Children need time outdoors to run, jump, and play to release some of their energy. Outdoor activities can also be meaningful educational opportunities. When educators can tie outdoor play to preschool learning objectives, children can learn in an engaging way while spending time connecting with nature.
According to a survey by Outdoor Classroom Day, 88% of teachers reported that children were more engaged in learning when taking lessons outdoors. There are also numerous physical, social-emotional, intellectual, and mental health benefits for children that are linked to outdoor activities.
The health and educational rewards that come with outdoor learning are compelling reasons to prioritize outdoor activities for preschoolers. In this article, we will share creative ideas for preschool outdoor activities to try with your children and corresponding learning objectives for each.
10 Engaging ideas for preschool outdoors activities
1. Nature color hunt
This activity from Buggy and Buddy provides a great nature-filled sensory experience as the children learn to identify colors in nature.
Instructions: Give the children a list of colors to find as they walk in nature. They will identify the color of the nature item and draw a picture under the corresponding color.
For an added sensory lesson activity, have the children collect a few items and discuss during circle time the color, texture, smell, and sound of the nature item.
Learning objective: Children will learn to match and identify colors in nature as well as use sensory-related vocabulary.
2. Nature memory game
This next activity, a large-scale memory game, is inspired by Growing Book by Book. The children will have fun playing a familiar memory game with a physical and outdoor twist.
Instructions: Print large matching nature images (with the corresponding name of the nature item) and glue them to paper plates. Place the plates on the ground outdoors face down and have children take turns turning over two plates to see if they match. As they are turning over the plates, the children can say the names of the items. If the child does not select two matching items, the plates are placed face down and the next child takes a turn. If the child turns over two plates with that match, they earn a point.
Learning objective: Children will practice memory and concentration skills while learning nature-related vocabulary.
3. Birdwatching and other nature observations
The best part of outdoor activities is the spontaneous learning that can happen. With a pair of binoculars and a sunny day, your children can spend their day outside letting their observations and curiosity guide their questions about nature and their learning.
Instructions: Take children are a nature walk with a few observational tools: binoculars, magnifying glasses, sketch pads, and pencils. Allow the children time to find birds by listening to birdcalls or using their binoculars. Children may also look for other living creatures such as insects and squirrels. Encourage the children to sketch their findings.
Learning objective: To develop children's observation skills and understanding of animals and their habitats.
4. The letter and number race
This letter and number recognition game was inspired by Inspirational Laboratories. Children will have fun sorting numbers from letters while staying physically active and enjoying the sensory experience of dipping their hands in a bucket of water, sand, or water beads.
Instructions: Children race between water-filled buckets to sort letters from numbers (or try using sand or water beads in cooler weather). Add plastic or foam letters and numbers, or print letters and numbers on card stock, cut to size, and laminate.
Learning objective: Children will practice letter and number recognition while practicing sorting, an early math concept.
5. Sight word soccer
This activity was inspired by Chalk Academy. Sight word soccer is a combination of literacy and soccer. This outdoor learning activity allows older children to practice their sight words while running and kicking. For younger children, turn it into a fun letter recognition game.
Instructions: Write sight words on an index card and tape them to the small cones. Call out a word and have the children take turns kicking the ball to the corresponding cone.
Learning objective: Children will learn their sight words while practicing their eye-foot coordination.
6. Nature patterns
The variety found in nature offers great opportunities for sorting, making patterns, and creating designs, supporting early math concepts and artistic expression.
Instructions: During a nature walk, have the children look for leaves, rocks, and twigs on the ground. Collect them, sort them by color or size, and create a pattern design on the side of the walking path. Leave the design on the ground for folks passing by to enjoy.
Learning objective: Children will learn how to create and recognize various patterns while practicing their fine motor skills.
7. Spray the flower letters
This fun activity was inspired by Happy Toddler Playtime. Children can practice letter recognition while "watering" the flowers with their spray bottles.
Instructions: Draw flowers and write a letter in each. Older children can support with this first task. Once the flowers are completed, give each child a spray bottle, call out a letter or sound of the letter (for a challenging variation) and have the children find the letter to "water" the flower.
Learning objective: Children will learn to identify letters (or sounds) while also practicing their fine motor skills using the spray bottles.
8. Journey stick
This nature activity was inspired by Growing Family. A journey stick is an educational craft that can be done while exploring nature.
Instructions: While on a nature walk, children collect items such as varying leaves, flowers, and sticks. They then attach the items to a stick (such as a branch, paper, or a piece of cardboard) to create a keepsake of their walk.
As an added bonus, children can share what they choose to add to their journey stick and why.
Learning objective: Children will exercise their curiosity by discovering and learning about various elements of nature and also identifying shapes found in nature.
9. Outdoor dramatic play
Dramatic play is often an indoor activity, but taking it outdoors can put a fun spin on it and allow children to role-play outdoor scenes.
Instructions: Provide dramatic play materials and furniture for children to dress up, and act out familiar roles (i.e., teachers, doctor, parents, etc.) and activities (i.e., restaurant, store, house, picnics, etc.).
Learning objective: Children will practice creative storytelling, problem-solving skills, and expressive and receptive language skills as they develop and negotiate the storyline and assign roles.
10. Leaf printing
With this activity, children can appreciate and learn about the diversity of leaves: color, shape, size, parts, and structure.
Instructions: Children can collect a variety of leaves from the ground and select leaves with the most intricate shape and vein structure in the back. Take a sponge and blot some paint on the side with the vein projecting out and place that side down on a piece of paper to discover the leaf print.
Learning objective: Children will learn about the parts of a leaf and practice fine motor skills as they blot paint and print the leaf.
How Can Outdoor Activities Benefit Children?
When great weather days abound, preschoolers have the chance to fill their days with outdoor play. Being outside helps children with their emotional development while also encouraging their curiosity.
Outdoor activities are a pivotal part of a child’s early education, helping them develop cognitive skills, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language skills, and a special appreciation for nature.
Exploring the natural world is also a wonderful way to engage families in the curriculum and create a home-school connection. For example, you can invite families to do a scavenger hunt and nature walk with the class.
For more ideas on how to meaningfully engage families, download our calendar template for early education programs.
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