Prime Time With Kids: Free Play In The Great Outdoors

J.D. Holmlund, 10, draws lines in the sand with driftwood for a “follow the leader” game at Seacliff State Beach on Monterey Bay, California.

“Hey, come on, Donna, follow us … we’re playing loop-de-loop,” shouted barefoot 5-year-old Eva gleefully, as she followed the freshly drawn trail in the damp sand that her older brother was marking ahead of her with his “magic” driftwood. Lured into the playful “follow the leader” game, I couldn’t help but feel their childlike freedom to run forever in the salty air.

Spring is the season to get in the great outdoors and discover the elements of surprise that await your family. Here are some ideas for fresh-air entertainment:


If you live near or enjoy traveling to Washington State’s Skagit Valley; Holland, Michigan; or even the Netherlands, take in the glorious colors of fields of tulips and daffodils in bloom. In colder climes, conservatories and greenhouses also provide an opportunity to walk pathways of spring’s first flowers.


On the shoreline of a calm lake or river, find flat stones. With bent knees, stand with feet parallel to the water’s edge. Throw a stone sidearm with a snap of your wrist so that it skips off the surface of the water. Keep practicing until your stone skips several times.


When it’s time to take a break, sit around a circle and play “First one to laugh.” Choose a leader who tells everyone to keep a serious face. Then as he makes gestures, players have to imitate them without laughing. The last person left who keeps a straight face is the leader for the next round.

Or, play the “silent game.” When the leader announces that the game begins, everyone has to remain quiet and listen to nature. The person who is silent the longest wins. Hiccups don’t count!


Play hopscotch, marbles, four square, kick the can, or set up a relay race.


When you return from the outdoors, empty out nature finds and other items from the adventure. An older child or adult may sort through them and place interesting shapes and textures of things “players” will feel in separate tall containers. For example, dried seaweed from the beach in one container and shells, bark, feathers or leftover potato chips from lunch in another. Without peeking, each person places her hand in each container to determine what’s inside. Encourage players to describe what it feels like (prickly, puffy, smooth) as they guess the contents.

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Donna Erickson’s award-winning series “Donna’s Day” is airing on public television nationwide. To find more of her creative family recipes and activities, visit www.donnasday.com and link to the NEW Donna’s Day Facebook fan page. Her latest book is “Donna Erickson’s Fabulous Funstuff for Families.”


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