Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom! January 2015

 

Hey, baby, it’s cold outside!   Don’t let the cold keep you from bundling up for some terrific winter fun.  Challenging your children to move away from their computer and television screens can be difficult during the cold winter months, but the payoff will be tremendous.  Knowing the right outdoor activities for icy winter days is the first step to having an active and healthy winter.  With January’s freezing temperatures, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of the cold weather with a fun experiment!

You might associate blowing bubbles with shorts, bare feet and green grass, but in the winter time, this activity takes on an entirely different dimension.   Simply bundle up the children and venture outside on any day when it’s below 32 degrees and try this: blow a bubble and then catch it on the bubble wand.  Wait a few moments while it freezes and your child will see it turn into a cool crystal ball before it shatters!

You can also make icy crystals with your bubble solution!  Simply dip a large loop into the bubble solution.  Instead of blowing a bubble, watch the crystals grow.  In no time at all, they will form a beautiful lattice structure.

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom! November 2014

 

Two years ago, over 200 Early Childhood educators from Denmark created the “Children’s Nature Canon,” containing the 20 experiences in nature they believe all children should have had before reaching the age of six.  They believe that children who are allowed to test their own borders are better prepared for kindergarten because they know themselves better.  Below are their suggestions:

 

 

  • Climbing trees
  • Playing in tall grass
  • Jumping in puddles
  • Walking on bare feet in the snow
  • Observing a tadpole turn into a frog
  • Eating from nature
  • Swinging from a rope
  • Rolling down a hill
  • Building a den
  • Tasting the soil and sand
  • Muddying themselves and being hosed off with water
  • Eating snow
  • Bathing in rainwater
  • Flying kites
  • Tobogganing
  • The sounds of the forest and ocean
  • The smell of rain
  • Life and death
  • All kinds of weather
  • The beach, the forest, the moor and meadow
  • The feeling of holding a fish or other creature
Outdoor Classroom

The Outdoor Classroom! October 2014

 

Heading out into nature in the crisp October air with the family is a great way to soak up the colorful autumn season and enjoy the outdoors before cold weather sets in.  A walk in the woods, fields or even a city park gives children an opportunity to witness the changing landscape up close.  It’s also a great way to come together after a busy school and work week.

 

The best part about an afternoon or weekend jaunt is that you don’t need special equipment–just some jackets, water and snacks.  You can encourage your children to bring along autumn journals and crayons so they can record their observations and make leaf rubbings, and small paper bags for storing treasures they find along the way.  Once home, your children can use these finds as craft materials.

 

Of course, if you have a yard full of deciduous trees and a yard full of leaves that need raking, there are plenty of ways to play away an autumn day at home:

  • Walk a leafy labyrinth:  When leaves cover the lawn, rake a twisting pathway through them.  Encourage older children to copy a classic maze for extra credit.
  • Find a lollipop.  Hide a wrapped lollipop under a leaf pile.  The first one to find it keeps it.
  • Preserve a leaf.  Bring a mixture of two parts water and one part glycerin (available in most pharmacies) to a boil in a saucepan.   Pour the solution into a heat-proof container. Drop in a few brightly-colored leaves and gently submerge with a wooden spoon.  Keep the container in a cool, dark place until there is a slight change in the leaves’ tints. Gently remove the leaves and blot dry with a paper towel.  Instead of turning brown and crumbly, the leaves will retain their brilliant hues—a wonderful way to preserve autumn’s beauty through the long winter months!
Outdoor Classroom

The Outdoor Classroom- September 2014

The cool crisp air of September is a signal that fall is just around the corner.  The leaves of most trees begin their vibrant color change and fall to the ground.   Of course, if you have a yard full of deciduous trees and a yard full of leaves that need raking, the first reaction of most adults is one of dread—for the time, labor and work involved in cleaning them up.   Take a second look at them, though, and you’ll discover that there are plenty of ways to play away an autumn day in this perfect outdoor classroom.

