Great Outdoor Activities for the Body and the Brain
With the warm weather finally upon us, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities for our little ones to enjoy! Here are a few ideas that will benefit your child’s physical development, as well as their intellect and their imagination.
Smart Outdoor Activities for Babies
- Playing with sand: Sand play provides your baby with a great sensory experience, which sets the path for learning to write, among other important benefits. If you add toys to scoop and pour (any container from your kitchen will do) it also teaches them S.T.E.M. with mathematical concepts such as measurement, weight, and even addition and subtraction. Sand play also encourages scientific thinking in your baby and is the perfect environment for socializing (once we are finally able to) and imaginative play.
- Playing with water: Similarly to sand play, water provides great stimulation for the senses (they can feel the water with their bodies, if it is cold or warm, or if it changes temperature depending on its depth; they can also hear the noise it makes as it splashes and moves and literally stimulates all of your baby’s senses). Water play offers a number of opportunities for your child to learn S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math), to reason, to try building dams, or otherwise stopping the flow of the water, to measure, to compare its temperature, to try mixing sand or dirt into the water, to see if objects float or sink, or just to simply manipulate its course with their body. Water is the perfect learning experience for S.T.E.M. Even a small puddle of water provides endless learning opportunities and hours of fun. Always supervise and stay very close to your child while playing with water.
- Exploring the grass with their bodies: Babies love to feel and explore with their entire body. Help your baby walk on the grass with their bare feet, or crawl on it. Invite them to feel the grass and the Earth with their hands and talk to them about what they are feeling. To add more sensory stimulation, go from a soft blanket, to cool grass, or from dirt to mud, and walk over different textures, always commenting on how it feels to the touch. Smell the earth and the grass, the flowers, and all of nature around you. Count the flowers, notice their colours, find the insect and worms on the ground, name them, ask questions, even if your baby can’t talk yet, have a conversation with them. If you look closely, you will know exactly what your child is wondering, and put it into words for them. This is still great for their language and science development.
Smart Outdoor Activities for Toddlers
- Building with mud or sand: Take sand play a step further by introducing your child to tools they can use to build with. Appropriate tools include spoons, pails, shovels, and containers of different shapes and sizes. Your child will learn early mathematical concepts by working with various shapes and weights. They will also learn science, and creative thinking while comparing results and techniques as they discover the best way to build their structures. Building is engineering at its best and using tools in the early years is considered learning technology. You have a complete S.T.E.M. activity just by inviting your child to build a sandcastle, or a fort. As a parent you can enhance their learning by talking about their observations whilst they are playing. Bring a friend (or make a friend) for your child for added social skills.
- Observing insects: For a mere two dollars, you can buy plastic aquariums with perforated lids at a dollar store. One of those will last you until your child is ready to leave for college – they are a really great investment and provide the perfect little house for insects for a few days so your child can learn about them. If you can’t find one at the dollar store, here is one you can buy, or you can make your own. Bring it along with you and help your child carefully and gently collect bugs to observe for the day. Discover with your child what the insects need in their habitat and what they need to eat and drink. Encourage them to take photos and to draw their observations, either outside or later when they get home. This teaches your toddler about nature, and about science. It also teaches them empathy as they are learning to care for a living thing, and they also learn to return it to its natural habitat. It prepares your child for writing when you encourage them to draw their observations, and also when you help them write down what they observed (they can dictate to you). You can further enhance their learning by reading about insects, either outside, where they can see them, or later when you get home. This exercise is twice as much fun when you find tadpoles instead of ants!
- Collecting shells: If you are able to go to the beach this summer, this is a great chance to explore the ocean with your child. From dipping your feet in the water to looking for crabs and for shells. When I was 15, I used to take my little sister (who was 4 at the time) to the beach and look for small crabs hidden in the rocks. We would spend hours doing that, almost every weekend. You can look closely at sand with a magnifying glass (have you ever tried? It is fascinating!), you can collect water from the ocean in a jar to look at it later under the light, or with a flashlight. You can look at the plants that grow in the water and group your treasures by types (this teaches your child mathematics). For added adventure and learning, make a treasure map and follow the clues with your child until you find it together (you would have to bury the treasure when your child is not looking of course). Nothing is more delightful than digging out a buried treasure chest (these can also be purchased at the dollar store and filled with anything you like), and the treasure hunt itself provide added reading, writing and math skills. Bonus!
Smart Outdoor Activities for Young Children
- Building a fort: Use rocks, branches, and other natural elements around you to build a fort together. Here is an activity I created that shows you the learning benefits of building a fort. Figuring out how to build enhances your child’s reasoning, engineering and mathematical skills. Weaving and tying string, leaves and other elements together are wonderful for fine motor skills, which are precursors for writing. Explaining the process out loud adds vocabulary skills and doing it with a friend or a sibling adds another level of complexity and social skills.
- Make a mini habitat for your favourite toys: For example, one day at the age of four, my son spent over six hours outside playing with his dinosaurs. We found a garden of tall grasses and leaves, which was the perfect habitat for twenty of his dinosaurs. He made them a lake, a volcano, a hiding place and even a place to sleep. If your child is not into dinosaurs, try a fairy world, or try making a home for any of your child’s favourite toys – from trains to critters –Days like this are wonderful opportunities for dramatic and imaginative play, which is crucial in any discipline.
- Plant a garden: Gardening teaches your child about science and about life and nature. It teaches your child responsibility by having to tend to their garden daily and it teaches them about food and where it comes from (if you plant vegetables, for instance), this can also lead to good nutritional habits. Start from the very beginning by growing roots on an avocado, a potato or an onion, and plant them in glass jars to allow for better observation of the roots as they grow. Here is how to do it.
There are endless activities that your child can both enjoy and learn from; these are just a few examples. Spending time outside, rain or shine, and discovering the world around you from your child’s perspective is like seeing it again for the first time.
No matter what activity you choose, engage your child in conversation, regardless of their age. This will teach your child essential vocabulary, as well as help them understand how to put their feelings, and all their new discoveries, into words. You and your child can talk about it again once you are inside, and they can even draw their experiences, or journal about them. You can even scan and print those drawings (let’s say, they draw an ant, a ladybug, a worm and a caterpillar) for them to play with later and create stories with them. This is a great extension of their learning and teaches them creativity and imaginative play (dramatic play).
You can talk with your child about their drawings, and about their observations. You can look at the photos they took together, and exchange thoughts and questions, which will expand your child’s learning even further. If your child is interested, start a nature journal where every day, you can either draw or write about your outdoor experiences. This will be something that will not only extend their learning greatly, but also become a treasured keepsake throughout the years.
Have a wonderful time outside!