It is the first week of school and already the extra-curricular activities are piling up. Like many kids, my daughters will have a full calendar of events that keep them busy after school. Most of the girls' activities — like ballet and gymnastics — will be indoors, and all of their after-school activities will be structured in some way. So we will once again be faced with the dilemma of squeezing unstructured outdoor play in between school, homework, dinner, and other evening activities.


It's easy to see how nature can take a back seat to other after-school business. So it's no wonder that many parents are concerned about the lack of nature in their own kids' lives. A recent survey by The Nature Conservancy indicated that 50 percent of adults think "kids not spending enough time outdoors in nature is an extremely or very serious problem."


The good news is that nature play doesn't have to be a complicated endeavor. Even if all you have is a small patch of grass or a balcony, you can turn own back yard into a natural wonderland in which your kids can play. The National Wildlife Federation put together this Nature Play Guide that has some great tips on helping kids explore nature in your own backyard.


Here are some ideas:


  • Constructing a raised-bed vegetable garden to understand that food comes from only one place, the Earth
  • Providing food, water, nesting material, and shelter for wildlife to make your yard a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat and a place to appreciate and understand birds, butterflies, and other creatures
  • Setting up small stumps of various heights that children can step across for learning balancing skills
  • Creating a play deck that encourages dramatic play and becomes an outdoor stage for skits presented to parents. Natural elements found in the yard can be used as props.

I love these ideas! And there are lots more in the Nature Play Guide. How will you get your kids outdoors after school? 

Exploring nature in your own back yard
How to help your kids find and enjoy the natural world in their own back yard.