Let's Go Play Outside!

backyard projects, hikes, and other outdoor family fun


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#9 Go on a butterfly hunt {52 outdoor activities}

{52 outdoor activities} is a series featuring a unique idea for each week of the year to inspire you and your kids to get outside for some fun.

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Since our yard right now has sunflowers, zinnias, and butterfly bush blooming we have been seeing a lot of butterflies.  We also have a great picture book called Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert.  The back of the book has wonderful illustrations identifying common types of butterflies, so that inspired us to do a butterfly hunt in our yard.  In the picture above, C was preparing for our hunt with the book and her butterfly net.  Although the net is more for show.  When we finally got close enough to a Tiger Swallowtail on one of the sunflowers, we didn’t want to risk hurting it.

I also missed our picture taking opportunities because we were busy admiring the butterflies (and sort of chasing them down without trying to scare them off – hard when you have an almost two-year-old with you too!).  I did get a picture of this moth on a zinnia bloom. Apparently the moths aren’t easily intimidated.

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English: Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papil...

English: Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And if  you’re like me and you couldn’t tell one butterfly from the next, check out the picture of a tiger swallowtail – just for future reference.  It is fun to know which is which, and now when we are playing outside and C sees one she recognizes from the book, she starts shouting about it.  Pretty exciting stuff.

A few quick internet searches can provide ample ammunition for your own butterfly hunt.  Or go to the next level and plant a butterfly garden in your yard.  Better Homes and Gardens has a nice feature with tips on making your yard butterfly friendly here.


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Outdoor Astronaut Party Ideas!

Enjoy this guest post by Ryan!

If your kid dreams of soaring amongst the stars and floating in zero gravity, an astronaut party may be the perfect theme for their next birthday. With a few fun and educational games, your child and their friends can have great time learning about the stars, launching rockets and playing space games.

1. Absolutely Astronaut Style

The first thing to do is get the kids geared up in their space suits. An easy way to get the space suits started is to buy every guest a set of disposable painter coveralls, which can be purchased for only a few dollars each. The kids can use magic markers to draw oxygen tubes, jet packs or anything else they want to add to the coveralls. Astronaut helmets can be constructed with cardboard boxes that are slightly larger than the children’s heads. If you stop by your local grocery store, they may be able to provide you with plenty of boxes that are the perfect size for free. Just make sure the boxes are white, or at least a few days before the party, cover each box with a kid safe paint that does not have any fumes or chemicals that can harm them.

Once the paint on the helmets has dried, cut out a round hole in each box for the kids’ faces. Then draw a “U” shape on two opposite sides of the box with the top of both sides of the “U” touching the opening. The kids will cut these out to go over their shoulders and help keep their helmet from falling off. Kids can add tin foil, stick-on stars, and American flag stickers to make the helmets more realistic. After all of the guests are wearing their full space suits, pose them together for a great opportunity to take a picture so they can remember the awesome time they had with their friends.

2. Aliens vs. Astronaut

One of the most exciting aspects of space is the possibility of extraterrestrial life. During Aliens vs. Astronaut, kids can play out a scenario where there are aliens infecting astronauts on a planet. In a park or backyard, mark off two lines about 10-15 yards apart. These are the safe zones on the planet. At the beginning of each round, everyone must run from one side to the other without being tagged or “infected” by an alien. The original alien can be played by a volunteer, or if there are none, an adult at the party. Once an astronaut is infected, they join the aliens and turns against their fellow space travelers. Every few rounds, an adult can throw several pieces of stars cut from cardboard onto the playing field. These can be used as medicines that will turn the aliens back into humans and allow them to resume playing as astronauts. The winner is the last remaining astronaut.

3. Rocket Stomp

There are a number of kid-friendly rocket toys that are powered by jumping onto a small air pump. Pick up one of these before the party, and the kids may have a great time seeing how high they can launch it. Just make sure that you are doing this in a wide open area so the rocket won’t get stuck in a tree or over a neighbor’s fence. Because many of these rocket launchers use air tight tubes, another thing kids can do is make their own rockets out of toilet paper or paper towel rolls. Before the party, use duct tape to seal off the end of each tube, then the kids can decorate them and add cardboard fins to make them look like rockets. This way they may have an awesome time seeing whose can go the highest towards the stars.

4. Space Scavenger Hunt

After everyone is geared up in their space costumes, an exciting game to play can be a space scavenger hunt in your backyard or a nearby park. To prepare for it, hide grey golf balls that you can call “moon rocks” in inconspicuous places. You can also hide different colored and sized balls to represent the planets. In order to find these, they will have to solve puzzles and find clues about each planet. To create the planets, a great option is to go to a craft store and buy foam balls that you can color to make them look like the different planets.

