Outdoor activities for indoor person?
July 27, 2011 4:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm an indoor person. I love being on my computer, playing videogames, watching TV, etc. I know, however, that I need to give my kids some outdoor time. What kind of outdoor activities can I enjoy with them that I can enjoy myself?

I can really only stand being outside watching the kids (1 year, 2.5 years) for 5-10 minutes at most, but the wife would prefer me to stay at least 30 minutes a day outside to let them burn off some energy.

The outdoor activities that I usually enjoy are usually something like walking around town sightseeing or going out to get something to eat. Unfortunately, I live in a small town with very little to do in town, and my budget is very tight at the moment.

One possible idea I've thought of is investing in a cheap grill. It would let me be outside, be productive (as I'm cooking dinner), and watch the kids at the same time. The problem is that I really can't afford anything since funds are tight (currently unemployed). $50 would be considered a big investment right now.

Any possible ideas would be greatly appreciated! The focus is mostly on being outside with the kids, but even ideas for myself or with the wife would be helpful.
posted by macsigler to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The canonical thing to do is to take the kids to a park with a playground or climbing structure and then just sit there and watch them in case one of them takes a fall. If you're feeling ambitious, chat with the parent sitting beside you on the bench doing the same thing. But watching the kids is usually sufficient entertainment to prevent boredom. Bring a book is that doesn't do it for you. Look up every so often to verify your kids haven't been abducted/run away.
posted by GuyZero at 4:32 PM on July 27, 2011

If you enjoy walking, find a hiking trail. I've lived in four states, and hiking was never that far away (even in crowded New Jersey).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you heard of geocaching? I'm a bit of a nerd but I love this game a lot and have introduced it to my niece and nephew (and other relatives and friends) and we have lots of fun exploring together! It's like an outdoor puzzle/adventure game, check it out here. There are challenges that work for kids/adults/teams pretty much however involved you want to be and it's whatever time committment you decide. You do need a gps but that's about all (other than a sturdy pair of shoes) that you need to get started:)
posted by blubutterfly at 4:45 PM on July 27, 2011

Is there an animal shelter or a school where they train seeing-eye dogs? You could volunteer to take them for walks, which is in itself a good service and will teach some good values to the kids.
posted by mannequito at 4:46 PM on July 27, 2011

Best answer: Reading while occasionally looking up to make sure the kids aren't dead is a pretty good one. You can also set up CHALLENGES and kick back in a chair with a stopwatch. If they were older, it could be running around the house or biking around the block. At this age it could be how fast can you put all the tennis balls in this bucket or something. (The "do this thing! I'll time you" trick will work until they're about 10, and then it switches to "do this thing because you're so strong/smart!" until they're about 13.)
posted by phunniemee at 4:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

As an aside to my post above, I started by borrowing a friend's gps to see if I liked the activity and then saved for a unit that was on sale (refurbished) at walmart when I was ready.
posted by blubutterfly at 4:48 PM on July 27, 2011

The great thing about kids your age is that their joie de vivre allows them to get a kick out of playing with each other, with other kids, with sticks, with ants, with balls, with rocks, with grass ... you get the picture. That stuff is free or very cheap. I grew up in a small town -- actually, that's an exaggeration, I grew up 10 miles from a small town, we were actually stuck out in the woods. We didn't have a lot of money, just the usual toys and the know-how to make paper airplanes (which is an invaluable skill as an older kid). When the weather was nice, we were outside.
posted by vverse23 at 4:56 PM on July 27, 2011

Avoid the grill idea. As mom to a 1 yr old and a 2.5 yr old, I'd be terrified if my husband were "watching" the kids while manning a fire. My Mommy Alarm is screaming "Danger! Danger!"

Hit the park!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:09 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

Geocaching. Geocaching. Geocaching.
posted by Orinda at 5:44 PM on July 27, 2011

Best answer: No grill without someone else out there to protect them from getting burns.

Kids that age love to "paint" with water. Get them a bucket and some cheapo foam/disposable paint brushes.


Sidewalk chalk!

Plant dill or fennel, harvest swallowtail caterpillars and bring them inside to watch them turn into butterflies.

Go find some milkweed and monarch caterpillars, same thing.

Fly a kite.

Flip over rocks and capture rolie-polies.

Wading pool + kids in swimsuits.

Sprinkler + kids in swimsuits.

