One of my absolute favorite things about teaching in a Montessori school was the outdoor classroom. Children were able take almost any work outside and we also had work specifically designed to be done outside.
It was truly amazing to see how being in nature calmed certain children and helped them concentrate more fully than they ever did inside a classroom.
Giving children this time outside so many benefits. It sparks their curiosity and encourages creativity and imagination as they engage in open-ended play with twigs and rocks. It allows them to fall in love with their world and inspires them to take care of it.
The best part is, you can easily recreate this at home! If you live in a more urban area and don’t have a yard, try these at your nearest park.
Here are 12 fun outdoor learning activities to get you started:
1. Channel your child’s inner-Monet
Bring an easel outside and watch your child paint the beauty of nature. There is something about being outdoors that can really bring out the introspective part of a child’s personality, and painting outside can be so peaceful. Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting paint on the couch. ;)
Pro tip: hang a little clothesline for their pictures to dry in the sun. The backyard can also be a fun place to explore with messier art like finger painting or working with clay.
2. Start a nature journal
Get your child a special notebook ( work especially well for this purpose). Find a comfortable spot outside and ask him to choose something he finds interesting or beautiful and draw it. If he’s old enough, he can then write about what he saw. If he can’t yet write on his own, ask him to tell you about it and write it down—seeing adults write is a great example for young children.
Try sitting next to him and working on your own nature journal. This is a really nice way to spend quiet time together. Plus, it might end up being the most relaxing part of your day!
3. Organize a nature scavenger hunt
Create a list of things for your child to look for. Or, take pictures of different birds, plants, and animals in your backyard, laminate them, and make a little booklet of things for her to find.
This takes a bit of work upfront, but can be reused many times and is a great activity kids can do independently, perhaps while you weed the garden…or sit on the porch for a glorious five minutes with a hot cup of coffee.
4. Count the acorns
Most backyards are full of so many little objects, perfect to practice counting. Try playing a “bring me” game:
Ask your child to bring you one rock, two acorns, three sticks, etc. This is a great mental exercise, because he has to remember the number in his mind while he searches. Or, see how many of something your child can find. Say something like, “I wonder how many acorns are in our yard. Can you count them?”
5. Classify or sort objects by size, shape or color
Young children often have a strong sense of order and are fascinated by organizing things. The outdoors offers so many opportunities to hone these skills and to practice classifying things.
One of the first classification exercises in Montessori is exploring what is living versus non-living. You could easily do this in your backyard!
Help your child make a poster of all of the living and non-living things she sees in the backyard. Bring out a big piece of paper or poster board and divide it in two columns. Ask her to draw all of the living things she sees in one column and all of the non-living things in the other.
See how many ways you can classify objects by size, by shape, by color, by texture—get creative!
6. Create a habitat
Does your child love ladybugs or pill bugs or frogs? Instead of bringing some inside in a little jar, create a little habitat for them outside. Help him research what the bugs need and make a little ladybug paradise in a corner of your yard. He will love maintaining it and checking if more little critters come.
7. Research and identify
If your child is interested in bugs or flowers, find a book on local wildlife and help her identify what she sees. You could start an ongoing list and add to it over time to see how many species you can find.
8. Plant a garden
This is of course a bigger project that takes more time, but gardening is such a beautiful way for children to connect with nature and to experience the joy of taking care of something and watching it grow.
9. Study the clouds
Use a book or some online images and help your child identity the types of clouds you see in the sky. Using just cotton balls, glue and construction paper, she can create pictures of the different types of clouds to help her remember.
10. Trace and label your child
Break out the sidewalk chalk and take turns tracing each other on the patio or driveway. You can talk about body parts, adjectives and get creative!
11. Craft a story
Children are so creative, but it can be hard staring at a blank page. Sit with your child outside and make up a story inspired by your surroundings, perhaps about a squirrel or a very big tree, then write it down.
Then it’s your child’s turn!
If she enjoys this, you could save her stories and make a little book, complete with photos of what inspired the stories.
12. Go camping—and have your child plan the whole thing
Backyard camping can be a great way to test the waters before taking things a little further from home. Help your child plan this mini-adventure.
Help him think through everything you’ll need–supplies, pj’s, food, books. Help him decide where the perfect spot in the yard is for the tent. Help him look at the weather forecast and pick a good night to be outside. He will feel so proud and will get some great practice with planning and organizational skills.
Just being in nature is a beautiful gift you can give your child. But if you’re looking to mix it up from the usual game of tag, give these a try! Your child will learn something new while also learning to love the outdoors in a whole new way.