Nature-Based Play Ideas for Active Kids

This post is by regular contributor Debi Huang of Go Explore Nature.

I’ve got a confession to make: Parenting my 5-year-old son is in a word, challenging. From the time he first walked, he earned the nickname “The Runner” in our family. He is full of energy. Seemingly boundless energy.

So much energy that taking him anywhere is, well, exhausting. To call him an active child seems like the understatement of the year.

I’m sure you know the type. He’s the one climbing to the top of the play structure at the park, then jumping off. Or running out the door and down the block while the rest of us are still getting our shoes on. And at a museum? Forget it! He’s taking off at the first sight of something fun and not looking back.

Before having a wild child of my own, I used to think the parents of kids like my son were to blame. You know – for not better controlling their children’s behavior. Now I know better.

My biggest challenge isn’t just keeping up with him. It’s learning to embrace his active spirit. To fight the constant urge to yell “stop” and “no.”

Which is where nature comes in handy. She offers up plenty of opportunity for active kids like mine to play and explore without too many restrictions.

Since I can’t be the only mom to have an active child, I thought some of you might like to know what types of outdoor activities are well suited to kids who love to run like the wind. Here goes.

Outdoor play ideas for active kids

Climb something. Active kids can’t always be kept at ground level. Encourage yours to climb a tree, rocks or small boulders, or the climbing wall at the park.

Splash in mud puddles. Even a tiny patch of dirt or grass can create the perfect spot for mud puddle play.

Run down (or up) a hill. Parks often come complete with a nice hill just perfect for a good run. Bring along a friend and have races back up the hill, too.

Chase something, like butterflies. They’re harder to catch than birds, which don’t deserve to be scared off anyway.

Play games on the trail. We love to play chase on a trail with a long, straight stretch. Follow-the-leader and treasure hunts are also lots of fun.

Nature based play ideas for active kids

Embrace water play. Instead of fighting it, be prepared with a change of clothes and a towel. Let your child run through sprinklers, toss water balloons, shoot water sprayers, soak up sponges or jump in a splash fountain.

Seek out wide-open, wild spaces. I suppose it goes without saying that wide-open, wild spaces are perfect for little runners. Whether it’s a grassy area or a meadow, let your child at it. My son creates an imaginary loop for himself and simply runs ’til he drops.

How do you like to get outside with your active child?

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  1. Thank you for a wonderful post. It sounds exactly like my son.

    • I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone, Taylar. Hope some of these ideas can help you enjoy the time you spend outside with your son. 🙂

  2. Jemimah says:

    My little girl loves chasing bubbles, can spend at least half an hour running around popping them 🙂 She also loves running around pretending she is a Knight with her sword and shield ( I have to be the dragon that she fights) always keeps her occupied outside

    • Your little girl has a wonderful imagination! How fun to play knights & dragons. Bubbles are a big favorite for us, too. I love that they can go just about anywhere we do.

  3. Water is my kids biggest toy outside. It is currently freezing here and still they want to get wet! LOL

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how much my little girl loves to just RUN. Give her an open space and she’ll go nuts out there, running with pure joy showing on her face 🙂

    • The look of pure joy is a gift to witness, isn’t it Kylie? I hope kids like ours will always have that sense of freedom & passion in their lives.

  5. Yes, I have an active little monkey too 🙂
    These are great tips & bravo for endorsing outdoor physical play
    Love it

  6. Yes, I have an active little monkey too 🙂
    These are great tips & bravo for endorsing outdoor physical play
    Love it. We love tree climbing & our mud kitchen

    • Cheers to active kids! Trees are a favorite for us, too. And mud play is a HUGE hit – especially when I give the green light for mud baths. 🙂

  7. My 3-yr old loves to run. And he always picks a loop/track wherever we are! I’m glad to know someone else’s boy makes loops, too. 🙂

    • That’s too funny! I always thought mine was the only one. So happy to know there are others out there, too. Hang in there!

  8. I love this, thank you 🙂 Maybe especially the description of parenting a super active child! It is exhausting – I often feel like the only mum constantly running after my little girl while friends’ toddlers seem to never stray far. But I love my two and a half year old’s spirit. These suggestions are just spot on. My daughter is a creature of the outdoors, the more to climb on, jump off, run around and explore, the better 🙂

    • It is wonderful to meet a kindred parent! I know how isolating it can feel sometimes to parent a highly active kid. Keep up the great work!

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