To start the scavenger hunt, divide the kids into two or three teams, and tell them where the boundaries of the playing field or “galaxy” are and then they can start hunting for the items. Each moon rock is worth one point and the planets can be worth more, depending on how hidden they are. However, they have to solve the puzzle and find the planet to get points. The team with the most points at the end of the scavenger hunt can win NASA stickers that they can keep for later, or put on their space helmets.

5. Solar System Mobiles

To create solar system mobiles, each guest will need two small wooden dowels and eight foam balls, as well as ping pong balls and string. You can also make cardboard cut outs of stars and rocket ships. To get the kids ready to create their mobile, give them a hand out showing what each planet looks like and the order that they orbit around the sun. They can paint each of their foam balls so that it looks like a different planet, and then use the ping pong balls as moons. If they want to add stars and rocket ships, they can decorate the cardboard cut outs too.

After they have finished the stars and rocket ships, tie two of the dowels together in an “X” shape for each guest. Then help them hang their planets, stars and rocket ships from the dowels so the mobile balances when hung from its center by a string. This way, not only may they learn about the solar system, but they may also have a great project they can take home and hang in their bed rooms.

After all of the fun and educational activities from the day, they should be worn out and ready to take it easy for the rest of the night. To get everyone settled down, have the guests change into their pajamas and relax with a favorite space movie like WALL-E. After spending the whole day doing fun and exciting space activities, the kids should be ready to dream of the stars.


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#8 Go to a game {52 outdoor activities}

{52 outdoor activities} is a series featuring a unique idea for each week of the year to inspire you and your kids to get outside for some fun.

p at the gameIt’s a little early for this, but on Saturday we went to a football game.  Or, as I was told this particular event was a called, a scrimmage.  I don’t know the difference.  The point being, we went and watched a game.  It was fun.c dresses the partC was excited to dress the part – of a cheerleader, not a player – and had some questions about how football worked.  p wanders offP was interested up to a point and then wandered into the baseball diamond next to the football game.

Anyway, we’re not big sports people, but it’s fun to be outside at a game.  We look forward to taking our girls to minor league baseball someday, and to more high school games.  Any suggestions for other games for us to attend?


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#7 Go Berry Picking! {52 Outdoor Activities}

{52 outdoor activities} is a series featuring a unique idea for each week of the year to inspire you and your kids to get outside for some fun.

C finds the good berries

If there’s anything I love more than good food, it’s good free food.  We’re blessed to live very near a large blueberry patch that is free for the picking, so you better believe I put the whole family to work picking us some berries.  C, in particular, is a fantastic berry picker.  The summer before she turned 3 she got it and started picking more ripe berries than the unripe purple-y pink-y ones and since then she’s just gotten better.

C reaches for the berries

P is not so great at the picking, so she mainly sat in the stroller and transferred the berries we put on the tray into her bucket.  Great for fine motor skills.

P puts berries in the bucket

There were a lot of ripe berries – we filled our two buckets very quickly.  There are lots that haven’t ripened yet either, so we’ll be going back soon.  To find an opportunity near you to pick your own fruit, check out http://pickyourown.org/.  It’s very satisfying to see a fruit in its natural environment, on a bush, in this case, and to put some effort into gathering it, and then to eat it.

More berries to come! Bucket 'O Berries

And, if you’re looking for a little bit of literature to accompany your berry picking, try out two books we enjoy especially during berry picking season – Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey and Jamberry by Bruce Degen.


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#6 Run an Obstacle Course in Your Yard {52 outdoor activities}

{52 outdoor activities} is a series featuring a unique idea for each week of the year to inspire you and your kids to get outside for some fun.

We’re not an athletic family.  My husband has made his living as a musician; I’m a librarian; we don’t do sports.  So, I try to put a little extra effort into getting the girls moving and developing their gross motor skills.  I thought an obstacle course in our backyard would be a perfect way to do that, and I was right.  Especially for C, who functions very well with specific directions.  She likes a blueprint for her activities, for sure.  I think most kids would respond to the challenge of an obstacle course.

So, I got C running, skipping and jumping on this course, but she did it wearing a tutu and rainboots.  ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

Here’s our course:

1. Climb over picnic table.

1. Climb over picnic table.

2. Run up the hill.

2. Run up the hill.

3. Hit the t-ball as hard as you can.

3. Hit the t-ball as hard as you can.

4. Hop on the swing and go as fast as you can!

4. Hop on the swing and go as fast as you can!

Skip to the sunflower house.  Count to 5 in Spanish.

Skip to the sunflower house. Count to 5 in Spanish.

Go down the slide!

Go down the slide!

Kick the soccer ball into the side of the garage. Done!

Kick the soccer ball into the side of the garage. Done!