5 Hassle-free Ways to Engage Your Kids in the Outdoors, Even if You’re Not an Expert

Let’s face it, every aspect of being a parent can be challenging – even when it comes to taking a much-needed break! So if the thought of taking your family to the beach or camping is overwhelming because of the planning and packing, then check out these 5 secrets to make the experience hassle-free.

If you’ve ever been at a theme park around 3 in the afternoon, you’ve probably seen tempers flare, meltdowns ensue, and things get ugly, even at the happiest place on earth. Why? Because kids get tired and hit their wall, especially on day 4 of a 7-day adventure. Frustrated parents balance managing the moment and getting the most value out of their vacation expenditure. It’s just one example of the many "overs" that we parents battle while trying to create the best life ever for our kids:

  • Overscheduling activities
  • Overbuying everything from snacks to souvenirs
  • Overpacking for every possible situation

Unfortunately, the overs can overwhelm some parents to opt-out of activities altogether, especially if the activity is an outdoor adventure where the parent has no prior experience or knowledge.

Time with your children is short, so make the most of it by mindfully exploring the world around you. Here are 5 hassle-free strategies to engage with the outdoors with minimal stress.

1. Think in half-day increments

If you’re within an hour of a beach, plan to go for a half day. Feed your kids before you leave, and only take essentials for an afternoon away from home. You don’t need a whole day to create memories to last a lifetime.

2. Adopt a carry-on luggage mentality

Those living near a beach (or lake) don’t go nearly enough. Often it’s because we pack like we will be stranded on a desert island for a month. Rethink your packing only to include essentials:

  • Sunscreen
  • Towel
  • Chair (optional)
  • Water
  • Snack for desperation (energy bar, fruit)
  • Toys your kids can carry (beachball, shovel and pail, or kite)

Embrace the beach’s options: collecting shells, exploring tide pools, digging for sand crabs, playing in the waves, body surfing, and sandcastle building.

3. Baby step into nature

Throw on sneakers, grab water, and spend an hour or two on a nature walk at the nearest park or nature preserve. Check out the area online and create an objective for your children in advance:

  • Collect leaves, twigs, rocks, or cones for a craft project
  • See how many different birds you can spot
  • Identify animals through tracks or scat

4. Sleep in your car

Did you know most minivans make excellent campers? With the seats folded down, a typical minivan provides as much room as a double bed. You can make a local overnight trip simple with:

  • Sleeping bags
  • A light source
  • Sweats as pajamas
  • Toothbrush, comb, and hand soap
  • Simple campsite dinner over a fire (local wood available at the campground)
  • S’mores for fun

Plan similar activities to your nature hike, adding stargazing at night. If you’re in cell phone range, apps will help you identify the constellations like a boss. Stop for breakfast or lunch on your way home.

5. Expand what you like

If you and the kids love specific adventures, do more of those. Try simple activities like fishing or geocaching. Add equipment as needed or when you lengthen outings, not before.

Simplify your adventures, especially in the outdoors. You just need to show up with your kids and let nature provide the entertainment.