If schools are closed in your area and the kids are getting restless trying to sit in an online classroom all day, you can provide great relief and inspiration by having an outdoor learning day. Here in Whatcom County, public schools are expected to remain closed through fall quarter, with no announcements as to when they may reopen. This means kids are spending most of their time at home, and may have trouble focusing on learning.
These outdoor activities are aimed to inspire, encouraging kids to develop scientific thinking and develop their skills in a fresh environment. Covid-19 or not, they serve as a foundation of an exciting new way to learn. Feel free to modify or expand on any of these learning activities; the world is your sandbox as much as theirs.
Choosing and sketching a natural object in detail
What does a leaf look like? Can you draw one from memory? How about a pebble? When you look at an object in detail, you begin to notice new and fascinating things, such as the vein patterns of a leaf or glints of quarts within a pebble. Spending time studying an object brings up questions you never thought to ask: Do the veins in leaves work just like people’s veins? How do they move? How did crystals form on a little rock? Was it part of something larger before?
This activity can be done no matter where you are, and you likely have all the materials you need in arm’s reach. Best of all, it often leads to further research on the web once you get back indoors. Children should be free to pick an object of their choice in order to find something truly interesting to them, but you may choose to pick a topic such as geology or botany. You may even present the challenge of catching an insect in a butterfly net in order to draw it in detail. Children will want to spend anywhere between 5 minutes and an hour observing and sketching their natural object, but will ideally have plenty of questions by the time their observations are over.
Following a treasure map
This activity takes some prep time on the adult’s part, but is an excellent way to foster navigation skills and independence in a positive atmosphere. You may choose a theme for your treasure hunt, perhaps navigating Land Shark Island or The Unicorn Kingdom, based on the child’s or children’s interests.
For a fulfilling hunt, use a mix of landmarks, street signs, and cardinal directions in order to reach the treasure. To get your child excited for the trip, you might gift them with a pair of starter binoculars with a compass included. You may also incorporate word scrambles, math problems, and other puzzles in the directions. Providing a map of the area will help your treasure hunters keep on track, knowing the answer to each riddle must be somewhere in the map area (while also developing navigation skills). A successful treasure hunt is sure to go down in history as a wonderful day.
Building with raw materials
Let imagination drive a day of engineering and problem-solving out in nature. Bring a few materials to get started, such as rope and cloth, ensuring everything is biodegradable. For the children who love to decorate, consider including a box of washable sidewalk chalk. Everything else, from twigs and branches to rocks and dirt, can be found in your surroundings.
The goal of this activity is to create something new and totally unique, from a fairy village to a ninja path to a monkey playground, (or, if you prefer something more down-to-earth, perhaps an obstacle course for squirrels). Whether you are out with one child or several, let them take the wheel. You might give them an idea to get started, such as "a monkey playzone" or "a path for the squirrels," but then it's up to the young ones to determine what to build and how. They may even want to build something entirely different from your suggestion, and this is 100% okay. No matter the parameters, be prepared to be astounded by what they come up with.
There are countless ways to bring play back into the learning process, and these outdoor activities are just a jumping-off point. Check out our Bellingham learning store for more exciting ways for children to learn.