Research supports the idea that children who have early-life outdoor experiences are more sensitive to conservation issues as adults. Exposure to nature is also shown to reduce stress in both urban and rural students and adults. So to help you encourage active outdoor play, here is our Playing Outdoors Gift Guide:


  • Compass and gas-station map of your town or county
  • Binoculars sized for kids; I bought a pair at my local bird-seed store
  • Window bird feeder to watch close-up
  • Different kinds of bird feeders to attract species that eat fruit or seeds or suet or raisins, etc.
  • Combine feeders or binoculars with a simple birding guide book
  • Rubber boots with frog faces or ones that look like fireman’s boots or are pink and sparkly. Some come with matching rain slickers. Nothing is more fun than splashing in puddles!
  • Dip net and plastic pail for catching crawdads and tadpoles
  • Headlamp: even your backyard is an adventure in the dark
  • Tent: ditto
  • Wool or fleece socks to turn their rubber boots into snow boots.  Add a hat and mittens. Kids will enjoy the winter more if they are warm and dry. Wool and polyester fleece will stay warm even when wet from making snowballs.
  • Sled, wagon, scooter, bicycle
  • Water bottle
  • Magnifying glass and bug book
  • Butterfly net and bug boxes
  • Shovels and buckets: will work in sand, mud or snow
  • Bubbles
  • Kite
  • Cord and a knot-tying book
  • Star charts and hot chocolate; again pairing with binoculars
  • Seed packets: something easy like radishes or something flashy like zinnias and sunflowers.
  • Magazine subscription to National Wildlife Federation’s Your Big Backyard or National Geographic Kids
  • Nature journal and colored pencils
  • Books: there’s tons of great kids book about the outdoors and nature. My co-workers recommend the recent Ecobabies Wear Green for the littlest and There’s a Map on My Lap for beginning readers.

And of course, the best gift of all is the attention of mom or dad.  Go to your local Metro Park and explore. Lie down in the backyard and point out the North Star and the Big Dipper. If you hunt or fish, dedicate time to concentrate on your son or daughter. If you don’t expect to bring anything home, you won’t be impatient when he would rather play with the worms than fish with them, or she is too noisy in the woods. If they have fun, they’ll want to do it again.

Published: December 12th, 2012