While backpacking to an alpine lake, hiking a desert slot canyon or paddleboarding to a barrier island might seem like incredible family adventures you’d like to try someday, the smaller, more accessible outings are what turn mundane weeks upside down and turn kids into lifelong adventurers.
While adventures traditionally involved risk or an element of danger, modern adventures are more about the unfamiliar and getting out of our comfort zones, which some argue have become way too comfortable. Nothing builds resiliency and curiosity like venturing into the unknown (even if it’s close to home).
If families work bite-size adventures, or “microadventures”—a term popularized by National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” Alastair Humphreys—into their lives on a regular basis, kids might learn that seeking out new perspectives and new experiences, even when it’s inconvenient or challenging, leads to a life that’s more exciting, more fulfilled and just more fun.
Here are four unexpected, unique, aspirational ideas to inspire your next family microadventure, whether it’s before or after school and work, on the weekend or while you’re sleeping. Try one a week for a month!
1. Dig It Up
Whether it’s at a park, the playground or in your backyard, digging in the dirt a great way for children to relax, get creative, develop tactile skills and interact with the natural world. Digging can reveal different types of soil, roots, or, if you set up the dig, buried treasures. Grab your bucket, spoons, and spades, walk to the nearest dirt and discover worms, rocks and roots. Or, use a shoe box, water table, sand box or plastic baby pool, and bury interesting objects in potting soil. Even better, water the dirt and let it dry before beginning to dig.
2. Forage for Flowers
You might not be able to forage for edible items where you live, but you can probably pick a wild bouquet. It’s a magical activity for discovering flowers, greens, branches and more. Plus, foraging with kids always feels like a scavenger hunt—they notice everything from the tiniest bud to the twig that resembles an animal.
Picking wildflowers offers an opportunity to teach kids to cut only what you need and not too much from one area—you want others to enjoy them, too, and you want them to grow back next year. And, before bringing your flower haul inside, make sure you haven’t inadvertently taken bugs or spiderwebs—it’s an opportunity to teach kids why we should respect species and their habitats.
Make bouquets for family members, teachers, friends or neighbors. Or, because wild flowers wilt quickly, preserve them by pressing or drying them. According to the U.S. Forest Service, flat flower heads like buttercups, violets, Blue Columbine, Wild Flax, and Prairie Star press well.
3. Play in the Rain
When the rain drops start falling, don’t run inside. Let children experience the differences between a dry day and a wet day, and all their differing sounds, smells and sights. Enjoy a fun sensory experience whether you’re a toddler stomping in her first puddle, or a parent dancing some steam off in a downpour.
When we stimulate our senses in new ways, especially as a family, we create lasting memories. When was the last time you fully embraced the rain? When was the last time you jumped into a puddle with both feet instead of sidestepping around? No matter your age, it’s guaranteed to increase your sense of wonder and freedom. So, the next rainy day, don’t wish it away—playing in the rain is one of life’s most underrated activities.
4. Ride or Walk to School
Most of us can guess why riding bikes or walking to school might benefit a child’s physical and mental health and increase healthy family time, but a Danish study found that kids ages 5-19 who cycled or walked to school performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, with the effects lasting up to four hours after they got to school. Plus, navigating yourself from point A to point B has cognitive effects on kids.
Bruce Appleyard’s work compared children who bike or walked themselves around neighborhoods to kids whose parents chauffeured them. The latter “had a much poorer comprehension of the geography of the places they lived, and also a less fine-grained knowledge of the landscape around them,” wrote Sarah Goodyear for Bloomberg.
The key is to start actively commuting at a young age (another study showed those children are far more likely to continue it through middle school and beyond). If distance between home and school is the limiting factor, see if your community has any remote drop-offs or “walking school buses,” where volunteer parents lead groups of students to actively commute to school. Or, consider starting one.
5. Sleep and Stargaze…in the Backyard
Backyard camping in a tent is a fun school night surprise but going without the tent on a clear night allows for unhindered star gazing and a further element of adventure (download a stargazing app and, with your kids, learn the constellations).
Put pads on a tarp (or on the trampoline if you have one), grab sleeping bags or a pile of blankets, and some pillows. If you have a fire pit, roast hot dogs, veggie dogs and s’mores. If not, take a night off cooking and lay out a giant charcuterie board for an interactive picnic dinner. With headlamps, play flashlight tag or have a nighttime scavenger hunt.
When everyone is under the covers, waiting for shooting stars, talk about the sounds you hear and what you might hear in the wild. Encourage their imaginations. Tell some great camping stories. Let the kids tell some. Lay in silence and enjoy something not many of us get time with on a regular basis to enjoy—the nighttime sky.
6. Summit Something
Find something to climb, whether it’s the highest hill in your neighborhood, a tree or the stairs to a roof top. Take in the view. It’s always a rewarding feeling looking down at how far you came. Kids will feel on top of the world. Topping out on a high point reiterates how small we really are in this big world and how much of it we still have to explore.
There’s so much fun and growth to be had—it’s all a microadventure away! What microadventure have you and your family tackled? What do you want to do next?