After months of being cooped up inside over the winter, many kids are clawing at the walls to get outside, and frankly, so are a lot of parents. With spring here at last, and summer in view, it's a great time to begin plunging into fun outdoor activities that the whole family can take part in and enjoy. Even though there are a multitude of programs designed just for kids, don't forget to plan fun time together as a family as well.

Charlie Kuntzleman, a former physical-education professor who is now co-owner of Fitness Finders, an organization which provides programs and products designed to improve health, education, and fitness levels, says parents shouldn't assume that kids would rather be spending time with someone other than them. A 1990 study asked kids whether they would rather spend time with their parents or a celebrity – and most chose their parents, especially in the younger age groups. Kuntzleman says, "Clearly to me, kids would prefer, at least up to 10 or 12, to do something with mom or dad, rather than a celebrity-type person. Kids seem to appreciate that. There's a bonding that seems to occur there."

Whether the goal is more quality time together as a family, or just some pure and simple fun for the kids, the following fun and inexpensive activities are sure to catch the interest and imagination of the whole gang.

  • Pack a Picnic. Everyone loves food, and eating it while enjoying the great outdoors makes the meal that much more fun. Pack some delicious kid-friendly treats and go to a park, nature preserve, the beach, or even just the backyard. Spice it up with games like 'picnic memory', in which each person has to try and list each item in the picnic basket before the basket is opened.
  • Take a Hike. Long or short, flat or steep, hikes are a fun way to connect with nature, and get some exercise at the same time. They can encourage kids to develop a love and appreciation for nature, and can be made fun and educational for young children by carrying along a list of things to spot while hiking – pine cones, grasshoppers, cardinals and wildflowers, to name a few.
  • Water, water everywhere. Kids and water go together about as well as chocolate chips and cookie dough. Beaches and local pools are great places to enjoy time together as a family, as well as develop new skills – whether it's through a beginner's swimming lesson or a sandcastle contest.
  • Go camping. There are few things that beat a camping trip for making great summer memories. Even if your idea of "roughing it" is bedding down on a queen bed in a heated camper, at least it's in a campground, and there are still bonfires, camp cooking, and smores to look forward to, as well as a real break from the usual home environment. If all else fails, a tent pitched in the backyard complete with flashlights and animated storytelling has provided early camping experiences for generations of kids – and is still fun today.
  • Plant a Garden. There are few things that say spring as clearly as watching seeds sprout and grow into beautiful flowers or colorful vegetables. Gardening is not just fun for adults – kids love to get involved, too – especially when there are quick-growing things like radishes or sunflowers to enjoy. Kids can help with seed selection, planting, weeding and watering, and parents have the chance to sneak in some lessons about the natural world – what does a seed need to grow? What does a worm feel like? Why do we have to weed?