There’s no shortage of things to love about Settlers Landing, but it can feel like work to find activities that are loved by kids, easy on us, and well worth our family time.
We’re lucky, though. Settlers Landing boasts some of the most amazing parkland in the country. And, you’ve got us—at Tinkergarten, we’ve been spending a decade perfecting a way of learning outdoors through play that is simple for parents, ridiculously fun for all, and delivers lasting learning benefits to kids.
Each of the activities below are examples of Tinkergarten learning experiences that seem simple on the surface but have the latest learning science and age-old wisdom engineered in. Activities like ours are not only super engaging for kiddos, but they also help kids become more creative, confident and balanced learners. These early experiences become the foundation from which kids learn how to learn and prepare to thrive later on.
Enjoy them with your kids, and let us know how they go! We learn every day from the hundreds of thousands of Tinkergarten families we support across the US!
Our classes take place in green spaces nationwide, where each week, we present a new expert-designed play scenario to challenge each child, as they learn in a supportive, mixed-age social group. Our certified Tinkergarten Leaders are trained, talented play facilitators who collaborate with parents and caregivers to support children at driving their own learning. Over the course of each unique season, powerful themes emerge and children strengthen essential skills through play.
Tinkergarten classes are offered in seasonal courses, delivered in 6, 8, or 10 session series. Each season, we create a unique progression of lessons that supports seasonal themes, develops a range of important skills and emphasizes one skill in depth. The curriculum is also unique for each of the following age groups: 6–18 months (Tinkergarten Babies) and our 18 months to 8 years old (our core program).
Love kids? Learn more about becoming a Tinkergarten leader. Spend your day playing and planning fun activities for kids.
Join the movement of thousands of families learning outside together. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Find a Tinkergarten class in your community, nominate a leader to start one, or use our free DIY activities to enjoy some well-spent time with your kids.
Mud just might be the most powerful (and plentiful) tool for fun learning we’ve got. Bring a container of water outdoors and find even a small patch of open dirt. Slow down, and just enjoy the making together. Spill some water, act amazed, keep going. Use hands, sticks, leaves, and even toes to explore the many sensations that come with making mud. In addition to messy fun, when you set up mud the Tinkergarten way, kids learn powerful lessons, get a multi-sensory experience, and experience early on the kind of free, messy play that drives creativity.
Look around with your child to find a tree to love. Look, feel and even listed to your tree. Give it a name based on what you love about it. We still love our “Mr. Lumpy Bumpy.” Wonder how your special tree is feeling (a wonderful way to help kids learn empathy). Then, plop a mud patty on the tree and use pebbles, acorns, or twigs to make a face to show how we or our special tree are feeling today. Science tip: We are learning that trees have senses, communicate with one another, and even have feelings!
Let your favorite transportation toys come out and get muddy, too—how liberating! Then, grab a bucket and water and let kids add Earth-friendly non-toxic soap and make suds. Invite the toys, cars, and trucks to the nature car wash. Not only will kids get lost in the scrubbing, the combination of messy mud and sudsy soap activates multiple senses and even calms kids down...ahhhh. Parent tip: We can get in there and relax a bit too. Think a little spa in the park. Ahhhh Plus, you’ll leave the play session pretty clean!
Grab a bucket and wonder, “Can we find objects that might be fun to pull apart into tiny pieces?” Search for objects like pine cones, flowers, fruits, and sticks. Ponder together “I wonder what is inside? I wonder what we’d find if we pulled these apart?” Side by side, showing your curiosity and even joy, tear the objects apart and savor the process. If you can bring contact paper, glue, duct tape, or even mud, give yourselves a way to combine the pieces back together to make something entirely new. Parent tip: Children are meant to dissect things, knocks things over, and pick things apart. Yes, it can be frustrating and we have a tendency to want to stop things before they topple over, but every tower that crumbles is part of their neurological growth and promotes learning. Go with it!
Open play with materials that wow the senses drives creativity, and it’s easier than you think to create a kid-driven masterpiece together. This beloved activity is inspired by Julia Denos’ book Swatch: A Girl Who Loved Colors, about a vibrant character who can tame wild color, kids will free colors and create a whirling, swirling outdoor masterpiece. Grab a clear shower curtain or old white sheet and string it up between two trees. Then fill some mason jars with washable tempera paint. Give each child a paintbrush or even a rubber banded bundle of tall grasses and ask, “How do you think these colors are feeling all trapped in these jars? Do you think we can free them?” Welcome them to your “canvas” and let them have at it. Parent tip: Put an old cloth down under the curtain so you don’t paint the grass.
