With summer days on their way and the anticipation of beautiful weather, kids should be clamoring to spend time outdoors. Yet kids spend less time outside each day than inmates in maximum security prisons. Prisoners get 2 hours of outdoor time, whereas a recent survey of 12,000 parents who have children aged five to 12, found that one-third of kids spend fewer than 30 minutes outside each day.
The list of benefits for kids who spend time playing outdoors is impressive. Playing outside
• Strengthens the immune system
• Provides opportunities to practice solving problems
• Builds language skills and vocabulary
• Teaches respect and empathy
• Contributes to fitness, overall health and fewer behavioral problems.
What can you do to get kids outside? Fortunately, the book is an enticing portable technology that can go almost anywhere! Here's a selection of titles and ideas that will help you take reading outside.
• Go on a bear hunt
Take advantage of the beautifully illustrated call-and-response title We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and get physical outside as kids search for a bear in the great outdoors. No cave in sight? Have them use their imagination to “discover” grass, a river, mud, a cave, etc. on their adventure.
• Have a wild rumpus
When Max cried, “Let the wild rumpus start!” he and the wild things begin dancing wildly. Take your wild things outside to read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and encourage kids to respond to the words and pictures with their own expressive movements.
• Pitch a tent with Amelia Bedelia
Pitching a tent isn’t like pitching a baseball, but both are fun to do outside. Warm kids up with a few baseball tosses, read aloud Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Lynn Sweat, and then pitch a tent together.
• Punt with Mr. Gumpy
Turn you outdoor setting into a riverbank and take a boat ride with Mr. Gumpy. Read aloud Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham, then designate spots along your riverbank where the animals decide to hop on board. Reread the book with everyone taking a part to act out as the boat tips and everyone falls into the water.
• Play outside with Elephant and Piggie
The weather keeps changing Elephant and Piggie’s plans to plan outside in Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems. Read this title aloud outside then have kids act out how they would change their outdoor play with changes in the weather. Call out “Rain!” “Wind!” “Snow!” etc., and see what interesting pantomime kids come up with.
• Dig a hole with Sam & Dave
There is something enormously satisfying about digging a hole. Read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, and pass out the shovels! If there’s no digging spot available to you (please check before digging anywhere), set up a digging station or two in wastebaskets or other large containers filled with sand or soil. You can even hide a few treasures so kids can discover something spectacular!
There are, of course, also many excellent nonfiction titles to share about the great outdoors, but try first to build wonder and connection before filling in too many facts about nature. Story can do a lot to inspire kids to engage with the natural world — even your own personal stories about a hike you took, a bird’s next you found, or a wonderful wet walk in the warm rain can spark a connection and kids’ imagination.
But the best thing to do is to take kids outside to observe budding flowers, follow an ant’s trail or turn over rocks and let them find their own nature stories.