Park with a playground

Fishing (the little kid-themed fishing poles actually do work)

Make them each a "bracelet" out of painter's tape, sticky side facing out. Go on a walk and let them pick things from nature to stick on their "bracelet."

The older one can do texture rubbings on tree bark, concrete, etc.

Farmer's markets! The famers are usually more than happy to give samples to cute kids.

Gardening (self-link) -- this will also get them to eat more veggies.

Rock hunting.

Get a cheap bag of trinkets like plastic frogs or kazoos and scatter them around outside. Give each kid a basket and tell them to go on a scavenger hunt.

Kids LOVE water balloon fights against their parents. Let them hurl water balloons at you.

If you live in an area where it snows, fill spray bottles with colored water and let them "paint" the snow.

Outdoor blanket forts!

Solar oven made from a pizza box - use it to warm up your leftover 'zza or to make "grilled" cheese.

Anything involving balls. My 1-year-old will happily kick around a ball in the backyard.

Small toy cars.

Sand box. No room for a real sandbox? Get a shallow plastic underbed storage box and fill it with some sand. Give kids cups and scoops and let them go to town.

Roll pine cones in peanut butter and birdseed and hang these outside for bird feeders.

Puddle-splashing when it rains.

Play "I spy" outdoors.

Have picnic outside.

The shouldn't be having more than 2 hours of screen time at this point -- the outdoors are indeed good for kids. Kudos to you for figuring out how to make it happen. Good luck.
posted by Ostara at 5:52 PM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]

I get that it's a drag, but your wife really needs a sanity break.

Here's the thing about taking kids out: They don't give a darn what you do, as long as you do it with them. And doing it with them, instead of just watching them & fending them off, will make the time pass faster. So take a ball outside & teach them how to roll it. Blow bubbles --even little, little kids get fantasticly excited about bubbles [HINT: Dollar tree bubbles suck. You're better off mixing up your own with dish detergent. Any sticklike object with a hole in it will do for a blowing wand]. Show them the pretty flowers. Drop them a pile of leaves in the fall. Play tickle games. Bring a bucket of water, some dish detergent, & a few tupperwares & make a big mess with them. Grab the garden hose & show them the rainbow hiding in the spray.

They're still kind of little to truly "play" with you, but you can turn this into your bonding time with them until they get bored & start eating grass or making up their own games. And then ten minutes later they'll be back for more, but now you'll be 20 minutes closer to getting back to your normally scheduled programming.
posted by Ys at 5:52 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

First of all - get over yourself. You have two small children who want nothing more than a little bit of your attention. Get off your butt and pay them some attention. The more you resist participating the harder it will be to stand doing it. You don't even have to go outside there are tons of things to do inside.
Lay on the floor and let them bury you in pillows then jump out and scare them.
Get some butcher paper, have you kids lay on it and draw their outlines then help them color them. (or fill them up with silly fish or something.
posted by JXBeach at 6:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

What exactly about being outdoors don't you like? The heat? The sun? The bugs? That will give us an idea of what to suggest. I'm not an outdoorsy type either but I like activities that don't involve too much sweating. And if I had a yard I would like to spend time out there.

How big is your back yard? Grass or concrete? Would you like it better if you had a comfortable chair/chaise and/or some kind of tent/canopy?

You mentioned activities that you like to do by yourself inside, but what about with the kids? What do you do when you spend time with them inside? It sounds like your wife just wants you to actually spend time with them period. If you really hate being outside, watch them inside.
posted by radioamy at 6:04 PM on July 27, 2011

100 free things to do with kids no, they're not all outside. And they're not all age appropriate (yet). But print this out. Check them off as you go. If you do one new activity a week, (you can keep going with super popular ones, and not repeat the dud, to keep your weeks full) that'll take nearly 2 years.

here's 100 free things to do with kids in Arkansas. I bet if you plugged your state or city into google with the phrase 100 free things to do with kids, you'll find a list. Festivals, dog shows, volunteer opportunities (sometimes nursing homes have days for "adopt a grandparent" activities. Not outdoors, but out of mom's hair. Everybody wins!) print the list out, add the date specific stuff to the calendar, and your wife will be able to see 1) when she might have a whole afternoon off and 2) what might be fun family activities to join, without her having to play cruise director. Again, everybody wins.