There is so much to learn from walks at night. The unique sensory stimulation, time out with you, and the chance to bend the rules of bed time. Combining that with the cool air and new nighttime noises is exhilarating. Share with them that it’s time to take the moon for a walk and ask them to gather flashlights or lanterns. While you are walking, stop to look, listen, smell, feel, touch and even taste (if snow). Also, you may want to use your flashlight or lantern to get going, but the big moment is turning them off and letting your eyes wake up to nighttime. Take a moment to adjust and take it all in. It’s the best free kids activity there is! Parent tip: Check with your ranger station for park hours and any restrictions before heading out.
This one is always a favorite for kids and adults too. You’ll need bubble juice (store-bought or homemade with dish soap, water, and glycerine), twigs, a bucket, and pipe cleaners. If kids are old enough, they can help you figure out how to make different sized bubble makers with the pipe cleaners and twigs. Inspire experimentation by wondering things like, “How can you make the biggest bubble—or the smallest?” Explore all the different parts of the body that can pop bubbles. Follow a bubble on its path and see how far it goes.
One of the best ways to help kids care for animals is to pretend to be them— we call it making “animal allies.” Prep your child with a lively story about birds’ nests, like Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward. Wonder together how you could play like birds and build a nest big enough for all of us to fit in. What could we use? Start to build, using the sticks, grasses and other objects you can find in nature—just like birds. Work together, letting kids direct the action as much as they can. Once your nest is built, take turns playing mama bird and baby bird. Find objects they can pretend are eggs and let them sit on them. Encourage them to create their own bird noises.
This is one of our favorite ways to imagine, create, and connect to nature in any weather. Grab a tarp, bungee cords, tent stakes, and rope and bring them outdoors. Suggest pretending we’re bears, or another favorite animal, and wonder what kind of home you would need to stay warm and dry. Or, if it’s hot out there, to escape the sun. See if you can find such a spot in the park and get cozy. If kids are into it, wonder how you could use the things you brought to make your own cozy hideout. If kids are old enough to share ideas, follow their lead. If not, welcome them to hold things and help as much as they are able as you set up a shelter.
Grab an old sheet, some water, and a handful of berries, beets and spices like turmeric. Then, head outside and wonder, “How can we make this plain sheet as colorful as the nature around us?” If you have them handy, you can offer tools like spray bottles, mallets, and rolling pins. But, your best tools are sticks and your own hands, elbows, knees and feet. Watch kids problem solve and notice pigments connecting to the sheet as they mash, stomp, and roll the color out of all of that nature. This is a full-body, fabulous sensory experience that is good, productive, messy fun.
Going barefoot is good for the sole—especially for kiddos who are developing physically. Make today barefoot day. Take off your shoes, slow down, and start to wander. As you do, wonder out loud, “How would this smooth rock feel under my feet? How different does the grass feel?” or “What noises can my bare feet make in this mud?” Celebrate all the fun things you can find under your toes.
We usually think of playdough as an indoor sport, but rebranding a super toy like play dough as “forest putty,” and taking it outdoors and relaxing the rules can blow kids’ minds and give them a powerful lesson in creativity. Head outdoors and play with your kids, modeling sticking in twigs, pebbles, dirt, or seeds to make critters, build things, or just add a whole new level of sensory play to play dough. Ready to make your own? Try our Tinkergarten recipe.
If there is a Ranger on duty, go and say hello with your little adventurer. Ask the Park Ranger to describe their job and all the wonder sparking things they get to do and see everyday. Explore with your child how you could design, write, or paint a note thanking the Ranger for keeping our parks beautiful. This activity combines knowledge gathering, creativity, and gratitude.
Break out the magnifying glass and look down. Allow children to self discover the tiny world under their feet. Peel back some old bark and observe all our tiny friends working hard. Awareness and appreciation of the smallest of creatures will help children become more compassionate and caring for the environment.
We have 70+ more amazing DIY kids’ activities on the Tinkergarten site that we couldn’t fit into this list. Come play with us!
Tinkergarten classes are an activity and learning opportunity for kids and parents to grow together. Tinkergarten encourages wonder and play with your child while also giving you the tools to understand why certain activities pair with and promote your child’s brain and muscular development. Our live classes, trained facilitators, and vibrant curious community have fun down to a science.
If you are visiting a new city but are part of the Tinkergarten community in your home town, reach out to a local leader in this area and do a make up class while you are visiting. This is one of the SUPER cool things about Tinkergarten. People visit other Tinkergarten classes, get to explore new parks, and it’s an amazing way to make new friends.
Give a class a try or join for the season, if space allows! Find classes at tinkergarten.com/classes.