Using the Great Outdoors for Learning Fun

— Written By Christa Gibson
en Español / em Português

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Research shows that being in nature helps decrease anxiety and rumination. We can feel that this time of year- just see the beautiful blooms and returning greens and a lot of that corona-stress starts to slip away.

Our kids need this same release. And of course, getting them out of the house also might allow you to do a little work. :) Therefore, this week, we’ve compiled a list of fun things kids can do outdoors- some with and some without your supervision.

Teach Your Child Outdoor ‘Adult’ Skills

Gardening: Let the kids help you with your garden. Download a special gardening journal for kids here.Garbage Can Gardens’ activities, like growing a potato plant from a jar can be fun for kids to do a little more independently.

Cleaning the house: Give young children a big sponge to “wash” the house.

Plan a picnic: Kids love getting goodies ready for an outside dining experience. Then just lay out a sheet or blanket outside and eat some fun picnic food.

Nature & Art

Nature has inspired poets and artists throughout the ages. Let it inspire your little ones.

Writing practice: For younger kids, have them practice making words out of twigs/sticks. Ask older kids to write poems or stories about the things they see outside.

Sketch pad fun: Have your child take a journal and find an outdoor spot where he/she/they can carefully observe what’s around them. They can look for insects munching on plants, pollinating flowers, crawling in the earth or zinging through the air. Ask them to sketch their observations carefully and note their colors, size, what they are doing, and how many you notice.

Make a fairy house: Here are instructions for creating a fairy house with objects from your yard.

Make an ‘upcycled’ birdhouse. Here are some instructions for making a sanctuary for our flying friends.

‘Painting’ for very young children: On a very warm day take them outside with a bucket of water and a big paintbrush and let them “paint” the outside of the house.

Wax Nature Art: If you have wax paper, have your child: scavenge for some leaves or flowers; put them between two pieces of wax paper. Add very small bits of crayons, or yarn, or pretty much any almost-flat object. Then put a piece of newspaper over the top sheet of wax paper. When your child is finished, you or another adult can iron the two pieces of wax paper together.

Make a daisy chain: We all did this as kids! Tell your child to: begin by selecting a few flowers with long stems. Towards the end of the stem of the first flower (about an inch from the bottom), make a small slit in the stem. Slip the stem of the second flower through the slit, pulling the flower through, until the flower head cannot pull through and forms the first link. Continue in the same way until you have a lovely necklace worthy for any garden tea party or fairy and goblin dance party!
Sidewalk chalk art: I’ve seen evidence of this in my neighborhood! Let the kids go crazy decorating your sidewalk with chalk art masterpieces.

Play Games

Child with bubbles
Have a scavenger hunt. Here is a pre-made garden scavenger hunt you could use.

Make a treasure hunt: First hide the prize, which can be anything. It doesn’t have to be something new. Then hide a clue to the hiding spot of the prize somewhere else. And work backwards until you have 10 or so clues.

Create an outdoor obstacle course.

Get Active

Studies suggest that engaging in sports in late childhood positively influences cognitive and emotional functions, so make sure those kids are staying active. Here are several cool, active games kids can play, including a huge variety of balloon sports.. balloon soccer, balloon tennis, balloon volleyball… Who knew balloons could do so much?

Nature & Technology

One thing we know is that kids love technology. There’s no reason you can’t let them use their technology AND enjoy nature. Here are a few apps that integrate technology with nature.

  • Seek allows kids to take pictures to identify the plants and animals around them and earn badges for seeing different types of birds, amphibians, plants, and fungi. Kids can also participate in monthly observation challenges with Our Planet on Netflix.
  • Project Noah allows kids to participate in “missions” such as worldwide surveying and cataloging of birds, moths, spiders, and other animals, plants, and even fungi.
  • WildLab Bird is a free app that can identify 200 species of birds. It engages kids with the basics of bird identification. There is associated curricula and educational activities on the web site.

Get Dirty

Muddy hands
These are the activities your kids will never forget. I STILL remember so vividly playing in the rain with my little brother one afternoon when I was about 12 years old… a million years ago now. So take some risks and let your kids get dirty. Of course, when they are done, be sure to practice all the handwashing skills you’ve been teaching them lately!

After a heavy rain, put on some old clothes, grab some towels, and take the kids out for good old-fashioned mud fight.

Make mud pies (or let your kids do so): Your kids can gather some soil from the garden, add a little water, mix well, really, really well, keep mixing, making mud, and more mud! Ask your children to find different soils to make different ‘flavors’ of mud pies. Suggest that they pebble toppings or other outdoor items they can use to decorate their pies!