Lemonade Stands and Beyond: Outdoor project ideas for your whole family
By Alex Hu, B.S. and MS4, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and
Rebecca Unger M.D.
Spring is actually here and summer break is on its way! As the weather is warming, try turning off the screens, putting on your sandals, and getting your family outdoors and involved in home-based and community projects.
Being outside can improve your child’s physical health, cognitive skills, and general well-being. Research shows that kids who play outside have lower risks of obesity, improved concentration, and lower stress. But beyond just playing outdoors this summer, why not help your child connect with your community? No matter what the age, community involvement provides your child with more opportunities to interact with others, become more independent, and learn about themselves. Communication skills will affect the way they interact with the world, and it is never too early to start building them. Consider a few of these fresh, fun, and community-friendly projects!
Running a Lemonade Stand
A lemonade stand is a chance for your kids to exercise their creativity, imagination and of course their budding business savvy. Setting up a lemonade stand may seem simple to you, but children will undoubtedly have lots of questions and good ideas. Mixing lemonade (and maybe some baked goods too), designing a sign, and constructing a shop are all part of the learning process! Running a stand gives your children an opportunity to interact with your community and practice communicating with people of all ages. Help prepare them to answer questions about their family business endeavor; for example, how they built the lemonade stand, how they decided on their recipes, and what they will do with their profits! Encourage your children to do most of the work while you are there to offer your advice. Taking ownership will help inspire confidence and help them realize the fruits of their labor.
Garden to Table
Gardening is a fantastic way for your family to get together and experience the outdoors. Whether it’s growing fruits, vegetables, or flowers, planting a garden at home is an engaging way for your children to be active. If you do not have a space for a garden, you can help your children plant a window box with herbs, greens, or flowers. Imagine your delicious omelets, soups and salads with your homegrown produce!
Being part of a community garden can help children develop awareness about what it means to contribute in a way that impacts more than just themselves, whether that is planting seeds or pear trees, or sharing their harvest with others. Check out your neighborhood resources for a community garden nearby. Or…if you are extra enthusiastic, you can even start your own community garden!
Use your homegrown fruits and vegetables (or support your local farmer’s market*) as the basis for a family meal. Let your children choose what dishes to make from the things they’ve grown. Research shows that gardening can positively affect children’s food choices by improving their nutritional knowledge and increasing their preference for vegetables. Shared family meals have also been shown to reduce childhood obesity and promote healthier eating patterns.
Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods proposed a concept called “nature-deficit disorder”. Louv states that an increasingly urbanized lifestyle has decreased contact with nature for children, and that exposure to nature can reduce stress and be cognitively restorative. If you are looking for something that requires a little less time and effort, consider taking the family outside for a nature walk. It can be at the local state park or the trail in your backyard. There are over 100 trails within ½ hour drive from downtown Chicago. If you want to venture out a bit further, there are many places to go to enjoy a family nature experience in and around Illinois. Either way, it is a fun way for your family to spend some time together while allowing your kids to reap the benefits of the great outdoors.
Websites to find places to go with your family:
Graham H, Beall DL, Lussier M, Mclaughlin P, Zidenberg-cherr S. Use of school gardens in academic instruction. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005;37(3):147-51.
Hammons AJ, Fiese BH. Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents?. Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):e1565-74.
Sharma-brymer V, Bland D. Bringing Nature to Schools to Promote Children's Physical Activity. Sports Med. 2016;46(7):955-62.
Warber SL, Dehudy AA, Bialko MF, Marselle MR, Irvine KN. Addressing "Nature-Deficit Disorder": A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:651827.
Louv R. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC, USA: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; 2005.