Is it possible to achieve school readiness in a 100% outdoor classroom? Can you meet Kindergarten “standards” by being outdoors learning all day? The answer is an astounding, “YES!” To prove it, this post includes Activities for Early Childhood Outdoor Education.
My sons and I recently attended Cedarsong's Family Nature Immersion Camp. This nature school is extraordinary. There are no props. There are no desks. There are no planned activities. There aren't even any books. Every experience and all learning is done from within yourself, your “classmates”, and the forest. The experience was life defining for me. I find myself longing to be back in the outdoor classroom. My sons were happy. The children were content. There was so much learning.
Entering a classroom whether in your home, in a school, or in the outdoors without a strict schedule of activities takes a lot of courage for us adults. Not having a plan is scary even without children! So, I thought I would share a few of the activities we did over the course of the camp. I also included ideas inspired by the experience in Cedarsong's Outdoor Classroom.
Activities for Early Childhood Outdoor Education
Storytelling from your imagination feeds a child's creativity. It also works pre-reading skills such as sequencing events or parts of a story. You can challenge children to think about main characters and plat, for example, to encourage reading comprehension skills.
Acting, especially improvisational, helps build confidence and self-esteem in children. Public speaking is hardly easy for anyone. Encouraging this skill early in life is a predictor of success. Find a spot for your Forest Theater.
Nature Walks alone add to your child's arsenal of vocabulary. Describe what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Discuss names of plants, or add those plants and animals you're wondering about without answers to a wonder list to research later.
Categorizing is a fantastic pre-reading activity. The child must be able to focus and to hold interest. A child will work on critical thinking, which helps reading comprehension skills. Categorize groups of objects (living/non-living, stems/leaves, big/small, etc) you find outdoors. Play the What Does Not Belong? and the What's Missing? game.
Sort objects based on visual, baric, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile senses.
Patterning works pre-math and pre-reading skills. Gather items from nature and create patterns. Challenge the child to fill in the blank of a pattern, or create his own pattern.
Tea making is a great activity for kids to learn the work cycle, care of environment, basic food prep, and grace & courtesy. Collect leaves and berries, crumple them up, and create hot or cold tea for your family or classroom.
Branch & Leaf Weaving is creative, great for fine motor work, and gives the child a lesson in engineering: what materials work best and why?
Land Art is creative and cultural. Take a bit of time to learn about the history of this extraordinary art form and share with children as you create together. For more information on Land Art.
Discussing native plants and why they may adapt in the environment is a great way to incorporate biome studies.
Creating a Dream Catcher from twigs, stems, and leaves is fun for children. Add some yarn into the project. Discuss why some materials hold better than others. Talk about the Native American culture and the significance of the dream catcher.
Fern Crowns are perfect for the “leader”, for theater, and fine motor skills.
Musical Parades with songs and objects creating various sounds as you move along. Why does one tree sound different from another when you hit it? Can we come up with a song using lines that rhyme with “tree”?
A Nature Scavenger Hunt ignites all the senses. Plus kids love seeking out objects. Try this amazing Sensory Nature Scavenger Hunt from Racheous Lovable Learning for some inspiration.
Leave rockets are similar to Straw Rockets. Use a rolled up leaf for the straw and a stick or nut shell for the nose. Voila!
Cone people are adorable and leave lots of room for creativity. Grab a cone on the ground, a few small twigs, a leave or two, and maybe even moss. My son made R2-D2.
Mandala from sticks, flowers, and leaves. Check out this website for ideas on Nature Mandalas.
A Mud Kitchen launches children in ways you will never expect to see. The imagination, the cooking, the dining, the washing, the baking, and the serving of all things “kitchen” will astound you.
Clay & Mud Painting is as easy as it comes. Simply add water, throw in a nature brush or even a real one, and paint leaves, paper, trees, or your bodies.
Twig Pyramids are simple. Gather sticks of all shapes and sizes. Then build your structure. Talk about what sticks you may need for the base and why, and so on. Great activity for budding engineers!
Wands made from a sturdy stick and various leaves, stems, and branches make for loads of imaginative fun and creativity.
Balance or Bouncy Logs are nature's playground. Work those find motor and spatial skills while having loads of fun.
Sitting spots can be located throughout an outdoor area. Have the child choose his special spot for sharing with friends or quiet meditation by himself.