It is easy to let the kids turn on the TV or pickup their tablets on the weekends. Many times this is the only way I can get any significant time to complete housework or get an hour to myself. While that is fine occasionally, we try to at least give our kids a new experience every few weeks. Below are a handful of uncommon outdoor activities for your kids that can be as much fun for adults (or at least for those parents that still have a bit of childhood in them).
Build and Fly a Model Rocket
When I was younger, my father would frequently take us to hobby stores and Kmart to pickup a new model rocket. While I first was introduced to rockets in cub scouts, I quickly wanted to build my own. I owned at least a dozen over the years. An entire evening could be spent cutting, gluing, painting and prepping for the eventual massive payoff of the rocket launch. The weekend would final come and we would grab our creations and set out for an open field.
Getting to be the lucky one that inserted the safety key and pressed the launch button would elevate my spirit almost as high as the rocket itself. I still don’t know if the best part is the noise, speed, or the potentially dangerous projectile that may just malfunction and send everyone to the ground.
You can find many different models and levels of rockets at your local hobby store. If you would rather order something I would recommend starting out with a rocket kit to make things a bit easier. You will need a rocket, launch pad, engines, and recovery wadding to get started. Just be careful where you point it.
Hunt for Morel Mushrooms
Growing up in Iowa, specifically on a farm, I spent my early Springs tromping through the forest looking for Morel Mushrooms. My first experience hunting morels came one day when my sister and I headed out with my aunt. I don’t remember actually finding any morels, but it started a long fascination with the outdoors and the wilderness.
I would spend entire weeks of free time alone or with my brothers hunting our family’s property to be the first to spot that tiny tan fungi breaking through the ground. In a good year, I would come home with sacks full of them, only to have my grandma confiscate more than she could eat in a lifetime. It was so bad, I remember hiding my hauls from her so I would have some to give to my parents. My normally sweet grandmother would get the eye of the morel and all bets were off.
Locating morels for the first few times is mostly luck. I do have a few tips that might improve your chances.
- Morels have a short growing season and pop up quickly once the ground temperatures start to get in the high 50 degree range. You will generally see them out for about 3-5 weeks depending on the weather.
- Loose leaves, branches, and shrubs are where I tend to find them the most. It’s not uncommon to find them just sitting in the grass though.
- Elm trees are a popular spot for morels, especially dead/dying elms. It doesn’t hurt to browse the internet for some pictures of elm trees before heading out.
- A nice warm day right after a rain, tends to produce a lot of fresh morels.
- Stop and tie your shoes, ALOT. This gets you low to the ground and in the prime position to spot them.
- Don’t quit. I generally go out early 2 or 3 times before I really start to find them. If you are visiting public land, the early bird gets the Morchella Esculenta.
- Bring bug spray and long sleeves. There is nothing worse than getting covered with ticks or finding a trove only to discover it is surrounded by thorns.
Rent a canoe, kayak, paddle boat, or CraigCat
If you happen to live near a lake or pond, renting a boat can be an experience a child will never forget. Enjoying the outdoors while on the water gives an opportunity to talk with your kids and see nature without all of the distractions. If you are not a paddler, check out a CraigCat which is generally a two seat watercraft with a small trolling motor in the middle. They are very little effort and are very stable if you decide you would like to bring the fishing poles along.
I remember nearly every canoe trip I took as a child and it made a big impact on my love of boating and fishing, today. I am just waiting for the day that I can take my kids canoeing in the Boundary Waters (BWCA) of northern Minnesota to show them the secluded island where I proposed to my wife after paddling for 3 days. And yes, carrying a hidden diamond engagement ring in a canoe for days can be a little nerve-racking.
Find a Disc Golf Course
Disc golf isn’t just for hippies and college students, though I am sure you will see plenty. You don’t need an expensive set of gear or hours of free time to enjoy a quick game of disc golf with your kids. A simple google search will point you to a course nearby. Likely a place you have driven by countless times and didn’t even know contained a disc golf course.
The rules are simple.
- Grab disc
- Throw disc
- Collect disc
Ok, there are a few more rules than that if you want to get technical. For those that need a bit more structure, check out the actual disc golf rules.
If this is your first time, an inexpensive starter disc golf kit complete with a driver, mid-range, and putter can be found on online.
Visit a Nature Center or Wildlife Preserve
No matter what part of the country you are from, there is likely a local nature center within driving range. Seeing local wildlife in their natural (or natural-ish) habitat helps children and families build respect for nature and the environment.
Nestled between the corn fields of Iowa, we have a number of landscapes that have been protected or restored to the original prairies of the past. My children love to visit the bison and elk at Jester Park and splash around in the water of the playscape that was recently built.
If you are unable to find a nature center, it could be as easy as searching for other wildlife events nearby. In central Iowa every September, our reservoirs are host to thousands of White Pelicans as they migrate to the Gulf Coast. These White Pelicans blanket the northern portion of Saylorville Lake and park staff are frequently available to share a telescope or answer questions on this amazing annual migration.
Bald Eagles may seem a bit more majestic to you than Pelicans. If so, you are in luck. Bald Eagles can be found throughout most of the United States (sorry, Hawaii). In the winter months, Bald Eagles search out open ice-free water and can frequently be found along rivers and near power plants. Bring a pair of binoculars and that expensive camera that only seems to collect dust. Just keep your baby close, we don’t need to recreate any scenes from my favorite childhood movie, Willow.
Take the Time to Enjoy the Open Air
Being outdoors encourages our kids to be healthy and fosters a curiosity in nature. By sharing these activities with them, we can set positive examples of why we need to protect our planet for future children and families. I hope you have found these ideas helpful and a little more appealing than watching another episode of Paw Patrol or listening to Alexa start up another round of Baby Shark.
If you have ideas of your own, I would love to hear them in the comments below.