Nature Play and a Summer Plan

Share & Comment


We just had an end-of-the-year pizza party with Maia’s kindergarten class, and while she has a couple of days of school next week, summer vacation is almost upon us.

I feel like I need a plan!

Even if it’s just a loose one — perhaps simply a decision to spend as much time outdoors as possible, exploring the world around us.


I spent much of my early childhood outdoors (we lived way out in the country), doing things like this — wading in streams, playing outside, soaking up nature without thinking about it.

We don’t do nearly enough of this now, as a family, as a society. I want to make a conscious effort to add more of this into our lives this summer, whether through hiking, camping, visiting nearby farms, going to our beloved Arboretum, or just our super-close university botanical garden (pictured here).

This should be easy, really — I love nature and we live in the mountains of Western North Carolina with nature all around us. But sometimes I get stuck on the heat, the mosquitos, the need for sunblock, the effort it takes to pack up everything we need and get in the car, the fact that hiking in a straight line doesn’t appeal to the kids… And then I just stay home and turn the fans on full blast and set out some paints and paper. So this nature thing doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should.

But I’m going to work on all that this summer.


Because, to me, this is one of the things that childhood is about. Unfettered play in nature.

I have other things I’d like to focus on, too—simplifying (I’m currently reading Organized Simplicity and Simplicity Parenting), getting dinner on the table (something I’m not so great at), and working on my book, of course. And I’m sure there will be lots of lots of art happening all summer.

I’m going to sit down this weekend and start working on a plan. Make a list! (I love lists.) Ask Maia what she wants to do this summer. I remember a friend telling me about their summer plan. Each family member picked one thing they wanted to learn—such as “learn how to do a cartwheel” and then they would work on that over the summer. I like that idea. I also really like my friend Jennie’s Doorway into Summer list. Maybe we’ll do something similar this year…

How about you? Do you have a summer plan? Any activities you’d like to try with your kids this summer? Anything you’d like to focus on?

This post contains affiliate links.

Share & Comment
Subscribe to The Artful Parent newsletter


  1. rosesmama says

    My girl is 9, and has lots of day camp and overnight camp plans already. My plan for the rest of the time is to Not Have Structure, and to let her Get Bored. This is what I remember most from my childhood summers, and it is in short supply these days. As long as I’m still working a school schedule, this is my gift to her.

  2. says

    Simplicity Parenting is a great book. Lots and lots of good advice in there!
    As for summer, the kids and I get together and list what we want to do, where we want to visit, what we want to make, and we try to make sure we get everybody’s top few choices in. We live in coastal New England, surrounded by wonderful places to visit in the summer. (It really makes up for winter!) When I just had two kids and they were younger, I’d have a loose plan for each week: the beach at least once, the library once, a day trip of some sorts, with at-home activities sprinkled in and lots of time outside. And yes, sometimes it seemed overwhelming, especially when I had a toddler and preschooler, to pack up everything for the beach and then tackle the suits and sandy children when we got home, but it was always, always worth it. Hours spent playing in the waves and the sand and the sun… summer wouldn’t be the same without it.

  3. says

    Ha! I also read Organized Simplicity (I didn’t get as much out of it as I had hoped, love her blog though) and am currently reading Simplicity Parenting (and really liking it). Great minds think alike, eh? We are planning a low key “camp” with another family and looking forward to doing “nothing” the rest of the summer. :)

  4. Lauren says

    I live in NC too!! I love organized simplicity I keep reading the first half over and over again. I need to check out this simplicity parenting.

  5. says

    I also like to plan a little something to keep us busy over the summer. My son is 7 and finishing up first grade and my daughter will be 5 and getting ready for kindergarten. Like Amy, I try to some fun activities for each week of summer and link it to a theme I know my kids would enjoy. Activities include a trip to the library, a day trip, craft, and some kind of cooking/baking recipe to try. We also try to go swimming everyday since we have a pool. We don’t always fit everything in, but at least it gives me lots of ideas to use as needed and we don’t get those summer, it’s too hot to do anything, let’s just stay inside and watch a movie, blues. I’ve also read Organized Simplicity and am currently reading Simplicity Parenting!

