What better way to teach children about the wonderful, beautiful world around them than by letting them experience it? Lately, my kids and I have been taking the opportunity to use our senses while exploring nature. These experiences were mostly at our local children’s museum and botanic garden. But you can do outdoor sensory play in your own backyard, at a forest preserve, at a nature center, or even at the park!
1. Scavenger Hunt
The most elaborate scavenger hunt charts have seen are the ones at our local botanic gardens. They have a new one each season with the different things for the kids to look for while at the gardens: a fountain, a bird, a potted plant, a daffodil, a budding tree, a particular vegetable, etc. These would be quite easy to create for your kids before you go on an outdoor sensory play excursion. Just make a chart with different items in the boxes. The kids can look for those items and place a sticker or draw a mark as they find it. Laminate the charts to use over and over.
I love that the scavenger hunt charts can be associated with a specific study that you’re doing at home: particular flowers, plants, trees, insects, animals, clouds, animal tracks, etc. Or for the littlest ones, you can have a chart of just colors and the kids look for items that are that color! Enjoy the free “Find the Colors Outside” Scavenger Chart download. (Right click the chart and save to your computer.)
2. Paint With Water on Different Objects
A really fun activity (and not very messy!) is for kids to “paint” with water outside. Hand them a bucket and some paintbrushes on a nice warm, sunny day and let them paint what they see around them– the fence, rocks, trees, patio furniture, the house. They will notice how the color changes and then what happens when the water evaporates. Older kids can even time it and compare how long it takes for the evaporation to complete on different objects.
3. Smelling Flowers and Plants
Here’s a really easy outdoor sensory play activity. Smell every plant or flower you come to! Do any smell good? Smell bad? Have no scent at all? Take pictures of the ones that smell the best. If you are in a place that allows them to be picked, take some home to put in a vase on your table!
4. Feeling Textures of Flowers and Plants
There are so many textures in nature! For this outdoor sensory play activity, you’ll want to encourage the children to be gentle while feeling the different textures of leaves, flower petals, stems, tree bark, and even thorns. I love having the kids compare different tree bark. It’s even fun to tape (or have someone else hold) a paper to the tree and do a bark rubbing with the flat side of a crayon. Another neat project is to create a collage of the different textures of leaves found on your nature walk. Glue them to a piece of cardstock or cardboard.
5. Listening to Bird Songs
This is one of my favorite outdoor sensory activities! Use this free site from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology to listen to and learn the bird songs of the most popular birds in your area. The ones that my kids know are out here in the Midwest are chickadee, Canada goose, red-winged blackbird, robin, and bluejay. Go on a nature walk and listen for the bird songs, and then see if you can find the bird! An awesome book to purchase (or see if your library has it) is Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song because it has the bird songs in it. It’s also available on Kindle, making it handy to take along on those nature walks!
How do you encourage your kids to learn outside?
Leave your ideas in the comments!