Having your kids home 24/7, and homeschooling, and working, and taking care of the house, and trying to keep up with the rest of life can be a little challenging at times! This COVID-19 situation has been tough on our children too, especially given that they thrive on predictability and routine; and not-so-much on extended screen time/virtual learning. Countless studies have proven our children (and their adult parents) need nature to grow and develop into healthy, balanced adults. This presents an additional challenge right now, given many natural spaces are closed.
What’s a parent to do? Get creative, and we’re here to help! We’ve scoured the Internet, consulted with friends, and drawn on our own experience as mothers to come up with an awesome list of at home, educational/nature-based activities to help make this unusual time a little more fun. The great thing about these activities is they can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors, and you can return to them during different phases of life; such as the nesting-in period after a new baby arrives, when a family member is ill, during a blizzard, on a rainy day (or week), over summer vacation, or any other time that requires staying in.
Nature-Based Activities Your Kids Can Do From Home
#1: Grow sprouts indoors
Growing sprouts is so much fun for kids because they grow quickly, they’re easy to grow (just rinse with water daily), and they’re fun to eat (my daughter loves pretending like she’s a rabbit when she eats them and they’re fun to make beards and mustaches with). It’s great for their health too as sprouts are rich in vitamins and minerals like bone-building Vitamin K.
All you need is some sprouting seeds (alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, etc.), a mason jar, a sprouting lid, and water. If this sounds too complicated, you can also buy a sprouting kit with everything you need (preferably glass please!).
#2: Arts and Crafts With Materials From Nature
Something as simple as having your kids collect items like leaves, sticks, and rocks can lead to some great arts and crafts ideas. Leaf rubbing with crayons, decorating rocks, creating little people with playdough (sticks for arms and legs, rocks for eyes, grass for hair, etc), and flower pressing can all be fun and interesting for kids! For little ones, just sorting the rocks and picking up small ones with their hands or tweezers is a playful way to work on their fine motor skills! There are plenty of creative nature-play ideas with simple items!
#3: Find Ways to Dig in the Dirt
Exposing kids to dirt is so beneficial for their microbiomes (same goes for adults!) and helps to strengthen their immune system. Filling a big container of some sort (box, big flower pot, plastic swimming pool, large bucket) with potting or compost soil enables them to get those benefits while simply playing and having fun! Think toy dump truck, hiding and finding toy letters and numbers, writing in the dirt with their fingers or sticks, collecting bugs and putting them in the dirt, there are all kinds of activities! If you can’t set this up in an outdoor area at your home, you can do something small on top of a towel or in the bathtub so cleanup is easier if dirt spills over. If you can’t get soil locally at this time, you can order online.
#4: Try a stuck-at-home-science-experiment
If your children are missing the hands-on experiences of school, they’ll love these free experiments from Stuck At Home Science. They come with video tutorials, easy to follow instructions, and can be done with common items found around the house.
#5: Plan a virtual field trip
Many theme parks, zoos, and other family attractions have online viewing options available. For example, you can find an entire list of zoos, aquariums, farms, and safaris here where children can observe animals via the LIVE cams.
You can also visit Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom and do a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park. Sure, it means more screen time, but it’s also educational and will get the kids looking forward to their next real field trip.
Check out a list of 20 virtual field trips on adventuresinfamilyhood here.
#6: Plan indoor, outdoor, or car ride scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts are loads of fun for children, and, if you plan in advance, you can even make it part of their school curriculum. For example, if you know they’re studying insects in science you could make it an insect-based scavenger hunt, have them count their paces, etc. to help with math and problem solving, or put quotes from a book they’re reading as clues. This is also a great way to foster independent play and to engage siblings of different ages.
Click here for 50 printable scavenger hunts from edventures.
And for those socially-distant weekend family drives, check out these 16 ideas for car ride scavenger hunts.
#7: Explore natural and cultural wonders from home
The Natural History Museum of L.A. County is offering school curriculum and family activities for those at home. You can even participate in crowd-sourced science and social media campaigns.
#8: Explore Nature Together Through Reading
One of our favorite books on nature exploration is: The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning, available on Amazon. Not only are the activities geared toward families and children, but the pictures are fun to look at too.
#9: Grow your own nutrient-dense microgreens
Microgreens are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, boasting an incredible four to 40 times more nutrients than adult plants, per research from the University of Maryland1! And they’re incredibly easy to grow yourself with very little space or skill.
You can either purchase a microgreen growing kit (we like the Starter Kit from Eat Your Greens! Organic Farm here in TX), or you can fashion your own based on tutorials.
An indoor campsite will entertain your children in two ways:
#1: It’s fun to set up! Have them help with the tent, set up sleeping bags, and create a nice reading nook with pillows, etc. They can also create a faux fire pit usingconstruction paper, colored tissue paper, and paper towel rolls for logs; set up stuffed animals outside, etc.
#2: It’s fun to play in! They can use their tent to read, play games, etc., and pretend they’re camping outdoors. Play along by serving camping-cuisine-inspired lunch, like organic hot dogs and baked beans, and if you let them sleep in the tent…even better.
#11: Start bird watching as a family
Spring is such a perfect time to bird watch, and getting started is easy…even if you’re stuck indoors. To attract birds to your yard, consider a birdbath and/or bird feeder (if you’re indoor-bird-watching, consider a window feeder), invest in a pair (or two) of binoculars (kids love these), and download the Audubon Bird Guide App to help you get started. If you live in an area where mosquitoes are an issue – consider a Purple Martin house in your backyard. A group of Purple Martins eat tens of thousands of mosquitoes in a day!
Audubon also has this cool article on “Six Bird-Related Activities the Whole Family Can Enjoy While Quarantined.”
#12: Become a backyard naturalist
There are really cool naturalist apps that let your children share their outdoor finds (such as insects, plants, rocks, etc.) and get help identifying them from real scientists. Plus, their contributions help further research of the natural world. Check out inaturalist.org for more information and to get their free app. We also love this WildSam Field Guide that has 5 at-home field assignments sans screens! You can download it for free here.
#13: Use online resources to create nature-based experiences
Websites like National Geographic Kids and Ranger Rick are offering free support and activities during COVID that will inspire your littles to get outside and/or engage in nature-based activities from indoors. We also like this list of environmental websites for kids from commonsensemedia.org.
There are really so many ways to interact and be inspired by nature even in small, limited spaces! Childhood 101 has a great list with more wonderful ideas, everything from worm farms to nature math games. We hope you and your children enjoy discovering some new activities and games!