Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights

Every child should have the opportunity to:

  • Discover wilderness – prairies, dunes, forests, savannas, and wetlands
  • Camp under the stars
  • Follow a trail
  • Catch and release fish, frogs, and insects
  • Climb a tree
  • Explore nature in neighborhoods and cities
  • Celebrate their natural heritage
  • Plant a flower
  • Play in the mud or a stream
  • Learn to swim

Research shows that the activities listed in the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights nourish children's physical, social, and emotional development, while connecting them to the wealth of resources available in their backyards, neighborhoods, cities, and region.

How Can Adults Help?

You don't have to travel far or know everything about plants and animals to help your children enjoy them; half the fun is asking questions and building a sense of curiosity and wonder together. If you are excited about outdoor play and exploration, your children will be, too!

The following family activity suggestions, keyed to the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights, offer some quick ideas for simple outdoor fun:

Travel somewhere new

Play in parks and prairies, go rowing in a beautiful lake, pick a pumpkin at a local farm, follow tracks in a snow-blanketed forest preserve, or discover a new favorite. Most residents of Illinois, Wisonsin, Indiana and Michigan, including city dwellers, live less than a half hour from a beautiful natural area.

Travel back in time

In the middle of winter, when the thought of being outdoors is too chilling, visit your library, nature center, or natural history museum and investigate what our region looked liked 10,000 years ago. Hint: you would be viewing the Chicagoland area from the top of an ice sheet twice as tall as the John Hancock building!

Camp with fifty friends

In many towns and cities, park districts offer special camping programs. Some may even let you camp in parks where you wouldn't otherwise be allowed to. Very often these busy overnights include fun games and guided encounters with animals like turtles and frogs.

Take a walk

Pick a short amount of time – even 5 or 10 minutes will do – and go for a family walk. You can make observations, think deep thoughts, talk, or just breathe the fresh air. You'll find nature in your own neighborhood, or wherever you go. It’s a simple way to inspire a young naturalist.

Be a leaf master

Try to find as many different leaves as possible in your garden or neighborhood. Together, you can find leaves on flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees. If kids want to venture up a little ways up into a tree, parents should spot them. Afterwards, try to identify the leaves you have collected together. You don't have to know the scientific terms – try grouping them into fun categories like "round," "pointy," and "smooth."

Make a neighborhood map

Draw a map of your block – maybe draw the streets, sidewalks, and alleys first. Then add trees, bushes, interesting weeds, and other natural things. If you're really ambitious, you can draw a trail on your map and try to walk it once a week. Each time you go, write down or draw each bird, squirrel, or colorful bug that you see. Soon, you'll have a record of wildlife on your block in every season.

Go fish

Many parents and grandparents have fond memories of going fishing. Embark on a family fishing expedition: borrow a fishing pole and tackle from friends who love to fish or from your local park or forest preserve district. Soon you'll have your own favorite fishing spot and be able to tell the difference between bluegill, sunfish, and bass. Those who cast a line usually need to buy a permit. Ask your park, forest preserve, or state department of natural resources office about local fishing regulations.

Plant your dinner

All you need to grow food is earth, water, sun, and a plant! At your local garden or hardware store, buy a clay pot, a bag of organic soil , and a starter plant. (You can also start with seeds, but that takes more patience.) You can also garden outdoors, of course, but make sure to have your soil tested first – many city soils can contain harmful pollutants such as lead.

Be a watchful wader

The next time you're near a gentle stream or pond, try taking off your shoes and socks and dipping your foot in. What do you feel? Are there plants? Is the bottom made of gravel, muck, or what? Do frogs go hopping away? A parent should closely supervise, and kids can hold a parent's hand for balance. In some places, it's often advisable to keep your shoes or sandals on, because there can be sharp objects on the bottom.

Take swimming lessons

You can sign up for swimming lessons at your local pool. Once you do, you'll feel a lot more safe and comfortable playing around near ponds, lakes, and streams. Before lessons start, you can become more comfortable in the water by playing together in a shallow wading pool or splashing in the tub.

Download the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights: 20 Ideas for Fun and Easy Family Activities.