Outdoor Play Activities

Child running with a kite on a preschool playground

Stepping into the great outdoors opens up a world of adventure and discovery for children, offering a playground where imagination thrives and memories are made. In today's digital age, fostering a love for outdoor play is more important than ever, not only for physical health but also for cognitive and emotional development. From nature scavenger hunts to creative obstacle courses, there's a wealth of fun and safe outdoor activities that can captivate young minds and keep them engaged for hours.

Outdoor Fort Building

Building forts outside is such a fun and engaging activity for children and adults! There are the physical skills children develop when building structures, like the fine and gross motor skills they are developing as they move the different pieces they are building with, the critical thinking skills that they need to use to determine how certain parts of their structure can be held up, or how they can attach one piece to another, testing out different engineering concepts as they build. Building structures is such a powerful play opportunity for children. Not to mention the creativity! Children can imagine their fort as a store, a rocket ship, an airplane, a train, the possibilities are truly endless. 

Water Play

Water play is not only a great way to cool off on hot days, but children engaged in water play are also practicing and developing all kinds of important skills. They are developing their senses, understanding how the water feels, how it moves from container to container, or how it splashes when it is poured from up high, versus down low, what floats and what sinks? Why does it float or sink? Asking questions about what your child is doing as they engage in water play, or singing songs together as you play is a great way to encourage language development through play. There is so much to learn through water play! 

Play with Open Ended Toys

One of the best ways to deeply engage children in play is by providing open-ended materials that children can use in a variety of ways. If you think about a cardboard box, and all the different things that the box can become in the mind of a child, those are the types of materials that are best for all kinds of play. Think of toys or materials like ramps, scoops, tunnels and tubes that can be used to build different creations to send balls or toy cars through, that can then also be used to outline the trail for an obstacle course for the child to move through, that can then become different tools or pieces of equipment as children imagine themselves as superheroes! The key is to provide materials that that let children’s imaginations do all of the important work of creating and playing.  

Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are a great, simple way to encourage children to be active outdoors, and to make observations about the world around them. Scavenger hunts can easily be customized for different ages, and can include finding items like smooth rocks, or leaves bigger than their hands, a stick as long as their arm, etc. Think about sprinkling in items to find that are red, white or blue, or finding four of a specific item, like four flowers, or four worms!

Messy Play

Messy play is a great option for outdoors because clean up can be as simple as hosing the play area (and children!) off when it is over. Provide washable paints and large rolls of paper and ask children to paint fireworks! Encourage them to explore different ways to create the firework, like splatter painting, or dripping paint from above, using natural items like grass or sticks to create the fireworks, or even exploring using different parts of their bodies to paint. Can they make a firework with their feet? Once they are done, cool off with a quick hose down and talk with them about which method of creating was their favorite, and why.

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