36 Tricks to Get Your Kids Outdoors

Summer vacation keeps rolling along. How long until your kids go back to school? Are they spending too much time lounging on the couch? Here are a bunch of summer projects to trick your kids away from their air-conditioned sanctuary and out into the great outdoors of, er, your backyard.

Okay, okay. So the backyard is not the great kids outdoors. True. But the main thing is to get the kiddos out in the fresh air, learning about nature, and learning about the noble pursuit of maintaining a garden.

Getting their hands dirty

1. Ask them to help with the weeding. Please pay them a small amount of pocket money for their time.

2. Re-seeding a patch of lawn? Let the kids participate in the prep and watering phases. Show them how exciting it is when the seedlings suddenly spring forth!

3. Hold a short session on lawnmower operation and safety. Give them graduation “certificates” when it’s over.

4. Let them apply fertilizer via the hose sprayer, with your supervision. Bluewater!

5. Encourage them to help you with pruning. (Older kids, obviously!)

6. Ask them to help you pile fresh mulch around your garden beds. This is a nice, easy project that little ones might enjoy. Okay, at least it’ll keep them occupied while you get the bulk of the job done.

7. Have them collect the coffee grounds each morning and, once a week, help them spread it around the garden. Let them know why it’s good for the soil.

8. Let them help with edging the garden beds, using a shovel, spade, or manual edging tool. Kids love to practice cutting straight lines.

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Flowers, pretty flowers!

9. Help them to pick out and plant bright-flowering annuals like impatiens and marigolds.

10. Get (or make) a flower press. Have them add new flowers to them regularly. Their favorites can be glued into a picture frame at the end of the summer.

11. Show them how seeds can be harvested when the flowers die. Please encourage them to collect and dry seeds for next year.

12. Start Sunflowers. Kids love to grow these elegant beauties!

13. Have them keep a flower journal, describing what was blooming in each week and month. Have them draw each flower, too. If you suspect they won’t keep at it that long, aim for a one-day snapshot of the garden.

Other plants kids love to grow.

14. Get them a pack of gourd seeds and see who can raise them to full size. (Tip: choose a sunny spot and prepare the soil well.)

15. Show them how vines get established. Please give them a couple of 12-inch English Ivy cuttings to root in water and, later, to plant in a shady spot. Measure how long they’ve grown by the end of the year.

16. Grow fun summer bulbs like caladium or gigantic elephant’s ear.

17. Let them try growing a small Venus Flytrap or other carnivorous plants.

Veggie gardening 101

18. Have the kids start a vegetable garden of their own, or have them help you with your own plot.

19. Ask them to add the daily scraps to your compost bin. Have them add some brown matter like dried leaves for balance now and then, and stir the mixture each week or two. No need to lecture them about how it all works; they’ll learn simply by doing.

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20. Have them help you build a compost bin. There are tons of free building instructions online and in gardening books. Check out Francesca’s post on the subject here.

21. How about a composting competition? Have each child start their own small pile of compost and see who can get the best compost and the most creepy crawlies in it at summer’s end. Suppose they don’t follow through, no biggie. They’re still learning.

22. Have them take turns watering the garden by hand or setting up the sprinkler. Playing in the water spray is allowed.

23. Kids outdoors can help stake up tomatoes, beans, and other climbing vegetables. Let them use brightly colored landscaping twine, wool, or ribbon if they want to.

24. Help them start an herb garden. Good plants for beginners are sweet basil and rosemary. (See my recent post on harvesting basil here.)

25. Let them dry their own herbs. Have them pick rosemary, tie it in bundles, and hang somewhere to dry.

26. Have them start seeds indoors in trays, then transplant the seedings outside.

27. Let them pick out their own seeds at the store. Could you encourage them to try wildflowers?

28. Let them thin out rows of baby vegetable seedlings such as radishes. There’s something about this simple task that kids love.

29. Give them marker pens and plastic plant markers and let them label everything you’re growing.

30. Make a scarecrow. It will do double-duty as front porch decoration when Fall rolls around.

Easy landscaping projects

31. Let them decide where to lay stepping-stones in the garden for informal paths through the flower beds.

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32. Build a kid’s outdoor game using paving stones. A great example: hopscotch stepping stones

33. Build a sandpit. Kids can help clear a spot, dig a hole, and empty the sand in. (Bags of sand can be purchased in the cement section of hardware stores.)

34. Create a “secret garden.” Let them “have” a secluded spot amongst the trees. If they want to, let them “wall it off” using cardboard or a piece of lattice, or some landscaping fabric.

Build stuff

35. Make a rock sculpture. A great example that’s easy enough for kids outdoors to manage is the Inukchuk, an artful pile of flat rocks arranged to resemble a human in an abstract way.

36. Build a playhouse or tool shed. This can be the real deal, with them helping out, or it can just pretend, using cardboard boxes, etc.


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