For my own suggestion: compost and/or garden if you have the yard space. It might be too late for this year's tomatoes, but you can spend a little family time choosing next year's seeds over this winter.
posted by bilabial at 6:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your kids sound a bit young for the "glance up occasionally" kind of watching- they are small enough that they don't know what the dangers are yet!

You know, the time passes quickest when you get involved and play with them. :)

And adults are totally allowed to use play equipment when they are helping little tots do stuff.

I'd do some of the fun stuff that Ostara suggests outside in your own yard because then it will be easier to keep track of both your tots. (assuming fenced or otherwise suitably away from road yard)
posted by titanium_geek at 6:26 PM on July 27, 2011

How small is your small town? I live in a village of 2000; I'm "downtown," and every day we have a walk to the post office, once a week we hit the little library for the kiddie storytime half hour, and I get eggs and bread from the general store rather than the supermarket because, well, fresher, but also so we can, big thrill, go for a walk to buy eggs and bread. Do you really have no amenities nearby? This sort of promenade is very good for little kids, too; of course we are now extremely fond of our postmistress, librarians, etc, and many social skills have been gained in the "And how are you today?" exchanges. A world of free lollipops awaits if you wander the town...

OTOH if your community is too small for even a general store -- time to meet the neighbours? There must be somebody with similar-aged children who would be happy to have you in their lawn chair on a regular basis. I have one kid and a six-station swingset (and other front-yard lures) because I wanted to make "Your child welcome here!" clear, and now my nearly 4yo has little friends over all the time; I can read or talk to another grown-up.

You can also just walk for the sake of walking, because it's good for you and good for your kids. This should be a little more interesting than it usually is with very young children. I was thrilled to give my baby apples off a tree we walked by regularly; half a year later, mid-winter, the then-toddler piped up "APPLE!" one day when we went past the snow-covered apple tree; great mysteries of the toddler mind were revealed to me in that instant.

Freecycle is a very good resource for used BBQs, lawn chairs, old kiddie play equipment... There is a community garage sale here once a year and if you get there in the first half hour, all sorts of Little Tikesiana is there for $5. There may be a 'toy lending library' in your area (or not). Definitely check out the nearest library, and read the bulletin boards, and make yourself known to the children's librarian as a bored local parent; the children's librarian will have dealt with all the people who came in and asked for their flyers about kiddie events to be passed out/posted and will know the toddler scene in your neighbourhood.

You have to show very young kids how to play -- if you make pipecleaner people and have them act out little dramas in the grass, say, this will thrill them, and they will be able to do it on their own eventually. Putting in effort now will pay off in a few years.
posted by kmennie at 6:31 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

They're so little that just being outside with you and running around will be entertaining. Lie down and let them crawl all over you or you can bend over as an arch and they can run under you. Play London Bridge and Ring-around-the-Rosy and fall down and laugh. Let them tickle you. Pretend to be a big dog and let them take you for a walk. Pretend. Just pretend to be anything-- kitties, ponies, etc. Roll a ball, bounce a ball, roll around in the grass pretending to be a ball.

(Geo-cacheing with a 1 year old? Boy howdy.)
posted by Ideefixe at 6:33 PM on July 27, 2011

Best answer: I'm a big believer in continuing to do the things you enjoy/want your kids to enjoy. Keep a running monolog of what you're doing/seeing. Visit museums (with the caveat that the hint of am oncoming meltdown precipitates your exit), beaches, etc now do these environments and activities are not surprising to them when they're older.

So, even though I didn't suggest geocaching, I'll stand up for it. If the goody is too far up, or too obscure to find with mini me, then the part of that day's monolog about life being about the journey and not necessarily the prize, or "maybe we'll see it next time," will be a good subtle lesson. For you and the kids.
posted by bilabial at 6:40 PM on July 27, 2011

To make reallly useful suggestions, i'd love a bit more explanation of this: I can really only stand being outside watching the kids (1 year, 2.5 years) for 5-10 minutes at most,

Is it "being outdoors" that's the problem? Or "watching the kids" that's the problem? Do you have outdoor allergies? Severe sun sensitivity? Health or weight issues that prevent you from being active? Lack of familiarity with activities and games for toddlers? Is playing with your kids kinda boring? (Nobody likes to admit that one, but it's true for lots of people.)

