Play to Learn


1. Go for a nature scavenger hunt. Have a list of specific things to look for, or just point out what you notice in nature along the way. Talk about what is outdoors but not from nature (cars, buildings, etc.)

2. Have a nature “treasure hunt.” Send kids to explore a contained outdoor area and find a few things from nature to come back and share, (flowers, rocks, leaves, bugs, etc.). Talk about what they found and why they picked their items.

3. Have some quiet time to draw or paint what you see outdoors—get creative! Or paint nature itself—collect leaves, stones, and sticks to paint, or arrange them into a work of art.

4. Snowy out? Bundle up and go outdoors to talk about how the snow feels, tastes, looks. Or bring some in to see what happens—why does it melt? What changes?

5. In autumn make a leaf pile! Take turns jumping in, or talk about how the leaves feel, how they are different than in summer, spring, or winter.

6. Pick a tree, or natural area near you to observe throughout the seasons. Check in together at different times through the year to see how it changes, how it browns in summer, turns colors in autumn, goes bare in winter, etc.

7. Get a little messy! Find some mud to play with and see what you can make with it, how it feels, what happens when you dig into it or pile it up.

8. Collect flowers or leaves to press and keep. Talk about what is not okay to take from nature, and why.

9. Start a garden! Let the children help choose what to plant and help care for it. Talk about why and how things grow and the process of their growth over time as you observe. Discuss what you could do with the flowers, vegetables, etc. once they are fully grown.

10. Have some outdoor water play, either with a sprinkler or blow-up pool or in a sensory table. Get out the rubber duckies, the boats, and the buckets, and plan to get wet! Talk about what the water feels like. Why do we need water? What does it do for us? For plants and animals? What are some things we do with water? Brainstorm!

These are only a few ideas for outdoor play. Post your unique ideas to share with fellow early child care professionals and the families they work with!