9 Ways I'm Raising 'Outdoorsy' Kids in the City

kids gardening

I'm a city mom. Whenever I head to greener pastures (cue the Green Acres theme song), usually back near my hometown in Michigan, I am bombarded with the question, “How do you handle kids without a backyard?” True, it’s trickier to ensure my kids get enough outdoor time living in a big city, but it’s also totally possible.


Here are nine ways I love to get outside with them. Feel free to use my ideas, whether you're a city family too or you're just visiting.

1. We make the playground rounds.

We are playground fiends. My kids have different names for them. There’s the “sandbox playground” and “chicken park” (because until very recently the neighboring field housed a chicken coop). Recently, we even found a new playground via a neighbor’s rec. We call it “the ship yard” because the jungle gym in the middle is in the shape of a boat. It’s tucked under a bridge, a bit out of the way, so (bonus) it doesn’t get that crowded either.

2. We utilize the sports fields.

Even if we don’t exactly “do” sports, we don’t write off the ball fields and tennis courts. When they aren’t being used for team practice, a Frisbee or a soccer ball shared with some buddies can burn a lot of energy and keep my kids outdoors for a while.

More from The Stir: 7 Types of Parents You'll Meet at the Playground

3. We spend time in a local garden.

I have fallen in love with community gardens. As members of a local garden (there are three near us), we can help with the gardening, plant our own stuff in different seasons, and take full advantage of once-off happenings like "worm day" where, you guessed it, my kids learn about worms and soil. Another family favorite? Composting day!

4. The farmers' market, of course.

There are a few to choose from near where we live. I love to give my 6-year-old a budget and see what she decides to buy. Last week’s purchases were broccoli, a mint plant, and one apple. With my 3-year-old, we talk about weighing things and how if it’s heavier, it costs more. We chat up the farmers. We ask about their crops. We eat samples of different fruits. All in the middle of downtown Brooklyn!

5. We plan day trips.

If we go just a little bit north or west or south, the kids can run wild in larger natural spaces. We might only drive a few miles away to get to a beach or larger park. Or, we might go somewhere farther for a hike or to check out a museum with lots of outdoor space and activities.

6. We keep flower boxes.

Thankfully, we have just enough of a patio to be able to plant a few of our own favorite plants. I let my girls go with me to the nursery and pick out what makes them happy. We look for flowers in warmer months, and things like holly plants and boxwoods when it’s colder. They love to help with potting and watering and when it’s sunny, they set up the Barbie house out there or play with Play-Doh in our little garden.

7. We take advantage of our small patch of land.

We finally (hooray!) found an apartment with a shared backyard. This was a game changer for us. Yes, it can be really difficult to find even a small piece of paradise in the big city. Now, with a shared yard (with real grass and dirt!), I can “run the kids like dogs” before dinnertime. And since it’s shared, everyone pitches in with gardening, composting, sweeping, and grilling duties. In warmer months, my kids love to grab a few sprigs of basil for our dinner. Or they might even eat a tomato from the garden. This Easter we even hosted an all-building Easter egg hunt for the kids.

More from The Stir: 10 Gardening Projects Your Kids Will Love

8. Two words: summer camp.

Each summer, and when the kids are old enough for it, I really believe in putting some cash aside for a super duper outdoorsy camp. There are several to choose from in New York City, though most require a commute or bus ride. Years ago, I was a camp counselor on Long Island for the summer where the kids came from all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. No wonder, since the camp was so peaceful and serene and the kiddos pretty much got to be outside all day.

9. We ride bikes (and scooters).

There are a few bike paths near us -- one of which even hugs the shoreline of Brooklyn. When it’s warm, my daughter loves to bike all the way to the “big park by the carousel.” This summer, we’ll work on getting her off the training wheels.


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