Family Fun to Support Healthy Habits
Parents play a powerful role in creating healthy schools and communities and there are a lot of ways for families to get involved. As spring turns into summer and the days get longer, it’s a great time to try new activities that encourage healthy habits and support social-emotional learning. With a little creativity, these playful learning opportunities don’t have to break the bank, either!
Because many researchers have observed that children who spend more time outdoors are more active, below are a few ideas I learned at the 2019 National Conference on Science Education. I’ve chosen activities appropriate for many developmental levels but most of these are adaptable for different age groups and children of all abilities. Consider trying one each Friday of the month to kick off a healthy active weekend!
Design Your Own Prehistoric Terrarium
It doesn’t take a summer blockbuster to inspire awe in prehistoric plants and animals while moving outdoors. Team up and design your own primitive terrarium or garden using ferns and mosses. Start by sketching out your design using graph paper. Then, label the items you’ve included and research which creatures and plants might have thrived in the ecosystem you’ve created. Not sure what to plant? Connect with your local 4-H office or county Extension office.
Engineer a Bird Nest
Head outside for an active nature scavenger hunt and note the different types of birds and nests you see. Visit your local library and take turns reading the book Mama Built a Little Nest for more insight into how birds build their nests. Once you’ve finished, gather art supplies and work as a team to engineer your own bird nest to build teamwork and group problem-solving skills. Test the sturdiness of your design using plastic eggs filled with coins or pebbles.
Share the Colors of Nature
Use crayons, coloring pencils, or chalk to create a wide variety of color swatches on leftover paper. Then, pair-up, go outside, get moving and see how many natural items you can match to your color swatches – think leaves, bark and flowers (always practice Leave No Trace principles). Once complete, compare what you found with others and discuss which colors were your favorite and which items you found most interesting. Head to the kitchen, work together and make a healthy snack based on your favorite colors!
Make Berry Ink
Create group artwork using the “ink” found in summer berries. National Recreation and Park Association’s Foods of the Month (June) curriculum has the full instructions for this simple project that encourages children to try more fruits.
Map Your Backyard (or living room!)
Work together to create a map of your backyard on paper or poster board. Then, use your map to discuss your observations. What conclusions can you make based on what you see? Consider how weather, wildlife, and humans may impact the backyard environment.
No backyard or can’t go outside? Don’t worry. Try the same approach to create a park map or an indoor map that details stuffed animals, toys, and other found objects. Using your map, think of ways you can be active outdoors together as a family and community. Where could you have a healthy picnic?
Take Tech Outside
If your older youth are inseparable from their mobile devices, try one of the following apps to combine learning and outdoor physical activity.
- Merlin Bird ID - Merlin Bird ID is a free bird identification app and even more useful paired with the BirdSleuth education resource.
- Playground Physics - This iPad video-based app turns outdoor movement into a fun science and physics exploration.
- Seek by iNaturalist and BioBlitz - Geared to younger students, this easy-to-use app helps identify plants, animals and birds.
- Globe Observer - From clouds to land cover and trees, this app includes citizen science and service-learning projects to foster curiosity in the outdoors.