Seek out challenging parks
Make a point to seek out new city parks with your kids that contain obstacle courses, swings, slides, and monkey bars. Some county, regional, and state parks have ropes to climb and outdoor physical activity spaces for kids to use their muscles and problem-solving skills in nature.
Nature spaces with rocks, fallen trees, varied or different-than-home geography, water, and trees provide all sorts of ingredients for your child to explore, imagine, climb, and build. You could bring along some buckets or baskets, small shovel for digging in sand or dirt, a bug exploration kit, some planks of wood for the child to experiment with, and rope. Allow the child to create a space, build things, and get dirty.
Find places you can give a “longer leash”
As long as your child is in your line of sight, allow the child a longer leash in terms of exploring and play. Hovering 10 feet from your child doesn’t give the child the independence and confidence he needs. Of course, if you have a toddler, you’ll be close by. But as the child ages, lengthen the space. Says Hanscom —
Children need space away from the adult world on a regular basis. Physical education or participating only in adult-led activities is not enough. They also need time for free play. A child’s neurological system is naturally designed to seek out the sensory, motor, and cognitive challenges it needs on its own. And what those challenges are will vary from one child’s system to the next. Where one child may need to run at full speed, another may need to spin in circles until they get dizzy and fall. Another child may desperately need to swing high in the air in order to regulate their senses and get their body organized again. Still another child may need to squat for a while, playing quietly by herself, before participating in more active and social play. We don’t intuitively know what children need at any given time. It is best to let the child’s body and mind determine what it needs on its own. Adults are there to provide the opportunities, not to control and orchestrate children’s every move.
Look for trails
Often where there are trails, there are daytime recreation areas and camp sitets — the time and space for children to find their own experience without an adult’s handholding. And, of course, there’s the trail and the trail’s destination to explore — make sure you have enough time to allow that freeform child exploration. AllTrails.com is a great resource, with over 50,000 trails listed.
IDEA: Make a stick tepee
Here’s one idea of an outdoor activity — make a stick tepee. It gives your child something to build and a private space to explore and imagine. This activity could be done in a backyard or any public recreational space.
If you’re at a campsite that allows you to cut wood, have your child help you find branches and wood that can be made into the sticks; you’ll need to have an ax or knife to cut the sticks to size. These sticks can often be managed by the child with no adult help.
Or, you can purchase some tall bamboo sticks from your local garden center — but look for the lightweight variety. You’ll also need some twine and something to cut the twine (knife or scissors). You can bring an old sheet to cover the outside of the tepee if you want.
Allow the child to build the tepee by himself, as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Here’s a VIDEO with how-to’s —