blue flower in grass

Tools that Make it Easier to Go Outside with Children

Spending time outside is great for kids’ health. Whether it’s their  immune system, eyesight, muscles, heart, or lungs, being outdoors improves almost every aspect of their bodies. It’s important for mental health too. Sometimes, we need to make an extra effort to get out the door or to make the outdoors more satisfying. If that’s the case for you, today’s post offers a few ideas to help. Just like we can discuss ways to remember to brush teeth or eat vegetables, today I’m offering a few ideas to get outdoors with young children. In my experience, it helps to have an idea for answering questions, a way to learn more, and a reminder to take that first step outdoors.

Resources for Learning More Outside With Kids

I’m not a naturalist. I admire and appreciate them, but will be the first to admit I almost never know enough about flora and fauna. So, I often don’t have answers for all the questions little ones ask. And, they do ask. Starting in the toddler years, children may ask about all that surrounds them. “What is . . .?” And “Why . . . ?” are common starting points. First, it’s definitely okay and worthwhile to answer, “I don’t know. Let’s find out later.” 

Sometimes, though, I want to know the answer too. This is where a field guide or an app like LeafSnap comes in. To be honest, I love the idea of adeptly using a book such as a field guide. Unfortunately, I haven’t successfully used one with my kids. When I learned about LeafSnap (Helen Macdonald mentioned it in her book Vesper Flights), I eagerly shared the smartphone app with my children. Now, when the name of a plant stymies us, we open the app, take a photo of the plant and voila: name and information. It’s less elegant, but we’ve learned a lot about the plants we see daily. It almost feels as if we’re peeling back another layer of the world, like another aspect of nature is now available to us.

Are there other apps or books? Of course. The point is, it’s been tremendously meaningful to find one that suits us.

Resource for Bird Identification

For birds, the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab is a welcome tool. It allows you to describe the bird seen and answer a few questions. Then, it provides a pictured list of the most likely candidates. I imagine an advanced birdwatcher wouldn’t find it useful, but for this beginner, it’s been great. 

In-Depth Reference for Kids and Nature

For when we want to go more in depth on a particular topic, books and YouTube are great for researching specific answers. The thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know. This is where The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Lab has been wonderful. It has short videos and guides on a variety of topics about the natural world. Again, there are many resources and curricula available, but this one has been a good fit for us. The idea of having someone provide some context for what we experience outside is so helpful.  (Our family has focused on the sections for grades K-5). 

I’ve also got my eye on the book Earth Almanac: Nature’s Calendar for Year-Round Discovery by Ken Keffer which looks like a great book with a similar goal.

Reminder to Go Outside With Children

Lastly, such information is most meaningful when it is lived. My final suggestion is a physical reminder to go outdoors. Maybe a small sign. Maybe a sticker on a  water bottle, a charm hanging in a window, or a reminder on a phone’s lock screen. For our family, I started following Ginny Yurich at Although the inspiring quotes and facts are motivation to get outdoors, the best thing for us has been printing out a tracker and hanging it in the kitchen. It’s a piece of paper that allows one to track the amount of time spent outside. The Gary Snyder quote “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home,” is a constant reminder that outdoors is where we humans belong. But also, we do color in a little section when we spend an hour outside.

“1000 Hours Outside” tracker for 2021

I have no intention of doggedly or militaristically trying to achieve 1000 hours in 2021. But. It’s kind of fun just to see where we are, and the chart does get prettier as we fill in the sections. It functions as our daily reminder. When we’re caught in a vortex of toddler willpower, just seeing the tracker is a gentle suggestion that there’s another option. We can open the door. 

Being in Nature Makes Parenting Easier

I’m not the first to notice challenges in parenting young children. Especially during a pandemic when usual support systems are missing, it can be a struggle. Humans have a lot of needs, and young humans’ needs often feel very urgent. Going outside can help. Just a slight shift in air movement feels like a salve.

This year, we’ve been much more intentional about getting out the door, even if it’s “just to check on the trees,” or ” see what the air smells like now.” And, for me parenting is easier this way. Truly.

The kids play. I make sure the youngest doesn’t eat too much dirt. Occasionally I pretend to be a hungry hippo and chase the older one. But mostly? It’s on them. They climb rocks, pick leaves, draw with chalk, and dig. Sometimes, I just bathe in the moment. Other times, I think about the fine motor skills developed by sorting pebbles, or all that’s represented in the healthy flushed glow of a toddler’s face after running. 

Technically, we don’t need much to enjoy the outdoors with our kids. But being able to answer questions and learn more makes it even more rewarding. Whether it’s a book or a smartphone app, a little knowledge can be immensely satisfying. Of course, no amount of information replaces actually experiencing the outdoors.

One Last Thought

I can’t help but think of an Eckhart Tolle interview about experiencing nature, specifically a flower. He discussed simply seeing the delicate being that it is, appreciating it without needing to know its name or a single scientific fact. That kind of presence is also necessary. So, the above resources are merely suggestions for those who want to know more. Otherwise, there is great wisdom and beauty in seeing nature as a young child sees nature. Eyes, nostrils, and lungs wide open, simply absorbing each present moment.

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