Depending on your answers, the recommendations could vary wildly. I mean, realistically, the easiest answer is to park yourself in a lawn chair with your laptop in front of your kids, but that seems sub-optimal for your kids and for your health, and it would be helpful to truly understand what's preventing you from being okay with the idea of being outside with your kids.
posted by Kololo at 7:07 PM on July 27, 2011

Best answer: Look at ants, leaves, snails, squirrels, whatever is around. When you're back inside, you can look up information about what you found. I do this with my kid, and we end up watching YouTube videos about different types of birds or looking up pictures of the birds on the Internet. We both learn a lot this way.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:27 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about taking trips on the bus/streetcar/train? Kids LOVE being on public transportation--everything is an adventure! Tricky with them so young, but doable.
posted by smirkette at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2011

Best answer: Bikes. If you don't have tricycles, get them now! If you cant shell out the cash for a couple of new ones go to a thrift shop and find some. Kids can ride up and down a block all damn day.

Sidewalk chalk will keep them busy for hours. Tell them to draw you a spider sitting on his web, a tree with apples on it, a boat being attacked by a shark. It's fun for them and you'll get a laugh out of seeing their drawings.

A sprinkler is another necessity with kids. We hook ours up every morning/evening for about 30-40 minutes, give them each a rubbermaid dish with a spoon and let them go to town. They like to pull up grass and mud to put in their bowls and use the sprinkler water to make soup.

Get them each a big bouncy ball for outdoors and teach them how to kick, play catch (eventually you can faze yourself out and they'll play with eachother), or throw it and have them chase it.

I hate the outdoors as well. Like REALLY HATE BEING OUTSIDE. So I feel your pain. But I'm a stay at home mom so being entertaining is my job. I try to spend an hour outside in the morning before it's to hot and an hour in the evening outdoors before bed.

My only other advise which I have to remind myself constantly is: Suck it up.
posted by Sweetmag at 8:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

To get cheap toys and outdoor furniture etc: yard sale, thrift store, church mailing list, freecycle, craigslist, dollar store, etc.

N-thing geocaching. They have hikes available at all levels of difficulty, and if there aren't any near you, you can scout out good locations and set one up there. Used GPS units should be available cheaply online or at yard sales near you. It's basically "walking around sightseeing" with a bit of a goal.

As for grilling: you might be able to get a cheap plain grill at a yard sale, goodwill store, or even craigslist near you. Might be a little rusty but would still work fine.

You could set up a couple of birdfeeders, and make refilling them and watching the birds and squirrels an everyday activity. Hummingbird feeders are very effective.

For kids as young as yours, painting with water on the sidewalk is great fun. Splashing water between a series of tupperware containers. The shallow tupperware "sand box" is a great idea. Sidewalk chalk is great, you can draw a hopscotch court or just a series of "lily pads" with numbers and challenge the kids to hop from one to the next, jump to the triangle, jump to the square, etc. Find me a brown leaf. etc

You could also build a play fort for them - from cardboard and tape, sitting outside in the yard. They can decorate it, and hide inside it, and then it can come inside and have toy cars driven over it until it disintegrates and you chuck it.

Hit the garage sales and see if you can find plastic play furniture (like play kitchens, play garages) cheaply, and then take it outside to play with in the backyard. 2 year olds are old enough to play "kitchen" or "store" in a basic way, and they are starting to put together that mental picture of normal adult activities.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:19 PM on July 27, 2011

Response by poster: I think I gave some people the wrong impression. It's not that I don't play with my kids at all (although, yes, it's true, someone caught me on the fact that playing with the kids is sometimes frustrating when they don't cooperate/understand), just that I am trying to think of more outdoorsy activities to complement the indoor ones.

I'm not a fan of the heat, and I'm not a very outgoing person to talk much with other people outdoors, I hate bugs unconditionally, and get bored and tire easily. I know, terrible excuses. But it's something I try to deal with.

For some reason it never occurred to me to take some of my indoor hobbies outdoors to enjoy with the kids. That's a good suggestion. So is the advice about adding some shade or a chair to help outlast the kids' energy levels.

I suppose I do need to practice using my imagination again. So much screen time in today's society sort of makes one forget. I just need to work on being a kid again. :)

Thanks also for the posts encouraging learning, exploring and sharing skills with the kids. It might be a little frustrating and slow at first, but I suppose that's where repetition comes in. I suppose building patience isn't a bad thing either.

Oh, and my son thanks you all for the bubbles. Maybe I'll make a bubble challenge. :)
posted by macsigler at 4:59 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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