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Fresh Air and Bright Minds: 10 Outdoor Learning Activities for Preschoolers

mom and daughter watering plants together outdoors

You’ve exhausted your list of usual activities. Not only have you burned through every children’s book in the house but screen time is up and you’d like something educational to keep the kids engaged.

Being stuck at home can be challenging, and though your typical options are limited, you still want to give your little one’s fun opportunities to keep growing. Thankfully, good weather is a great excuse to explore new ways to learn and have fun. To help you get started, we’ve created this list of outdoor learning activities.

Let’s ditch the coloring sheets and messy science experiments you’ve found on Pinterest® and head for the fresher air of the great outdoors. Check out these simple learning activities for preschoolers that will get your little ones’ gears turning. 

Outdoor learning activities for a small yard

Whoever said you need acres to have fun outdoors? These activities will help you take advantage of the sunshine no matter how much space you’re working with.

1. Make a paper plate sundial

Forgive the corny joke—but time flies with this sunny-day activity from Raising Arizona Kids! Start by drawing a clock on the back of a paper plate. Fill in the numbers and get the kids involved by letting them decorate the face of the clock. Then, stick a pencil in the middle of the plate and be sure the number 12 is facing north. On a sunny day, the shadow of the pencil will show what time it is. Use this opportunity to practice reading clocks all while reinforcing creative crafting skills. 

Materials you’ll need:

  • A paper plate
  • A pencil
  • Coloring utensils

2. Craft shadow art

Switch up coloring time with this easy outdoor activity from The Dad Lab. When the sun is casting shadows, place a piece of paper on the ground and one of your child’s favorite toys at its edge. This will cast a shadow that they can trace and then color in. For even more fun, you can expand on this shadow theme by letting them outline your shadow on the driveway in chalk. This will help develop their fine motor skills while flexing a little creative muscle as well.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Paper
  • Coloring utensils
  • Sidewalk chalk (optional)

Outdoor learning activities that don’t require clean up

As much as you’d love to help your kids make an explosive lava mountain, the mess that comes with it can be a bit much. For days when you don’t have the energy for any more chores, try these easy outside activities.

3. Conduct a nature scavenger hunt

This idea from Hands On As We Grow is a simple way to keep your kiddos focused during their outdoor time. Spice up your stroll around the neighborhood by asking your kids to find different shaped leaves, insects, clouds or flowers. Create a master list ahead of time or make it up as you go. For an added layer of challenge, ask them to find items that correspond to the color wheel. Either way, you’ll help them develop observation and matching skills.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Optional bucket to collect your findings

4. Sculpt with nature

Why bring out the art supplies when you can use what’s in your own back yard? Make a pine-cone centipede or a self-portrait with leaves and sticks. This resourceful activity from The Craft Train will help your preschooler use their imagination in a new way. Pair this with a scavenger hunt and be on the lookout for materials to use and inspiration to craft.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Optional sticky tack to hold sculptures together

Outdoor learning activities to burn off extra energy

Education and energy may seem like a tricky combination for your preschooler, but that doesn’t have to be the case. These playful activities will have them both active and engaged. 

5. Design a chalk obstacle course

Develop your child's gross motor skills by having them navigate an obstacle course on your driveway. Simple directions like “Spin,” “Jump,” and “Zig-Zag” will have them up and moving. Take it to the next level by adding things like “Crabwalk” and “Roar like a lion.” This activity idea from Passion for Savings is perfect for a sunny day and will be sure to have your kids ready for naptime in a hurry.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Chalk

6. Make a mud kitchen

While we probably wouldn’t recommend putting your little ones in their finest duds for this one, this “mud kitchen” activity from Community Play Things is a super fun way for kids to explore textures and the plants around them. If you have some old pots and pans this is a great activity to keep your preschooler occupied for hours. Let them get dirty making mud pies, nature soup, and sandy pancakes—while keeping (most) of the mess outdoors.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Mud, dirt or sand
  • Leaves, sticks, flowers
  • Old pots and pans

Outdoor learning activities that focus on science

While science may have you thinking of complex research labs, it’s never too early to introduce your kids to the process of observing, experimenting, and asking questions.

7. Color flowers

This activity from Rookie Parenting is a good excuse to go hunting for wildflowers. White or light-colored ones—such as daisies—work best. Once you've collected your specimens, add two to five drops of food coloring to a glass of water. Trim the flower stems and place them in the glass. You might have to wait a day or two, but when the petals begin to change color you can use this opportunity to explain how plants “drink” water through their roots.

Materials you’ll need:

  • White or lightly colored flowers
  • Glass of water
  • Food coloring

8. Blow bubbles

Bubbles are a great way to introduce kids to how different materials bond together and what causes them to fall apart. Follow these directions from Home Science Tools to make your own bubble solution to show them how the process works. Mix 6 cups of water and 1 cup of dish soap together. Stir slowly until the soap is mixed in, trying not to let it foam. Then, use your wand to see who can make the biggest bubble.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Liquid dish soap
  • Water
  • Bubble wand or straw

Outdoor learning activities that focus on literacy

If staying inside and reading books is the last thing your preschooler wants to do on a sunny day, don’t worry. There are plenty of other ways to practice literacy while taking advantage of the warm weather.

9. Water the alphabet

Draw chalk flowers with different letters inside each on the driveway or sidewalk. Then, ask your preschooler to water each flower to form words or practice the alphabet in order. This fun activity from Fun Learning for Kids is perfect for cooling down on a hot day and an easy way to incorporate imaginative play.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Chalk
  • Watering can

10. Tell a story with stones

If you’re tired of hearing those voice box toys you regret buying, this easy activity from Imagination Soup will get your preschooler inventing their own sound effects. Simply find stones to decorate as characters and props. Permanent markers work great for this. Then, join in the fun by acting out a familiar story or making up a new one. This is a great opportunity to follow your child’s lead.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Stones
  • Coloring utensils

Make the most of your time outside

By helping your preschooler engage in outdoor learning activities, you can help stimulate their development in ways you might not even be aware of. What may look like play to you is the process of discovery to them.

So, as you explore new ways to show them the world, remember that learning activities for preschoolers don’t have to be complicated. Using things already in your home, you can create an activity that will fill an afternoon with fun.

Curious to learn more about the benefits of early childhood education? Discover just how big of an impact it can have in our article, “5 Reasons Why the Importance of ECE Is Impossible to Ignore.”

Hannah Meinke

Hannah Meinke is a writer at Collegis Education. She enjoys helping people discover their purpose and passion by crafting education and career-related content on behalf of Rasmussen College.

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