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You’ve all heard how educational outdoor activities can be for our kids. However, when you actually stop to think of ideas, it’s easy to get stumped! (Pun completely intended, of course.)

The next time you want to take your tykes outside for some enriching outdoor play, break out this list and its counterpart, PART TWO. Most of these educational outdoor activities are broad enough to appeal to many age groups, and can even be done with multiple ages at once. (If you’d like to learn more about how to get all your kids of various ages learning about the same thing at the same time, check out our newest ebook on Unit Studies. Many of the following educational outdoor activities are actually great jumping off points to start a unit study, if you wanted to try!)

In addition, I’ve included a list of many academic subjects that correspond with each activity. So if you’re specifically looking for something to do outside to help with your poetry curriculum, for example, just search for poetry and it will come right up!

Without further ado, here are ten favorite educational outdoor activities!

Our top ten *actually* educational outdoor activities for kids. Take hands-on learning into nature! #handsonlearning #outdoorclassroom #outdooreducation

Educational Outdoor Activities #1-5: Using a nature box

Take a small container outside with you. (Pro tip: Tupperware, old shipping boxes, and shoe boxes work fine, but if you can spare a wooden box, woven basket, or something similarly special, you can elevate the whole experience). Have them collect anything they see that’s small enough to fit entirely in the box & seems special, interesting, or pretty to them. When they are done, bring the box inside. 

Different activities to do with your nature box:

  • Have children catalogue their finds, organizing items into whatever categories they deem appropriate (by type, color, shape, size, first letter of object, etc). The next day, have them organize a different way than they did the day before. Continue as long as desired. 
  • Have children use the items in the nature box to form letters, shapes, or numbers. If they are very small, give them a piece of paper with the desired shape already traced for them to place items upon. 
  • Give kids a magnifying glass to look at the items up close. What do they notice when looking at that scale which they missed before?
  • Ask everyone to identify the items in the box. You can make this as complicated or simple as you like, depending on the child’s age. “Rock” might be fine for one child, whereas you could have another further designate it as igneous or metamorphic, etc. 
  • Break out a scale or balance and have the kids weigh or compare the weight of various items. Have them design and then answer questions like: will the rock be heavier or lighter than the leaf, flower, and pinecone put together? 

Corresponding academic subjects:

  • Botany
  • Geology
  • Biology

Educational Outdoor Activities #s 6, 7, & 8: Nature walks

educational outdoor activities

You can make this as adventurous or low-key as you like. If you have easy access to a state or national park or want to plan a family vacation, by all means go! However, a simple jaunt around your neighborhood, a local field, or a playground can suit this activity just fine. 

Make sure you prepare for your walk by talking about necessary precautions like dressing for the weather, wearing sunscreen or bug spray, tick/snake/other scary things prevention, etc. You also can pack small backpacks with survival gear or simple first aid tools together, and talk about why they’re important. 

What to do on your nature walk

  • Learn to read a map. Talk about the cardinal directions, landmarks, elevation, scale, and whatever else is relevant to the area!
  • Put duct tape inside-out on the bottom of your kids pants, socks, or shoes. At the end of the walk, try to identify what they picked up!
  • Bring bird, animal, flower, or tree identification books with you. These are easily found at pretty much every local library and also Amazon (I received Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide as part of my master gardener training and I’d highly recommend it. You will, of course, need to find a guide specific to the area you’re walking through. Otherwise, you might spend a long time looking for some weird Arizona cactus in my Northeast tree guide!)

Corresponding academic subjects:

  • Geography
  • Botany
  • English/language arts (informational texts)
  • First Aid & Safety

Activity #9- Make bark/leaf rubbings

This is one activity many of us might remember doing as children. To have your children do it themselves, bring paper and crayons (without wrappers) outside. I find the jumbo crayons work best since you need so much surface area. If the weather is particularly bad, this can also be an indoor activity- just bring the outdoor materials inside. 

Have children place their papers on top of various tree barks or leaves. Then, VERY GENTLY, have them rub the crayon length-wise over the surface of the bark or leaf until the pattern appears on the paper. 

Older children can go a step further and label each of their leaf rubbings by species, or by labelling the veins, stems, lobes, etc. 

Corresponding academic subjects:

  • Art (drawing)
  • Botany

Activity #10- Build animal shelters 

Educational outdoor activities

For this activity to work best, you’ll need to be in an area with access to lots of sticks, rocks, leaves, and maybe even the ability to dig (though not strictly necessary). Private property would probably work best, but as long as you clean up after yourselves, public land would also work!

The object of this activity is to create a structure that closely resembles the home of a given land animal from your area. Bears, foxes, eagles, chickadees, snakes, rabbits, lizards, beavers, and even spiders can be used for this activity. 

Bring large picture books outside with you for reference (or have some kind of phone or tablet with pre-sourced images so you don’t waste time searching). This is an excellent enrichment activity to cap off a study of animal habitats, or can be used as a hook to kick off such a unit. If the land you’re building on is your own, 

If you have multiple kids or are doing this as part of a group, I find it’s fun to have all the kids draw animal names from a hat. At the end, the children can present their shelter and the others have to guess what animal would live there!

Corresponding academic subjects:

  • Animal biology 
  • Art (sculptures)
  • English/language arts (informational texts & research)
  • Physical education

I hope that got you itching to grab your kids and hit the great outdoors. (Not literally itching, though. Stay away from that poison ivy!)

Don’t forget to check back soon for PART TWO if you want more STEM, art, and writing activities!