The Not-So-Great Outdoors

One of the reasons outside play is so important is it gives children a chance to learn their limits. When they swing upside-down from the monkey bars, climb trees, or run around barefoot through the sand, they are learning all sorts of skills—like how to run without watching their feet, how to sit still, and how to stand next to a person without standing on top of them.

But not everyone likes going outside. Some would rather curl up on the couch and read or play video games on their TV or tablet. If your kids fall into the latter categories, or if they come to you after playing outside for a whopping two minutes, here are some stories they can read to get inspiration for different outdoor activities they could try. Fair warning, one involves a shovel and digging up a lot of dirt. You’ve been warned.

In The Magic Boat, by both Kit Pearson and Katherine Farris and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard (Orca, 2019), Ellie likes to go to the beach with her Nonna. While they are there they set up their umbrella and sit in the sand reading their books.

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Sometimes Ellie wants to play with the other kids, but she’s too shy to introduce herself to them. One day an older girl named Piper asks Ellie if she wants to see her magic boat. Together the two girls sail the ocean, fly high in the sky and dive down to the bottom of the sea. Ellie loves spending time with her new friend, but, far too soon, her new friend goes home and Ellie is left wondering what to do with herself once again.This beautifully illustrated book will help you and your child see the magic in the ordinary objects near you, so like Ellie you can travel the world. For ages 4 to 8.

Sun by Sam Usher (Candlewick Press, 2018) is another wonderful book about the beauty of a child’s imagination. It’s a super-hot day when a young boy and his grandfather go for a walk to find the perfect place for a picnic. They walk and they walk and they walk and they finally find the perfect place for a picnic. But they are not the only ones there. For ages 3 to 7.

In The Not-So Great Outdoors by Madeline Kloepper (Tundra, 2019), a young girl and her family pack up from their city home and go camping in the “great outdoors.” But she isn’t buying it: there’s nothing to do, nothing to see, and no one to talk to.

However, if your child spends time looking at the pictures behind her, they are sure to notice that her younger brother is having a blast. They’ll see animals, a playground, and the beauty of the night skies. It’s not until they’re driving to the next stop on their adventure when they see a family of bears that the girl becomes aware that there is more to the forest than silence and trees. For ages 3 to 7.

If you are looking for adventures close to our home, then A West Coast Summer by Carol Evans and Caroline Woodward (Harbour, 2018) is a find. The narrative echoes the call “To the sea, to the sea, who or what waits here for me?”

Carol Evan’s stunningly lifelike watercolour paintings show you and your child exactly what might be waiting for you at the sea from berries and tiny sea creatures to a native totem raising ceremony. For ages 3 to 7.

In Judy Moody and Friends: Searching for Stinkodon by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Erwin Madrid (Candlewick Press, 2019), Stink has decided he wants to find a Smilodon Tooth (aka Saber-Toothed Tiger tooth). To find this awesome treasure he is digging up his entire backyard.

Stink knows his chances are slim, but he’s positive he will find the tooth if he searches enough. So he doesn’t want to spend his summer doing anything else until he finds that tooth. After he misses karate—which he wouldn’t miss for anything—Judy and Stink’s friend Sophie concoct a plan to help him out.

Unlike other Judy Moody books, this book is part of a series that is aimed at newly independent readers. The words are easy to read and the adorable and bright illustrations will help your child figure out what is going on in the story. For ages 4 to 6.

Leaf it to Dot written by Andera Cascardi based on the character Dot by Randi Zuckerberg (Candlewick Entertainment, 2019). Dot, Hal and Dad are on a scavenger hunt in the forest to earn their Rangeroo badges. But they need to use their tablet to identify and capture images of the different items on their list to show their leader what they found. But while they’re out-there they find that it might not be as easy to spot things in the forest when they are staring at their screen. For ages 5 to 8.

Now that school is out, I hope you and your children find some time to play outside. You never know what you might find on your adventures.

Christina Van Starkenburg lives in Victoria with her husband, their two little boys and their cat Phillip. Her first children’s book One Tiny Turtle: A Story You Can Colour was published recently and quickly rose to its spot as a #1 new release on Amazon.

Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenburg lives in Victoria with her husband, children, and cat. She is the author of One Tiny Turtle: A Story You Can Colour and many articles. To read more of her work and learn about her upcoming books, check out her website at