5 Tips for Luring Your Kids Outside on the Family Vacation

Jamie Pearson, of TravelSavvyMom, shares with Fodor’s her favorite ways to get kids outside and enjoying nature.


When it comes to the great outdoors, there are two kinds of kids: the ones who love it, and the ones who don’t. I’ve got one of each. My daughter swoons over every woodpecker, every tide pool, and every banana slug. She collects rocks, shells, and fossils, and tries to keep snails as pets. I once saw her actually get excited about lichen. There’s a scientific term for this love of nature and all living things. It’s biophilia, and my daughter has a terminal case.

My son? Not so much. He’s not anti-nature per se, he just doesn’t see the point. Most of his favorite things are inside, and that’s where he’d prefer to stay too. Unluckily for him, he was born into a traveling family. We spend a lot of time outside.

Got an indoors-y kid of your own? Here are a few of my sneakiest tricks to get him outside and liking it.

1. Picture this

If your kid likes gizmos more than rocks and streams, go with it. One of my most successful ploys is the alphabet photo safari. I give my son a digital camera, and challenge him to photograph one object for every letter of the alphabet. I bring a notepad and check off each letter as he finds it, and encourage abstract thinking for difficult-to-find letters such as Q, X, and Z.

2. Talk the talk

When my son tires of the camera game, we move on to walkie-talkies. Nothing cheers him up like wireless two-way communication, and his preferred topic of conversation is location. If we’re in the woods for example, he’ll duck behind a tree and say: “Mommy? Do you copy?” to which I’ll respond: “Roger that.” Then he’ll say, “I’m behind a tree. Over.” And I’ll say, “You mean the big brown one? With the leaves?” And he’ll say, “Roger. What’s your 20?” And so on. This can go on for hours.

3. Build something

Perhaps it’s not the outdoors your child objects to, but all that slogging around in it. If so, pull over and build something. No Legos? No problem. Nature is full of building supplies, if you don’t mind getting dirty. I’ve used driftwood, mud, sticks, rocks, flowers, and snow to amuse my son at one time or another. The trick is to think outside of the sand castle. Try building tunnels, teepees, roads, or dams. Build a scale model of Stonehenge if you’re feeling equal to the challenge. With these projects, enthusiasm counts for more than architectural prowess.

4. Make something

When we go camping, I bring a pocketknife, twist-ties, rubber bands, and glue so we can make our own dolls and action figures out of the sticks, pine needles, leaves, and moss we find beside the trail. It sounds a little voodoo I know, but my kids love making things out of found objects. Also, instead of telling them we’re going for a hike, I tell them we’re “gathering supplies”.

5. Throw something

Set up a row of pinecones on a log, and let your kids take turns trying to knock them off with rocks (under your extremely close supervision). If you’re near a lake or pond, teach them to skip stones. Draw a circular target in the sand, and try to lob shells into it from a distance. Target practice is one of life’s simple pleasures, and you just can’t do it inside. At least not at my house.

–Jamie Pearson

About the Writer

Jamie Pearson is a writer and mother of two. She sees the funny side of family travel, and blogs about it at www.TravelSavvyMom.com.

Photo Credit: istockphoto/Karyn Kudrna