In one of our recent blog posts we discussed some of the benefits of nature play for children. Not only does nature play teach children to care for our planet, but it’s also great for children’s cognitive development, mental health, physical health, and social skills. But now that you know how great spending time in nature is for your child, how can you encourage them to play outside more?
While toddlers and preschools often love to spend time outside exploring (with supervision of course), older children may need a little more of a push to get out the door. If your child isn’t eager to get outside and explore on their own, you may need to plan some fun activities to make it more appealing to them.
Fortunately, when you are outdoors, the possibilities are endless—and we have several ideas if you aren’t sure where to start. Most of these nature activities are simple and don’t require much planning, if any. Just remember to always supervise young children, make sure they are playing in a safe natural environment, and to dress appropriately for the weather. As long as you are prepared, you and your child can play outside in any season.
1. Scavenger Hunts
If you need an activity that requires almost no materials or planning, a scavenger hunt is something fun you can throw together at the last minute. And they are a great way to learn about a variety of subjects, whether you decide to do a summer scavenger hunt, a color scavenger hunt, or even a neighborhood scavenger hunt
Any of these are a great way to get some fresh air and exercise. Make sure to include some kind of reward for finishing the scavenger hunt, too.
2. Shadow Drawings
Teach your young children about shadows while also getting a little fresh air by creating some shadow drawings. This activity works best in the morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t directly overhead.
Head outside with some chalk or a sketchbook and pencils and show your child how to trace the outline of an object’s shadow. You can bring toys (action figures or toy animals work great) or trace your child’s shadow for them to color in.
3. Rock Painting
Most kids love to play with rocks and love painting, so why not combine the two? Take your child out for a walk near a river, stream, or lake in search of rocks to collect and take home to paint.
They might enjoy looking for a rock shaped like your state or an object, or they might just like to paint their own design onto a smooth rock surface. For the best results, wash any rocks before painting them, use outdoor craft paint, and finish with a coat or two of Mod Podge.
4. Nature Sun Catchers
To make a nature sun catcher, all you will need is clear contact paper and objects from nature like flowers or fall leaves.
Take your child for a walk to collect any colorful objects they might like to use for their sun catcher, being sure not to pick plants that are still growing if you go to a public park. Then your child can arrange these items however they like in between two pieces of contact paper and hang their creation on a window to see how it looks in the sunlight.
5. Nature Sketches
This simple activity only requires a sketchbook and some drawing utensils—pencils, colored pencils, or crayons are all great options. Take your child to the backyard or out to another natural area and encourage them to draw what they see. They may want to draw a landscape scene or find objects to create a still life drawing.
6. Egg Carton Herb Garden
Starting a small herb garden is a great way to introduce your child to gardening. Using an empty egg carton, your child can fill each cup with a small amount of potting soil and several seeds of various herbs.
Help your child to water the herbs and place the carton near a window—be sure to check for any special instructions on your herb packets. Once their herbs have sprouted (it may take a couple of weeks), they can be planted outdoors, and your child will have their own herb garden to care for.
7. Make a Bird Feeder
Kids can make their own simple bird feeders with just a few items you may already have on hand. One way to make a bird feeder is to thread Cheerios onto a pipe cleaner. Your child can then bend the pipe cleaner into any shape they like, as long as there is a way to hook it onto the branch of a tree or bush.
Another option is to cover a bagel with nut butter and bird seed and hang it from a tree using jute. Once you’re done, spend some time outside together watching the birds as they come and go.
8. Go for a Hike
If you don’t feel like planning any special activities, you can always head out to a walking trail at a nearby park and go for a kid-friendly hike. To make it a little more interesting for your children, bring along binoculars or waterproof shoes and let them explore.
Point out different animals to them or just let them play in a creek for as long as they want, without worrying too much about walking a long distance. As long as they are having fun and enjoying the great outdoors, your job is done.
“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”