Wondering how to help kids celebrate the special people in their life this holiday season? This year, give loved ones the gift of experiences together in nature! Giving kids and grown-ups the chance to play and spend time in nature together is a super way to gift all of the health and wellness benefits of time outdoors, spark joy, and create playful family memories together. In this activity we share ideas for how kids can turn an ordinary jar into an outdoor gift for a special person in their lives that keeps on giving long after the winter holidays.
This activity is featured in our December Activity Calendar. If you do not yet have your free copy of the calendar, get it here.
Gather your materials:
Grab a jar or other container with a lid and a pen or marker. Cut a piece of paper into small strips.
Make an Outdoor Adventures Jar!
Show kids your jar or container and ask, "Do you know what this is?" Take answers, then let them know it is no ordinary jar...it is an Outdoor Adventures Jar. This is a special holder for all of the ways we can spend time outside together as a family.” Let kids know that the person they gift this jar to can choose ideas from this jar every time they want to play together outside. Wonder together who might enjoy a jar filled with ways to play outside with your child (e.g. parent, sibling, friend, family member, other special grown-up).
Offer a few art materials (e.g. paper, markers or crayons, tape, objects from nature) and invite kids to decorate the jar for their special person. What colors and shapes might they like?
Brainstorm and fill the jar:
Talk with kids to brainstorm outdoor activities you could do with their special person to make them happy. You can print, cut out and include these ready-to-roll ideas (with QR codes to special directions or without).
Or, write ideas down on any slips of paper and fill your jar with them. Here are some to start with:
Visit a favorite outdoor spot. You can even make a familiar spot special by visiting early in the morning and bringing a breakfast. Or, going on an evening hike there (maybe even with a little treat to enjoy!).
Brainstorm the activities that make your child’s special person smile, and generate ideas for how to do more of those things together!
You can also brainstorm with kids what they love and appreciate most about their special person. Write your compliments and appreciations down on your slips of paper and add them to the jar. The gift recipient can enjoy reading them whenever they need a little boost of joy.
Gift your Outdoor Adventures Jar:
Present your child’s special person with your Outdoor Adventures Jar. Explain that it is filled with ways that you can spend time outdoors together. When they are ready to redeem their gifts, they can choose one of the outdoor activities or pull a surprise idea out of the jar.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Thinking about another person and what they would enjoy is a super way to help kids get hooked on kindness, the joy of giving and boost empathy. When you incorporate nature and outdoor play into gift giving and celebrations you’re letting kids know that the natural world, and connecting with it, is important—so important it is associated with the things and people you cherish most.
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When we talk about problem solving, we mean the ability to solve a problem in which the solution is not obvious and in which the possible paths to solution are many. To solve such problems, kids will need two things. First, they’ll need the self confidence and comfort to both attempt to find and persist in finding a solution. The only way to develop this is to be given the chance to struggle with ambiguous situations or open-ended problems. We parents are all guilty, from time to time, of helping kids avoid struggle or swooping in to alleviate frustration when our kid encounters challenge. The goal is actually to do the opposite whenever possible. As long as the problem is not too difficult to understand or challenging to solve, even young kids can get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing the solution and fall in love with the joy of finding a solution to a problem.
Kids also need strategies to attack problems with which they are faced. If adults are able to work with kids to solve problems “as a team” but in such a way that the children feel and act “in charge” of the decisions, adults can actually teach foundation problem solving skills and strategies through modeling. For example, when you solve a problem together, kids get practice with key parts of the process like brainstorming, testing ideas, revision and solution. It’s also pretty easy to model how to use simple strategies like trial and error or breaking a problem down into smaller parts. Although children age 1 to 7 should not be expected to name, catalog or identify when to use a particular problem solving strategy, they are able to form habits and repeat approaches once those habits or approaches have become familiar. The more problems they solve, the better they know and can use these methods.
Why does it matter?
“The highest ranked skills for students entering the workforce were not facts and basic skills; they were applied skills that enable workers to use the knowledge and basic skills they have acquired” (Source: Are They Really Ready for Work? Conference Board 2006).
Although it seems a long way to go before our young children are hitting the job market, the ability to solve challenging, ambiguous problems has already been identified as a critical skill for success in the 21st Century. With advances in technology, finding information has never been easier. However, knowing how to interpret a problem and use available information to devise a solution still needs to be learned. And, we fear that the classrooms of today are neither designed nor incentivized to teach these skills effectively. In most schools, so much time is spent learning discrete skills, that applied skills like problem solving are wildly underemphasized. In a world that demands it, it is increasingly necessary that children learn and practice these skills outside of school.
What is an Active Lifestyle?
At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than our kids’ health. From our perspective, children cannot enjoy good health without an active lifestyle that incorporates regular, physical activity as well as time spent in nature. And, we can only influence how they use their time for a short part of their lives. If we really want to ensure their wellness for the long haul, we need to get our kids hooked on being active outdoors.
Two bits of good news: little kids naturally want to be physically active, and they love to be outdoors. So, the challenge we face is how to make active time outdoors a priority in our lives and how to teach our kids to do the same. Understandably, this is increasingly challenging in a culture that imposes so many schedules and structures around kids time. And it is all the more important when kids spend the majority of their waking hours indoors, staring at a screen, or living in communities in which the green spaces are fewer and more restricted than ever before.
Why does it matter?
Research in the past 25 years has confirmed a link between physical activity that takes place outdoors and positive health outcomes. Also, it has drawn an association between an indoor, sedentary lifestyle and negative health consequences. For young children, time to play, ramble and explore outdoors leads to the most extensive and lasting benefits—more than adult-led, structured outdoor activities like organized sports.
Perhaps the two most common issues in children’s health to which a lack of outdoor, physical activity contribute are childhood obesity and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]). Beyond the millions of overweight children, obesity rates have doubled for children (ages 6-11) and tripled for adolescents (ages 12-19) in just two decades. The number of children diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD continues to rise, and ADHD results in significant impairment to children socially and academically.
Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. For example, 70% of teens who are obese grow up to be obese adults. On the flip side, if physical activities and time spent outdoors are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!