Nurture early learning and education through outdoor discovery, exploration, and play. Outdoor learning is an ideal way to shed classroom expectations and introduce children to their world through a new lens and alternate perspective. When we take children outside, we introduce them to a new world in which free thinking, innovation, and symbolic play offers them a portal into their imaginations. Intentionally incorporating loose parts along with basic tools and learning materials, children are empowered to investigate, experiment, and formulate new ideas through challenges and exploratory play. Encouraging this natural sense of wonder and curiosity will facilitate a child's lifelong love of learning.
This invitation for children to explore, create, experience, wonder, and grow is possible when providing high-quality outdoor learning experiences for children. Discover what tools and materials educators can use to support dramatic play, science, literacy, art, music, social and emotional, math, building and construction (STEM), and motor skills.
Many people envision dramatic play as children pretending to be nurses, doctors, construction workers, or chefs, but these are just a few dramatic play ideas you can explore with children. To stimulate children's imaginations, be creative with the themes and materials you provide and routinely change dramatic play themes. One of the best ways you can facilitate engaging dramatic play is by tuning into your surroundings. Pay attention to what children are interested in and what's happening in your community and incorporate those ideas. Taking dramatic play outdoors is another way you can explore different concepts and encourage children to use their imaginations.
Engaging children in outdoor play naturally incorporates science based learning. There are a variety of science activities and topics children will naturally engage in, including weather and climate, plants and animals, and light and shadow. Be sure to incorporate a thermometer, rain gauge, bird feeder, and other science materials you think the children in your care will enjoy in your outdoor learning space. A sand and water table for children to experiment with water and sand, an activity bin filled with dirt and fossils for children to excavate, and a garden for children to plant flowers, herbs, and plants are other wonderful explorations for outdoor learning.
The outdoors is a great place for children to learn new vocabulary words and to document their learning experiences. Place sticky notes or tape note cards with new words on corresponding objects in the outdoor space. This will help children learn to expand their vocabulary and associate these new words with a variety of learning environment can also foster creative writing. Encourage children to write about their surroundings and what they see, hear, smell, and touch. Reading is another literacy activity children of all ages can enjoy outdoors. Strategically place blankets, chairs, and outdoor pillows in the space to encourage children to read a good book and enjoy the fresh air.
Art provides wonderful learning experiences for children by giving them opportunities to explore color, texture, symmetry, and other design elements. Many art activities are done in traditional classroom settings, but art is a great subject to take outdoors and use in outdoor learning. Children of all ages will enjoy creating works of art with natural objects combined with a variety of art supplies. Encourage them to draw pictures in the dirt with a stick or use an outdoor easel to draw or paint the animals and plants they see. Sidewalk chalk is another great art alternative for fostering creativity outdoors.
Encourage children to listen to their surroundings when they go outside. Whether it's the wind blowing through the trees, wind chimes jingling, or the thump of someone's shoes as they walk by, everyday noises can inspire students to make music with simple sounds. You can also bring instruments, such as Boomwhackers, maracas, and bells outside to facilitate hand-on learning through music and movement. Explore rhythm, beat, and tempo with children, and you'll have a miniature orchestra in no time!
Helping children develop social and emotional skills at a young age paves the way for success in academia and life. For children to be successful, they have to be able to work with others and manage their emotions. If a child has strong social and emotional skills, he or she is much more likely to be happy and confident and able to overcome any challenges or tough experiences. Practicing yoga to help children relax, playing parachute games to encourage cooperation, and building with LEGO® sets to develop teamwork skills are three ways you can take social and emotional learning outdoors. Moving circle time outside and reading to children are also great options.
Before children can learn more advanced math skills, they have to develop number sense and learn how to count, sort and pattern. Understanding basic math skills will ultimately influence their success in school. A delightful way to make math more appealing is to bring it outdoors! You can use natural objects, such as acorns, leaves, pebbles, seashells, and sticks and a variety of outdoor learning materials for activities that encourage younger children to learn how to count, add, and recognize shapes. The Cone Math activities, Ladybug Stones, and Geometric Bubble Wands are great examples of math related materials and activities that can be done outdoors. Natural objects and outdoor sets can also be used to help teach older children higher level mathematics. You can even create real world math scenarios based on the animals and objects in your outdoor space.
Construction can involve building anything from dens and forts to replicas of famous buildings. Helping children gain confidence in their design and building abilities can encourage them to pursue a career in STEM, such as engineering or architecture. You can provide children with more freedom to build and be creative by taking block play and construction outdoors. In addition to using blocks and other types of building materials, children can take advantage of natural materials into their outdoor designs. Encourage children to create a construction worksite or build habitats for animals. Having children build examples of animals' habitats can facilitate appreciation of their environment and the animals that live in it. Creating an outdoor marble run or doing the Apples and Boats Activity can also help children develop problem-solving skills as they learn about motion and force.
From playing a game of hopscotch or basketball to riding trikes and scooters, there are a variety of outdoor activities that facilitate healthy growth and development in young children. Movement is a natural and essential part of childhood, and giving children opportunities to go outside and play gives them the freedom to move and explore. Encouraging physical activity also promotes the development of healthy habits that will guide them into adulthood.