Now that the school year is fully in progress (it has been six weeks since Essley started preschool and she is smitten with it, by the way), the weather is cooling off, and it’s getting dark earlier, it’s been a little more challenging to make sure Essley is spending enough time playing outside. It’s really important to us to encourage her to be active, but with available outdoor time becoming increasingly scarce during the week, we’ve had to get creative. One thing we’ve found to be incredibly successful (and fun for all of us!) is to reward Essley with weekend adventures to which she can look forward all week – all involving places that allow her to free-play outside. In exchange for doing a great job at school and participating in her other lessons during the week, she gets to do something exciting on the weekends that involves active outdoor time. (It’s a win win for all of us!) Today I’m going to share some of our favorite ways to keep the kids healthy and thriving all year long by planning creative weekend activities that work throughout the seasons and despite busy schedules during the week.
1. Visit a pumpkin farm or apple orchard. This is a favorite of ours (as you can see from all the pictures in this post!), and such a great way to organically encourage outdoor play by taking advantage of a seasonal activity. We hit up a fall-themed place like this almost every weekend in October, and Essley looks forward to it all week. She loves exploring and running around, so it’s an automatic physical activity that is enjoyable for all of us.
2. Go on a leaf hunt. This is actually something that was suggested by Essley’s school, and we’ve had so much fun with it. They have a sensory table in their classroom and the teachers encouraged the students to find and bring in leaves for it. It’s an easy (and free!) way for the whole family to participate in an active outdoor adventure together. It could also easily be modified for different times of the year (in the winter look for sticks or rocks to use in building in a snowman, in the spring look for budding flowers and snap photos of them, etc.). If you have a big yard, you can also take this a step further and rake lead piles to jump in. The best!
3. Have a simple fall (or even winter) picnic. This is another favorite of ours. There’s no need to pack an elaborate lunch like you might do in the summertime either – just bundle up, throw a big blanket in a bag along with some healthy snacks (we like apples, string cheese, and CLIF Kid Zbars) and water, and head out for your favorite park, forest preserve, or outdoor place of play. CLIF Kid Zbars are a particularly great choice because they’re made with organic ingredients, they’re non-GMO, they contain all sort of important nutrients for active kids, they have no high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, or synthetic preservatives, and they come in flavors kids love. We also feel good buying them because we like what they stand for. CLIF Kid is dedicated to reclaiming play all year long, by encouraging boys and girls everywhere to get back outside, push their boundaries and feed their adventures. Pretty great, right? (You guys have to watch this awesome video they put together too.)
4. Go day camping. We’ve done this at forest preserves and nature areas but you can just as easily do it in your backyard. Spend an afternoon together as a family collecting sticks for a campfire (and use it to make hot cider!), having a camp-themed sing-a-long (bonus active points for incorporating a dance party), and playing outdoor games. If you’re not as into the camping theme, just make it an outdoor daytime party instead.
5. Run. Fall is the season of races. My husband usually runs the Chicago Marathon this month (this year he did a half marathon instead with another coming up in a few weeks), and I love to have fun with shorter fall races like 5Ks and turkey trots. Essley gets so excited about these races, so we’ll go for short runs as a family with Emmett in the jogging stroller and Essley running along side us. Usually these are just to the park and back, but it’s great motivation for her to pretend we’re running real races like daddy does. If your kids are a little older, sign up for an actual race! There are endless options this time of year for types of races, distances, etc. And what kid doesn’t like to get a medal?
6. Go on a hike. Depending on where you live, summer hiking can be miserably hot, so take advantage of cooler temperatures during the school year and go on a family hike. When I was growing up, my dad would call these “nature walks” and my sister and I thought they were the greatest of adventures. We’d bring boxes and collect cool rocks and other goodies we’ve find along the way, and just run, play, and explore.
I hope these ideas help inspire you to participate in fun outdoor playtime adventures with your kids during the school year. We’ve found that treating them as rewards for their hard work during the week is especially encouraging (and they genuinely feel like rewards for our work weeks too!). I’d love to hear about any activities (with or without little ones) that you enjoy in the fall (and beyond) that promote being physically active as well.
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