prepared for the day ahead. It has even been proven to help kids focus in class!
16. Spend some time in the garden.
Remove weeds, harvest vegetables, water flowers, plant seeds — don’t be afraid to get their hands dirty!
17. Do a photography challenge!
Ask your kids to commit to take 1 photo of nature each day, even if just from their front yard. It will be interesting to see what they take, knowing they can only choose one shot!
(And please feel free to share with us!)
18. Bring a board game outdoors.
Step away from online games and encourage your kids to take board game outdoors. Watch out for wind, consider a large blanket or tent to keep everything contained. Or just play tic tac toe with found materials!
Whether it’s the start of the school year or the start of a new season, sometimes kids get busy with newly-packed schedules. Nature time can often take the back seat as kids go from activity to school to activity. Parents can feel overwhelmed and guilty and just accept the current situation. But let’s remind ourselves that time in nature doesn’t always require huge time commitments. It can easily be fit in between activities, and a few minutes in nature is so much better than no time in nature!
To that end, we can adopt nanoadventures and make small tweaks to daily schedules. We can make nature a priority once again, even for busy kids.
Which one(s) will you try today?