Back-to-school season is upon us, and in the Tinkergarten community, “school” can take on many different forms. Whether your kids go to public school, school at home with you or are too young for “formal” schooling, engaging outdoor activities full of purposeful play can round out your kids’ learning experience and really deliver on the skills that matter most.
Studies show time spent outside offers mental and physical benefits, including reduced anxiety and enhanced mood, which is exactly what we all need as we head into another school year—especially one that, for millions of families, still feels a little uneasy. Even without studies, parents, caregivers and outdoor teachers know the positive impact time to play outside has on their little learners!
Here are 25 of our favorite activities that help kids naturally learn and develop important skills that help them excel in school – all from the best classroom of all… outdoors!
Activities that help kids learn focus:
- Play with Spirals. When kids create or interact with a spiral, they also naturally focus their minds—a great way to cultivate calm and inner peace any time of year.
- Tiny Friends. Take your wee explorers outside and encourage them to explore and discover the tiny critters all around (bonus: this is a great empathy-booster, too!)
- Follow the Arrows. Let’s go on a treasure hunt! This activity is easy to pull off outdoors and leads to all kinds of genuine, child-directed play.
- Hide and Sound. After plenty of impromptu music making, walk around the woods, “instruments” in hand. Make very little sound. Make lots of sound. Drift apart, checking to see if you can still hear each other's sounds.
- Enroll in Fall Tinkergarten’s season, Treasure Hunt! Join us this September as we discover the treasures that are all around us in nature. Kids will be engaged in the kind of wondering, exploring, pretending and problem solving that helps them develop focus!
Activities that build communication skills:
- Take a Listening Walk. This activity encourages families to take a walk with the goal of, not just hearing, but really listening to the sounds all around us.
- Build a Wall. This project gives children multiple ways to participate—gathering sticks, breaking materials down to size, weaving/building, supervising, you name it.
- What to Build. By inviting kids to take on this open-ended challenge, you give them access to nature's endless materials, and grant them the freedom to design, test, redesign and build.
- Mystery Trail Walk. Turn an ordinary trail walk into an extraordinary, magical hunt. What makes it magic? Kids notice unusual objects that you have secretly planted ahead of time.
Activities that promote teamwork:
- Nature Curtains. Make a curtain, and you can turn a small corner of the outdoors into a fort, a stage, a fairy house or even a doorway into another magical world.
- Parts and Wholes. This activity offers kids the chance to pick, pluck and pull apart objects to make their own loose parts and then create something new together!
- Summer Outdoor Games. Hosting a group of kids with multiple ages? Here are a few of our favorite games or activities to offer at your next mixed-age soiree.
- Animal Dance Party. Dancing and singing help kids develop their bodies and can be a great way to learn about animals and spark joy. Take turns inventing new moves!
Activities that foster creativity:
- Nature Treasure Box. Let’s make a nature treasure box—a special holder for the treasures kids find all season long!
- Water Park for Turtles. In this activity, we combine sensory stimulating water play with empathy-boosting, imaginative turtle play.
- Make Sun Catchers. No matter how kids make them, they always dazzle and delight—especially when kids know they made them with their own hands!
- Catching Colors. Watching color splash up on a clear outdoor canvas paves the way for a creative future.
- Make Renewable Art. The act of paper-making is a phenomenal sensory experience and a chance for boundless, yet productive mess-making.
- Make Forest Putty. Take playdough outdoors, rebrand it “forest putty,” shroud it with a touch of mystery and invite kids to play freely with it.
- Magic Petal Potions. To make a potion, kids search, collect, combine, mash, stir, shake, and repeat.
Activities that boost problem-solving skills:
- Make Sun S’mores! Turn a cardboard box into a solar oven and harness the sun’s energy to make your own s’mores—our favorite summer treat!
- Free from the Freeze. This fun activity includes a little creature creation and then a daring mission to rescue these creatures from their frozen pods.
- Pulley Play. Do not be misled by how quick and simple this one is to set up. Pulley play will likely last for a while. And, you can't repeat it often enough.
- Water Fountain for Bees. This super simple activity is a great way to get kids involved in caring for our pollinating friends, while promoting compassionate empathy.
- One Bag of Trash. This weekend, or whenever you can, grab a bag and head out in your neighborhood or local park to gather one bag of trash.