  6. Amy Fields says

    We are going to see my family in Colorado for two whole weeks. My son is four and the heat is more tolerable there than in VA where we are now. He is going to hike, play in the rivers, camp, and ride a trolly. Than we come back home and I am going to get his art area reorganized and I have to teach summer camps. Thankfully they are pretty much all art and nature based so they are going to be so much fun!!

  7. Kate says

    You should read, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Our plans are similar to yours in that i need to make a concious effort to get outside, everyday and incorporate learning/school readiness into our everyday play.

  8. says

    I just started doing a letter a week with my daughter. I just posted about this on my blog earlier today. She’s 2 1/2 and I thought this would be a fun way to come up with creative things for us to do while teaching her letters along the way. We’ve only done one week, letter D (I’m jumping around the alphabet) and we loved it. I’m coming up with activities and some crafts for next week’s letter. Some planning and some “go with the flow” like your friend :)

  9. amy says

    Yes yes! More nature play. I am such a big advocate of this especially after reading all the “studies” that kids spend hours indoors watching tv, on the computer, etc. We are planning to go to the parks more often this summer and the girls always play with the neighbors doing chalk, bikes, scooters, etc. in the street. Also want to go to the beach more this summer for the day (it’s an hour and a half away). I don’t like going to crowded spots so I am going to try to seek out some more hidden areas in nature so it’s a bit more peaceful. :)

  10. says

    I had been thinking about taking my kids on a creek exploration, but hadn’t thought of where. You’re pictures reminded me of the perfect spot! Now I can’t wait to take them and play!

  11. says

    I also have a hard time getting dinner on the table. I grew up playing outside, but like you, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with sunscreen, snacks, water, bug spray etc and opt for staying inside. GA heat isn’t too great either, but you’ve inspired me to commit to make a plan to visit some state parks.

  12. says

    This looks like a fun place to explore. My crew and I love the warm/hot weather, so we spend a lot of time outdoors. Happy summer!
    ps-love the doorway into summer idea.

  13. Molly says

    Oh my gosh I feel the SAME way about getting out into nature and end up responding in the same way as you! I do have a plan for the summer. Inspired by your toddler art group, I created an art group in my small town, called Art For Little Ones where I do a lot of different art with my 1 and 3 year old girls and our little friends. Thanks for the inspiration and keep the awesome ideas coming!

  14. says

    Your pictures made me smile. I feel the same way. The day after my daughter’s last day of preschool, we discovered a trail from a nearby playground that went straight to a creek – so our very first day of “Camp Mommy” was spent going right back to that creek, with proper wading footwear this time. I was determined to start our summer off right! And, my daughter and I are writing down our Camp Mommy adventures every afternoon on our calendar – I’m hoping that will keep me focused and accountable for making it as camp-like as possible.

  15. Pfly says

    I live near Seattle, with kids age 3 and 5. Summer is all about camping and hiking. I haven’t been to Asheville, but have been to the Tennessee side of the border, along the Hiwassee, Tellico, and in the Smokies. It’s hotter, more humid, and buggier there, but thoroughly stunning. Substitute “buggier” with “more life”. Salamanders, frogs, things we don’t have around here. My kids are generally pleased camping, especially with other friends. A tumble down tree in the woods can make for hours of fun with friends. They like hikes that aren’t too long and end with something fun, like a waterfall. And I know there are great waterfalls near Asheville. In the Smokies, I hiked to Grotto Falls once, which is a short hike and a waterfall any kid should love. Saw salamanders too.

  16. tasha says

    I’ve been obsessed with Feng Shui philosophy over the past year. I’ve wanted to incorporate more everyday adventures, more exploring, more everything outdoors. We are very outdoorsy people, and I feel that with kids it is just so much more work getting out and about. Before kids, it was just get-up-and-go, but now we think about sunscreen, and snacks, diapers, extra clothes, first aid, and you know- everything. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. I live in South Florida, and we have some awesome beaches here. We used to avoid going a whole lot because it felt rushed, stressed getting everything ready. But, I’ve found that preparing ahead of time- if the diaper bag is always stocked with all the baby and kid essentials, it never needs but a little work. If we pack everything the night before, getting out in the morning is easier. If we keep ice packs in the freezer at all times, packing the cooler never needs to wait on the ice pack freezing. One thing about having kids, is that it is always work. Amazing, rewarding, enlightening work, that always keeps us thinking!