  • Make a leafy labyrinth for you and your youngsters.  When leaves cover the lawn, rake a twisting pathway through them.  Copy a classic maze for extra credit.
    Challenge the entire family to a rousing game of “Find the Lollipop!”  It’s easy to play: simply hide a wrapped lollipop under a huge leaf pile.  The first one to find it keeps it.  For variation, bury several lollipops in the pile.
  • Preserve a leaf.  Bring a mixture of 2 parts water and 1 part glycerin (available in most pharmacies) to a boil in a saucepan.  Pour the solution into a heat-proof container.  Drop in a few brightly-colored leaves and gently submerge them with a wooden spoon.  Keep the container in a cool, dark place until there is a slight change in the leaves’ tints.  Then remove them and have your youngster blot them dry with a paper towel.  Instead of turning brown and crumbly, the leaves will retain their brilliant hues.
  • Play “Name The Leaf.”   Venture out into the neighborhood or visit local parks with the challenge that each member of the family should collect five unusual leaves.  Back home, try to identify the trees they came from using guidebooks or on-line resources.
  • Rake them into a huge pile and jump in!
Outdoor Classroom

The Outdoor Classroom! August 2014

 

 

Cooking Up Fun in the Backyard

Want to encourage your child’s imagination in the great outdoors?  Why not develop a section of your backyard into a pretend kitchen?  Begin by turning a shelf, an old cabinet, or bookcase into an outdoor play cooking center where your child can mix up mud pies and create dandelion parfaits in the warm sunshine.

Search thrift and second-hand stores, scour garage and estate sales, and dig through your kitchen junk drawer in order to fill the play kitchen with cups, pots and pans, bowls, measuring cups, spoons, wire whisks and more.  As you’re selecting items, allow your imagination to take over: plastic drinking glasses in fancy shapes can be used to create muddy drink concoctions,  a Bundt pan can be used to build a clover-topped cake, and a cookie sheet can help create a rich variety of rocky cookies.  Add an old apron and a few hot pads and your pretend kitchen will be ready for your young chef!

You will be amazed at how ordinary kitchen tools take on a brand new life when used outdoors by a young child!  It’s almost guaranteed that you and your children will have a great time ‘cooking’ and creating together!

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom- July 2014

Sticky Nature Wristband

 

Creating a “nature wristband” is a great way for children to look for patterns, color and texture in the natural world and have a fun, wearable project to show for it!

 

What You Need

  • masking tape
  • items from nature (leaves, flower petals, seeds, moss, bark, etc.)What You Do

    Wrap a piece of masking tape loosely around the wrist with the sticky side facing outward, then head out into a park or your backyard to create your wristband.  Your child can create different wristbands in all kinds of variations: all one color or a variety of colors; following a pattern or in an abstract design, using all one kind of item from nature or as many different types as they can find.  In truth, the possibilities are endless.

     

    Asking questions like  “How many different colors can you find,” “Can you find three different textures to add to your bracelet?” will easily extend your child’s learning—and help their creative juices flow!

 

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom! June 2014

 

Summer is here!!!  Are you looking for some fun outdoor activities to do with your family?  Below are a few ideas to help you and your family celebrate all the fun this season has to offer:

  1. Go on a nature scavenger hunt.  Head out to your favorite forest, desert, swamp or prairie and see who can find everything on the list first!
  2. Visit the zoo.   Make sure to check the schedule ahead of time and plan your visit around keeper talks and animal exhibitions.
  3. Create a sidewalk art gallery.  Grab a bag of colorful chalk (or make your own sidewalk chalk!) and head outside.  Everyone from babies to mom and dad will have a blast creating their own colorful creations.
  4. Have a car wash.  Head out to the garage and soap up your car with the help of the whole family.  Make sure everyone wears bathing suits because this is bound to be a sudsy affair!
  5. Spend a day near water. Do you live near a lake or the ocean?   Grab the whole gang and head out for a day on the sandy shores.
  6. Have a water balloon fight.  Sun beating down and looking for a way to cool off?  How about filling up some water balloons and having the water balloon fight of the century?
  7. Take a night hike.  It’s summertime!  Don’t be afraid to break curfew and live life on the edge.  Grab some flashlights and take a night hike, either just around your neighborhood or, even better, at your local nature preserve.  Listen for all the sounds you hear only a night and keep an eye out for interesting night critters.  Make sure to bring a few blankets also.  After your hike, everyone will enjoy a few moments relaxing under the stars in the open sky.

 

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom- May 2014

Aside from being a fun family activity, planting flowers with young children teaches them about how to care for living things.   As you work together to create something beautiful, planning out a garden and planting flowers with your little ones is a rewarding experience for everyone.  A flower garden can be planted in many different places, including a large pot, a small patch of dirt or throughout your entire backyard.  The amount of space you have does not matter as much as the time you spend with your children creating something in which you can all take pride.

