18 ways to enjoy the outdoors (even if it’s from your balcony or window)
Everyone's feeling restless when they're having to spend a lot more time indoors. But there are creative ways to make the most of your limited time in the fresh air, or to bring the outside into your home.
Outdoors-inspired activities are not only great for your family’s wellbeing but they can really help your little one’s development too, says speech and language therapist Janet Cooper.
“The great outdoors gives you lots of talking opportunities with your child. Seeing the blue of the sky and green grass or trees is also known to increase a chemical in the brain called serotonin, which increases our emotional wellbeing and makes us feel good. It also makes us feel less confined and is likely to make us more active, so is good for the body too.”
Here are some activities you can do together on a daily walk, in a small outdoor space or from the comfort of your own home...
1. Make your own binoculars
If your little one is going to look closely at the outdoors, they need something to do it with! Collect cardboard tube inners, attach with sticky tape and ta-dah… their very own DIY binoculars. Encourage your child to get spotting through their ‘lenses’ and talk about what they can see.
2. Play weather bingo
Make a list of common weather conditions like windy, rainy, sunshine, cloudy, cold and frosty. Look outside every day and tick off what’s happening. Add extra interest by making a list of other things your little ones could spot like birds, chimney, aerial and car. They could also draw a daily picture of the weather, so you can create a weather diary during the lockdown.
3. Have a game of skittles
Brilliant for your toddler's coordination and communication skills. To create your own skittles set, simply use rolled-up socks as a ball, and empty bottles or toilet roll tubes as the skittles. Play inside or out, and ask your little one to describe what they are doing as the action happens.
4. Listen for sounds
Because there’s less traffic around and fewer planes overhead, sounds like birdsong seem even louder at the moment. Listen from your window or on a walk, then name and talk about the sounds you and your child can hear – it’s a great way for babies and older children to develop their listening skills and learn new words.
5. Try some cloud spotting
A great way to relax, as well as to learn. Spend some time looking at the cloud shapes and chatting about what you think they look like. You could even make up a story about the things you see. If you want to learn more about clouds, check out BBC Weather Watchers.
6. Create a nature collection
If you have a garden or can get out to a local green space, this activity is a great way for older children to explore nature and learn new words at the same time. Following guidance about what’s safe, pick some natural items like twigs and leaves that your little one can touch and describe. To make it even safer or if you can’t get out, collect any natural items you have around the house or use pictures to build a visual collection.
7. Make and fly paper planes
Spend time making paper planes together and then see who can fly their plane the furthest. Lots of fun for the whole family, plus you’re building your child’s communication and turn-taking skills at the same time.
8. Have a toy picnic
Toddlers love teddy picnics and tea parties and they’re a great way to practice role play and boost communication skills. Get everyone in your house involved – and you could even invite friends and family to join remotely on a video chat.
9. Try messy play
Messy play with your toddler using soil and leftover spaghetti (or try pieces of string) helps build their imagination and vocabulary. With some newspaper or plastic on your floor and using sauce or jelly instead of soil, it can be a great indoor activity too. While they enjoy getting messy, chat to your child about what it feels like.
10. Look after easy-to-grow plants
Even if you’re limited to a windowsill (just remember to pick a sunny one), growing plants, seeing them grow and talking about it is a great learning opportunity for your little one. It also feels like a really positive thing to do. You could try tomatoes, sunflowers or for a really easy growing project, cress heads.
11. Play I spy
An oldie but a goody for children (and adults) of all ages and perfect for window gazers or as an activity to try on a video calls with a loved one. Guess things based on their colour, shape and if your child is a bit older, the letter they start with. Great for boosting your little one’s confidence in using new words.
12. Get creative with pebble art
Painting or felt-tip penning pictures on stones is great fun: you can then hide them around the garden, yard or even indoors. You could even make story stones: draw pictures of key characters with felt pen or paint on the stones and then use them to retell a story.
13. Experience wildlife… virtually
14. Learn through laundry
Yes, that’s right: sorting laundry outside together is great opportunity to boost your little one’s vocabulary and helps them make connections. Name each item of clothing as you unpeg it and give your child simple instructions, like ‘pair up two socks’ or ‘put daddy’s clothes in a basket’.
15. Play memory games
Looking out of your window is the perfect time to test out your and your little one’s memory skills. Start by naming one thing you can see out of the window, then building up a list that you both have to remember. A great activity if you're lucky enough to get out for a walk too.
17. Build a den
If you can’t get outside, you can always pretend. Try building a den with your little one and imagine that you’re in the middle of a forest, or on a safari. It’s a great opportunity to practise your animal noises.
18. Hide and seek
Playing hide and seek is a great mood booster and can help your child follow simple instructions. It's easy to do indoors, as well as outdoors. Take turns using toys or you could try hiding yourself.
Important safety advice
If you are heading out for walks, follow government rules on travel and social distancing to keep yourselves and others safe.
Open windows and balconies are potentially dangerous for young children. Check out the Child Accident Prevention Trust's advice.
Please be aware that there are hazards for children in gardens and green spaces. Check out the RHS guidance on potentially harmful plants.