Activities to get you and your children outside

I. Getting Started: Simple activities for all ages and seasons

 

Listen & Feel

Best age range: all ages
Location: anywhere, but a natural area such as backyard or park is the best
Best time: anytime
Season: any
Special materials: none
What to do: Find a comfortable and safe place to sit. Close your eyes for one minute (30 seconds for younger children). Listen to all the sounds you can hear. What are they? From which direction did they come? Who might have made them? Next, close your eyes again; this time focus on the sunlight and air touching your face or arms. Talk about what you can notice about the world through the sense of touch. Where is the sun? From what direction is the breeze blowing? Does the air feel warm and gentle or sharp and brisk?

Rainy Days

Best age range: all ages
Location: anywhere, but a natural area such as backyard or park is the best
Best time: anytime it is raining (but not during a thunderstorm)
Season: any
Special materials: raingear, if you want to stay dry
What to do: Go outside on a rainy day. Dress to stay comfortable but keep your hands free— no umbrellas today! Peek into puddles; listen for bird and frog calls. Discover how many kinds of raindrops you can see. Find a plant with rain dripping from the tips of its leaves. Try to find out where animals go when it is raining.

Snowflake Study

Best age range: all ages
Location: anywhere
Best time: day
Season: winter
Special materials: snowflakes, sheet of black paper, magnifying lens
What to do: Catch some snowflakes on a sheet of black paper. Study them under the magnifying glass. How are they alike? How are they different?

What’s Out There? Questions for Exploration

Best age range: 3-year-olds and up
Location: anywhere, but a natural area such as backyard or park is the best
Best time: anytime
Special materials: optional journal and pencil
What to do: Go outside and start exploring your natural surroundings. As you explore, ask your child questions that are very general, reminding yourself and your child that there are no right or wrong answers. Ask questions that do not require background information or prior knowledge, but are based on what your child is experiencing at the moment. You can build up to questions based on previous outdoor experiences you and your child have already had, such as comparing today’s discoveries with ones made during an outing last week or to a different location.

Sample questions

  1. How many different things do you see, hear or smell?
  2. What do you notice?
  3. Pick one thing, whether animal, plant or rock, and take a closer look. What or who are its neighbors? What do you want to know about this natural object? Use you journal to write down what you have seen and what more you want to find out later. If you don’t know what you have found, take a digital picture and bring it to a local nature center. If you are in North Carolina, you can contact the Museum’s Ask a Naturalist at http://www.naturalsciences.org/research/Request_form.html.

Nature Bracelet

Best age range: 3-year-olds and up
Location: backyard or where the collection of small non-living objects is permitted
Best time: day
Special materials: masking tape (2”-wide tape is preferred)
What to do: Remove a length of tape that will wrap around your or your child’s wrist. Wrap the tape around your wrist with the sticky side up (facing away from your skin). As you walk around the yard or park, pick up small things and see if they stick to your bracelet—flower petals, small fallen leaves, sand and seeds work well. Save bracelets from previous walks and compare them through the seasons.

Shadow Watch

Best age range: 3-year-olds and up
Location: anywhere, but a natural area such as backyard or park is the best
Best time: day, morning or afternoon on a sunny day
Season: any
Special materials: any small object, a sheet of paper, and two different color pens/markers
What to do: Put the piece of paper in a sunny place on the ground. Place the object in the center of the paper. Draw an outline around the object’s shadow with one of the colored pens. Leave the paper and object and go do something else for a little while. Return to the paper and draw a new outline around the shadow with the other colored pen. What do you notice? Wait a while again, return and draw another outline around the shadow, what do you notice now? Speculate on what happened.

Shapes and Colors and Textures, Oh My!

Best age range: all ages, but ideal for 3-year-olds to second graders
Location: anywhere, but a natural area such as backyard or park is the best
Best time: day
Special materials: paint chips, wallpaper samples, or pieces of color paper cut in various shapes (You can also use the colors and textures in the clothes you and your child are wearing.)
What to do: Challenge kids to walk outside and find colors or shapes or textures in nature that match their paint chips or other selected color/shape choices. They can record their findings in a journal with words or pictures. A digital camera can also be used to document the findings. You can be the recorder for younger children.

Nature Study

Best age range: 3-year-olds and up, but ideal for middle to high school students
Location: anywhere, but a natural area such as backyard or park is the best
Best time: any
Season: any
Special materials: watercolors, pencils, watercolor paper, ground cloths and cups for water
What to do: Find a quiet natural area where everyone can sit and observe their surroundings in silence. Have everyone do a watercolor study of whatever they choose— it might be shadows on the ground, plant life alongside a creek, rock formations, or a single blade of grass. Remind your child that the process of focusing on their chosen subject is more important than their final product. Encourage them to pay attention to their surroundings— the sounds, the light, the air— and to do their best to work in complete silence. The purpose of this activity has less to do with actually painting, and more to do with being in tune with nature.