  17. Jenn says

    I totally agree! My boys are in a stage right now where we sometimes need a destination for our hike. Have you heard of geocaching? You need a GPS, but it is amazing! You go to the website, find a geocache coordinate (or plant your own!) and go find it! The are all over the world, and once you pick up on them, we see them even when we aren’t looking! When you have found the geocache, you sign the log book, trade a trinket (if there is one), and head home! We always make our own trinkets to leave – fridge magnets, teeny decorated tins, key chains Mama sews and kids colour etc.
    It isn’t something I ever thought our family would do (too techie!), but we are smitten. Oh, the website:

  18. says

    I helped my 4 year old write a list of all the things she wants to do this summer…everything from making a dinosaur out of food (not sure where that idea came from, but I’m leaning toward rice krispie treats) to hosting a masquerade ball made it on the list. Some things are big, some are small, but hopefully they’ll give us some motivation to do more than lounge in the air conditioning:)

  19. Paige says

    This summer I organized an unofficial, very casual weekly meetup at a local park for my son’s preschool class (same park, same day/time every week; the plan is, come to the park on that day and that time; you will likely find friends). This gives us an excuse to go the park at least one afternoon a week!

  20. Alea says

    I did a few suggestions from blogs – one was to pack a picnic basket with the paper supplies (plates, cups, etc) we’d need to just leave if we want to, so we don’t have to find things when we want to go somewhere. I hope that makes spontenaiety (sp!) easier. I also have a boredom draw box. There is an activity on on side of the card (most are art projects) and then any directions are on the back, which should allow my older kids to mostly do it themselves if I’m busy. Or at least gather supplies. I really think my kids get their most creative in their play after they’ve been bored for a little while. So I’m not against that either!

  21. says

    Yep! Great minds think alike. I’ve just finished Organized Simplicity — reading it anyway. I’m going to go back now and do the 10 day purge/clean part starting this week. Still reading Simplicity Parenting and yes, I really like it, too!

  22. says

    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! It’s always good to know I’m not alone in my struggles. :) And hey, there sure are a lot of us reading Organized Simplicity and Simplicity Parenting!

  23. Nancy says

    My boys are now a bit older (7 & 10), but when they were younger we used to go on “Magical Mystery Tours” where I would pack the kids in the car and go for a drive and explore the countryside. It was not uncommon for us to end up sitting next to a construction site or a quarry watching the heavy equipment or exploring a creek looking for crayfish and frogs. (Ahh, boys in all their glory!) Part of the preparations including making sure that there was always a magazine stashed in the car and I would often pick up a coffee before parking near a construction site for an hour.
    We would also occassionally end up at a little cafe for a snack, and I knew it was worth it when my then 3 year old said he wanted to go to the local bistro for lunch instead of Macdonalds. (Yesss!)
    This summer we have the kids signed up for house league soccer and other than that, it will be pretty unstructured other than an occasional camping trip. We do have a big trip planned this summer and we are taking them across Canada by train so I am planning on taking lots of things to keep them occupied during the three day, four night trip.

  24. Sheau says

    Sorry I believe I just lost my comment. hmm. trying again. Summer is so fun and I can’t wait. Going to u-pick farm to pick fresh organic fruits, beach time, camping in the wood at least once. Picnic outdoor as much as we can. Walking in neighborhood. At least one nighttime outing to see nature at night. Lots of water fun around the house. So glad to get to know you and your lovely children and their art.

  25. Rachel at Stitched in Color says

    Both good books – especially Simplicity Parenting! As a homeschooler, summer time is my chance NOT to plan. And we all enjoy the spontaneous life that results (hemmed in by structure that supports us of course).

  26. says

    I don’t have much of a plan, although the calendar seems plenty full regardless. But I’m hoping for some hiking and unstructured time. I know we need the latter around here when my daughter complains about not wanting do her own thing after several hours of playing with other neighborhood kids.

  27. says

    I love the photos on this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about creating a “magical” childhood for my kids. And I think more time outside is required. It’s a challenge living in NYC with 3 kids (4.5 and younger), but we need to. Central Park is our haven. If you ever get a chance to do a post about creating a magical childhood, I’d love any and all your ideas. I can’t stop thinking about it.