Begin this project by visiting a local nursery or greenhouse to learn about what kinds of flowers will grow well in your location.  Talk with the employees to find out which plants grow well in shady or sunny spots so you can guide your children to choose flowers that will last.  Consider flowers that provide showy results such as sunflowers or petunias.  Allow each of your children to choose one or two varieties that they like.  Guide your children towards plants that produce many flowers or include several different colors in one pot, such as snapdragons, rose moss or cosmos.

 The next step is to prepare your pot or dirt patch for planting.  Fill the pot with potting soil or rake the dirt patch and remove any weeds or debris.  Mix potting soil into the dirt to provide a better growing environment for your flowers.  Use a trowel to dig a small hole.  Show your children how to place the flower into the hole.  Encourage them wear gardening gloves to protect their hands as they dig holes and plant their own flower choices.  Fill in the hole with potting soil or dirt. Demonstrate to your children how to gently pat the soil down around the root of the flower so it doesn’t tip over.

Finally, water the flowers together.  Use a watering can if your children have planted flowers in pots or a garden hose if the flowers are planted in a dirt patch.

Throughout the summer and into fall, enjoy the colorful flowers together!

Outdoor Classroom

The Outdoor Classroom- April 2014

A beautiful spring day is usually motivation enough to get outside and play with your preschooler, but whether you realize it or not, games and activities that are staples of spring — playing catch, jumping rope and pumping on a swing — can help your child develop important physical abilities like hand-eye coordination and gross and fine motor skills.  Grab a few bottles of water, slather on some sunscreen and get ready to try some of these activities with your youngster:

  • Ride a Bike or Trike

Riding a bike, whether it’s a tricycle or a “big kid” bicycle with or without training wheels is a great way to help your little one develop his gross motor skills and eye hand coordination. Plus, it’s a fun family activity that gets you all moving.

  • Play Catch

Playing with a ball offers all sorts of opportunities for kids to utilize different skill sets, whether she throws, catches or kicks.  For the most part, children don’t master catching and throwing until they’re five but in any case, it’s fun to practice.  Use balls of different sizes and take turns throwing and catching.  Start off close together and gradually move further apart.

  • Blow Bubbles

Seems simple enough, but blowing bubbles is actually a tricky skill for preschoolers to master.  Their lips have to be in just the right position and they have to blow the correct way in order to form bubbles.  Most children aren’t able to do this proficiently until about age 3. Handling the wand and the bottle can also get frustrating for little ones — both can get slippery and can spill easily, so start off easy.  Offer a variety of homemade wands (fly swatters, berry baskets and pipe cleaners all work well) and show your child how to dip the wand and wave it to make bubbles.

  • Make the Outdoors Your Canvas

Art takes on a greater magnitude outside.  With sidewalk chalk and paint, help your child to create hopscotch boards, race tracks, a storefront and more.  Practice tracing one another and then draw faces and clothing on the empty forms.  Got an old easel in the garage? Bring it outside for an al fresco art show.

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom! March 2014

 

Spring is here (in most states!) and it will be summer before you know it.  The warm sunshine and soft breezes are beckoning the entire family to venture outside.  Here is a list of 20 quick, simple and fun outdoor activities to get your kids outside without breaking the bank.  Because outdoor adventures with children never have to be elaborate, browse this list and be prepared to have fun!

  1. Go on a bug hunt.
  2. Melt some crayons in the sun.
  3. Play in the sandbox.
  4. Investigate your yard or neighboring park with a magnifying glass.
  5. Paint some rocks with water colors.
  6. Wash the paint away with the hose.
  7. Ride a bike, trike or scooter around the block.
  8. Set up a backyard car wash with sponges, water and trikes.
  9. Wash a real car.
  10. Dig in the dirt with scoops and shovels.
  11. Jump in puddles.
  12. Paint with a fly swatter.
  13. Take a dog for a walk.
  14. Color on the driveway with sidewalk chalk.
  15. Make stepping stones for your garden.
  16. Take some books outside and read under a tree.
  17. Stack and balance rocks.
  18. Find shapes in the clouds.
  19. Make mud pies.
  20. Have an ice cream taste test.