What better way to help kids connect to the outside world than with a family garden? The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids is full of ideas and projects for plots (or patience levels) of any size. Garden-based education experts Whitney Cohen and John Fisher share 100 activities designed to appeal to a wide range of interests. You’re the one who knows those interests best: Does your child love to get muddy or stay tidy? Does she love to dig or explore? Does he love to cook or make art? If you “incorporate kids’ passions,” the benefits will only grow and grow. Suddenly, the definition of a garden expands far beyond a formal bed. Everyone is passionate about playtime, so add playscape elements to keep kids in the real world: sunflower houses, simple structures, ponds, paths, sand. Meanwhile, you can still raise all the flowers, fruit, vegetables, herbs and critters you want, now with the help of the whole family. Plans, recommended plants, recipes, crafts and other inspirations “weave the garden into your everyday lives.”

PLUG INTO NATURE

For families tempted to take outdoor play to the next level, The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids is a boon companion. Camping can be as simple as pitching a cheap tent in the backyard and making s’mores, or an all-out, weeklong backcountry adventure. With tips from seasoned family camper (and admitted “over-zealous planner”) Helen Olsson, any trip—with kids of all ages—can be fun and memorable. Part One begins with basics: when, where and how long to go; and then what to bring. Part Two is field savviness: how to make and break camp, and how to keep everyone fed and whine-free. Part Three details all kinds of activities, both old-fashioned and new-fangled: how to hike, stargaze, geocache, fish and so on; plus “campsite boredom busters” like ghost stories and knot-tying; and arts and crafts like nature journals and fairy houses. Part Four covers hygiene, first aid and safety. The packing checklists are particularly helpful. This is an author who sweats the details so we don’t have to. (We can just sweat.)

TOP PICK

Get outside and play! This is the big idea behind Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games by Paul Tukey and Victoria Rowell. Sounds simple, but kids who are savvy with screens might not know what to do outdoors without them. (There is probably an app for that, but it would defeat the purpose.) Plus, we grown-ups who grew up playing outside probably forgot all the rules by now. This portable paperback comes to the rescue with dodgeball, horseshoes, London Bridge, Red Rover, scavenger hunts, follow the leader, double-dutch, marbles, hopscotch and more. Number and ages of players can vary, and games range from tame to tricky, including competitive (think tug-of-war) and elimination types (think British Bulldogs). Parents can help kids try out each game for the perfect fit.

Unstructured, outdoor play has beaucoup benefits like fighting “nature deficit disorder” and childhood obesity, but the point is also just to have fun. Kids can connect to nature, each other and themselves just by kicking an old can down the sidewalk. There truly is no app for that.

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