10 Engaging Outdoor Learning Activities for Kids
By Ashley Brooks on 04/20/2015
Your three-year-old is literally bouncing off the walls, your kindergartener is running the stairs like he has a personal trainer and you’re just wishing you could steal some of their energy for yourself. One thing is for sure: if they stay cooped up in the living room much longer, it’s going to be declared an official disaster zone.
What’s the solution? Round them up and head outside! Not only will it give your furniture a relief but the great outdoors holds countless learning opportunities for your kids.
We enlisted various experts to provide some examples of outdoor learning activities to help get you started. Try these skill-builders for preschool-aged kids to help your little ones burn off energy while achieving developmental milestones.
10 Fun outdoor learning activities for kids
1. Texture scavenger hunt
How it works: Place nature objects with different textures in several brown lunch bags. You could put a pinecone in one, a stick in another and a stone in a third. Have your kids close their eyes and feel each object. Then send them outside to find a similar texture. As they find matching objects, introduce texture words like pointy, bumpy and smooth.
How it promotes learning: All of those new words will expand your little ones’ vocabulary. Discriminating between different textures also supports fine-motor skills like coloring and writing, according to pediatric occupational therapist Christie Kiley.
2. Beach volleyball
How it works: Playing volleyball with an inflatable beach ball is another worthwhile activity, says Cara Koscinski, pediatric therapist and author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist. You can also simply throw the ball high in the air for your kids to catch if they are too young to play an organized game. Challenge them to count how many times they can clap before catching it! (Hint: If they have trouble gripping the ball, simply deflate it a bit.)
How it promotes learning: You can probably guess that this game teaches counting and social interaction skills. Koscinski explains that catching a ball using both hands also teaches bilateral integration, a necessary skill for learning tasks such as cutting, buttoning and tying shoes.
How it works: Gardening is connected with loads of developmental, physical and even psychological benefits for children. Your little ones can help with the gardening and learn at the same time—it’s a win-win!
How it promotes learning: All that digging and pulling is great for sensory exploration as well as building hand and finger strength, explains Kiley.
4. Pool noodle obstacle course
How it works: Get creative with pool noodles and design an obstacle course. Lay them on the ground, cut them in half, attach them to a fence or hang them from a branch. Challenge your kids to jump over them, limbo under them, crawl around them or walk on them like a balance beam.
How it promotes learning: Getting up and moving helps kids build core muscle strength. Koscinksi explains that this will later be used for completing school tasks seated at the desk.
5. Nature hike
How it works: Nature offers plenty of discoveries for kids. Help them explore by encouraging them to find certain types of leaves, bugs, rocks and flowers.
How it promotes learning: A nature hike encourages observation skills, fine-motor skills, hand-eye coordination and the use of the five senses in exploring, according to Barbara Harvey, author of Journeys Through Parenthood and executive director of Parents, Teachers, and Advocates.
6. Critter quest
How it works: Miriam Manela is the owner of Thrive Occupational Therapy and recommends this activity in her book The Parent-Child Dance. As the “critter,” you slowly inch your way around the yard while narrating your movements. You might say, “I’m climbing up the swing set. What letter does ‘swing’ start with?” Try to work in new words like climb, reverse and descend. Your kids are the “trackers.” It’s their job to follow you with their eyes and think about your questions.
How it promotes learning: Critter Quest improves eye movement and tracking, plus it can be used to strengthen vocabulary, letter recognition and phonetics.
7. Chalk jump
How it works: Koscinski suggests using sidewalk chalk to write numbers and letters in different colors. Then ask kids to jump on the number, letter or color that’s called out.
How it promotes learning: This activity helps develop gross-motor skills, counting skills and letter, number and color recognition.
8. Simon says dance party
How it works: Head outside with some music and host a dance party. Give short instructions for nature-based dance moves, like “wiggle like a worm,” “twist like a leaf” and “flap your arms like a bird.”
How it promotes learning: Kids get to practice following simple instructions while being active. Kiley adds that the dance actions help them develop body awareness, coordination and balance.
9. Hula hoop hop
How it works: Line up several hula hoops and have kids hop into the middle of each hoop with both feet, explains Koscinski. Make it a bit more challenging by encouraging them to hop into one hoop with their right foot and the next hoop with their left.
How it promotes learning: All that hopping builds gross-motor coordination skills, which are necessary for sports and bike riding.
10. Flower artists
How it works: Gather your young artists and some paint (watercolors or liquid tempera) near a flowerbed. Watch them create their newest masterpiece!
How it promotes learning: Kids will hone their observation skills and learn about colors. Kiley recommends offering paintbrushes with a built-in grip to promote a mature grasp.
Let the fun begin
These 10 outdoor learning activities will have you having fun with your rug rats in no time. They won’t even realize you’re teaching them new skills instead of watching them tear up the house. Your search for educational opportunities for children might be a sign you should be doing this for a living.!