It’s no secret that kids of all ages love summer vacation – the warm weather and change in routine bring adventure and imagination into their days. As parents, however, it’s common to be concerned that your child isn’t being challenged and presented with new learning opportunities while they are out of school.
Rest assured, there are many ways kids can turn their education and playtime into outdoor learning – right from their backyard. Activities like backyard camping, gardening, and birdwatching provide endless teaching moments while still creating experiences in nature and the outdoors. So whether you’re trying to avoid summer boredom or looking for new, unique ways to teach your kids, we’ve put together a list of 8 ways to create the ultimate backyard retreat to keep your kids engaged, entertained, and active this summer.
1) Transform your backyard into a campground
Backyard camping is an activity the whole family can take part in. Let your kids set up camp with a tent, pillows, blankets, or sleeping bags. Keep the campsite equipped with flashlights, a picnic table, and camp chairs. Consider building a DIY firepit with stone or brick that’ll last all summer long. That way you can have your kids help with cooking classic camp food, such as hotdogs and s’mores without needing a full-fledged outdoor kitchen.
Teach your family new skills and explore your backyard with activities such as bird watching, stargazing, and looking for bugs. You can also whip out a deck of cards, board games, or lawn games to have some competitive family fun together. Then, end the night huddled around the fire telling stories and singing campfire songs as you roast marshmallows.
2) Construct a treehouse getaway or a charming playhouse
A treehouse is the perfect backyard retreat for families with children of all ages. Before beginning the project, you’ll want to make sure that the tree you choose has a strong foundation. Your kids can learn math skills as they design and measure walls, ladders, doors and windows. Once the treehouse is complete and safe to enter, the whole family can help furnish and decorate the interior.
Not only will the treehouse give kids a place to get lost in books in their very own reading nook, play with friends, or boost motor skills through climbing and imaginative play – there’s no doubt that the memories a child will make in their treehouse getaway will stick with them as they grow older.
If building a treehouse is not possible, you can spark your little one’s imagination by buying or building a backyard playhouse to call their own. No matter the style – from traditional playhouse to fort – your children and their friends will likely spend hours on end playing pretend and making memories.
3) Plant an edible garden in your backyard retreat
Do you have unused space in your yard that can be converted into a garden? Then there’s no better time than now to plant an edible garden or try out lasagna gardening. This can be a spot where the kids will not only have fun playing in the dirt but also learn responsibility and can take pride in something they created. Choose a small plot for your kids to plant fruits and vegetables, herb plants, and perform tasks like watering and pruning. Consider starting your beginner garden with a few types of plants that are easier to take care of, such as basil, carrots, and cucumbers.
4) Have a backyard BBQ
Kids love to help out with all sorts of adult tasks – one of them being cooking. Have your kids help with making a salad, picking herbs and vegetables from your beginner garden, and assembling side dishes such as chips and dip. Just remember to always keep an eye on the children and have them steer clear of the grill. A backyard BBQ is a great event to gather around the table to enjoy the food you prepared together.
5) Host an outdoor movie night
Does your family love to watch movies together? Kick movie night up a notch with an outdoor movie screen, because let’s face it – nothing is better than an outdoor movie as the sun begins to set.
You and your kids can build a collapsible DIY outdoor movie screen with a couple of PVC pipes and a plain white sheet. Connect your laptop to a portable movie projector with speakers using an extension cord plugged into a surge-protected power strip.
Next, create a cozy seating area with blankets, floor cushions, and hang string lights to create a cozy ambiance. Plant pots and buckets can be used as drink coolers and snack stashers that you can pass around during the film. Gather friends and family for a movie everyone can enjoy. And don’t forget the popcorn!
6) Create a backyard water park
For younger children, a water table, kiddie pool, and sprinklers are as good as any water park without needing to drive or encounter crowds. For older children, consider a larger blow-up or quick-set pool available in a variety of sizes, depths, and styles. Some even come with pumps, filters, and covers that keep your water fresh and clean throughout the season. Typically, these more expensive features reduce maintenance and water usage.
A backyard water park isn’t complete without a sandbox to provide a sensory lab for kids who love digging, sifting, and burying. For much-needed shade from the sun, an umbrella and seating — either in the form of lawn chairs or a blanket on the grass — will give adults and children a place to rest and relax. Keep snacks and drinks nearby in a cooler with ice packs or, if power is available, a mini-fridge.
7) Learn about the wildlife that inhabits your backyard retreat
Feeding chirping birds and discovering animal tracks can be fun, educational, and therapeutic for people of all ages. Together, your family can build your own birdhouse or feeders to attract birds. Many children probably can’t recognize the difference between a cardinal and a robin, so examining different types of birds up close can teach your kids more about the wildlife in their hometown. Encourage kids to keep a journal, writing down and drawing pictures of all the types of birds they see.
If you live in an area, such as the Pacific Northwest or Vancouver, BC, where it’s common to spot deer, ducks, rabbits, squirrels, or owls wandering in your backyard, discovering animal tracks can be an exciting activity whether the animal hops, walks, or flies. Or maybe you live in an area like Tampa, FL where you may even see an alligator wandering around. Regardless of your home’s proximity to wildlife, finding paw prints from a neighbor’s dog or cat is an opportunity for your kids to recognize the difference between these patterns.
8) Get active and utilize your outdoor space to play games
One common learning style is hands-on learning, or experiential learning – the act of doing, manipulating, and playing. And what better place to practice this form of education than your very own backyard retreat?
There are several different activities and games to play outdoors to keep your kids engaged:
- Create a rhyming scavenger hunt to practice problem solving and teamwork. Add in some rhyming to up the fun as the kids hunt for their treasures.
- Play I spy to discover otherwise overlooked details in your backyard and strengthen memory.
- Prepare a treasure hunt to explore the backyard. Indulge their imaginations and interests as you create the theme, write the clues, and don’t forget to find a tricky spot to hide the treasure.
- Play Simon Says to improve listening, body awareness, and motor skills.
- Play a sport outdoors to practice hand-eye coordination. Basic sports gear, like basketball hoops, volleyball nets, and soccer goals, can be purchased at big box stores or online retailers.
- Build an obstacle course to encourage thinking, problem-solving, and good exercise. There are countless DIY options for creating an obstacle course such as utilizing painter’s tape, sidewalk chalk, cardboard boxes, pool noodles. You can also incorporate hula hoops, water balloons, and baskets.
- Play yard games for some family fun, such as bocce ball, badminton, bean bag toss, and more.
You can easily turn your outdoor space into a backyard retreat that’s engaging for kids – and adults – of any age. That way you can spend more time in your backyard oasis while teaching your kids new skills and curing summertime boredom.