With more and more kids turning to screens for school and entertainment, especially as they get older, now is great time to encourage a life-long love of nature. Preschoolers love having fun and are eager to learn. But somewhere as they age, they forget how much fun learning can be. By continually encouraging outdoor play that build essential skills, you’ll be laying the groundwork for nurturing life-long learners for years to come.
These activities are all designed to combine playing, learning and the great outdoors. Many can be done alone or with friends and modified to best suit your child’s individual needs and interests.
ABC Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are super versatile, easy to set up, and best of all, can be used again and again. In this version, you can simply give your kid(s) a blank piece of paper (if you want them to practice writing the alphabet), or a piece of paper with each letter of the alphabet written out followed by a blank line.
Tell them they need to explore a certain area of your yard, park, or playground, and find one item beginning with each letter of the alphabet. If you have very young children, you might act as the scribe and have them simply point out items to you. If you have slightly older kids, they can mark an “x” or check mark next to the letters they found. You can also have them choose just a few letters. The point is to practice the alphabet and phonics while exploring nature!
Create a Nature Story
If you have a kiddo who loves telling stories, they will love this one. Tell them to find three to five items outside that are small enough for them to bring back to you (something like a flower, rock or stick). When they return, tell them to now pretend one or two of their items is a character in a story. Help them to create a story using the objects they found.
In the example above, the rock and stick might be the characters. The stick hurts the rock and to apologize, gives him a flower. In this way, all objects appear in the story. The sillier and the more elaborate their stories the better! Encourage them to add rich details and lots of action. If you have a smart phone handy, you can record the story and add to it again and again!
As an extension of the above activity, have your child illustrate their story. Set up a drawing or painting station outside and display the three objects in front of them for inspiration. Sometimes simply changing the location of an activity like drawing can make it feel exciting and new.
Or don’t connect this activity to the one above at all! You could also use the same outdoor drawing and painting station to create mixed media drawings. Have them draw the flowers they see and pick some real flowers to glue to their creation as well. (Leaves also work great!)
Math Bean Bag Toss
This activity requires bean bags, a few small buckets that can be labeled, or simply some sidewalk chalk. Label the buckets with numbers 1-10. If you are using chalk, write the numbers 1-10 and circle or draw a box around each number.
If you have very small kids, simply call out a number and have the kids throw the bean bag into the appropriate bucket or onto the correct (chalked) number. If you are playing with more than one child, you can make it a game by giving points for any bag that lands in the right pot. (Even if you are playing with one child, if they get excited just by accumulating points, go for it!)
For older kids who can do simple addition, call out an equation. They have to toss the bean bag onto the correct answer. If the bag lands in the right spot, they get a point.
Math Facts Jump
This activity is similar to the bean bag toss but great for high energy kids who love to jump. Draw a grid on the ground. (If you are playing with multiple children, make the grid fairly large so multiple kids can stand in one box. Label each box in the grid with numbers. They don’t have to go in order. With smaller kids, you might want to keep the numbers small (1-10). If you have bigger kids, you can try more numbers.
Again, depending on their math capabilities, either call out a number and have them jump to it, or call out an equation and have them jump to the answer. You could also do a combination. Call out “five” and have kids jump on the large five. Then say, “what is three more than five?” The kids would then jump to eight.
For kids who prefer a quiet activity, this rock balancing activity is simple but really helps to improve skills like hand-eye coordination and counting. It also helps kids better understand gravity and basic engineering.
Give kids time to go on a “rock hunt” to find as many rocks as they can manage. Encourage them to get different sizes and to share. This part of the activity is not a contest. When they have at least five rocks, they can begin stacking them.
The idea is to create the tallest rock tower, without having it tip over. Ask them questions while they work to help them better understand what they are doing. “Why did you put the big rock on the bottom?” Kids can work together, alone or “compete” against one another to see who can create the tallest tower.
We hope these activities inspire you and your kids to get out and have some fun. They require very little set up and appeal to all kinds of kids. They can be adapted in a variety of ways and best of all, your kids will be so entertained, they won’t realize how much they are learning!