Adventure awaits in your own backyard! Connection to nature (and a whole lot of fun) can be found with these easy backyard nature activities.
You don’t have to go far to have an intimate and rewarding interaction with nature. Sometimes the idea of getting our children to have a meaningful experience in the outdoors can be intimidating, thinking that “adventures” need advance planning and a different location. But with a few fresh ideas, backyard play can be inspired and inspiring! Read on for several suggestions for backyard nature fun.*
The preparation for this activity is an activity in and of itself! Ask your children to gather some natural materials from around the yard: sticks, rocks, pinecones, etc. Then use those materials to “draw”! Start with self-portraits (sticks for hair, acorns for eyes, pinecone for nose, etc.), then let them decide their next masterpiece.
Using some of the same materials as before, encourage your children to make patterns and create a nature mandala using their newfound loose parts. Starting with a central point, have them build a pattern in concentric circles, one layer at a time.
Have your children pull together a collection of sticks, the straighter the better. If they are old enough, challenge your children to design their own maze out of sticks, possibly mapping it out on paper ahead of time. If they’re not quite old enough, you get to be the maze master! Tailor the difficulty to the age of your children, sit back and watch them find their way! (Consider putting their snack in the middle as a prize for completion.)
BACKYARD SQUARE STUDY
Mark off a square in your backyard using sticks and string, somewhere between a square foot to a square yard. (Or make it round by using a hulahoop!) Ask your kids look at it quickly, jot down what they see. Then, ask them to spend more time, get closer (on their hands and knees) and see what else they notice. Is it just grass, or are there other plants? Any insects? Any seeds? If leaves, what kind of leaves? Write or draw what they see, also noting the weather, date, time. Check back as often as you’d like (hourly, daily, weekly) to see if anything has changed. (Has the grass grown? Are there any new leaves? Do you notice different insects?) Have your kids choose the next square and repeat!
Ask your kids to collect like items from your backyard or other natural space: acorns, smooth stones, pinecones, leaves, etc. Then have them organize their collection however they choose. After they’ve presented the collection, discuss other ways that to organize or classify their collection; by size, color, shape, etc. Repeat, enjoy!
LOOK FOR INSECT LIFE
Walk around your backyard, local park or nearby trail. Gently lift up (then replace) sticks, rocks, dry leaves, fallen branches. Do you see any insects? (hint: try cool, damp places) Take a picture of any that you see, then identify and draw them when you get back home.
If your child is uncomfortable with insects, consider ways to help them overcome their fear.
“SIT SPOT” and READ
Find a “sit spot” in your yard or a local park: on a rock, under a favorite tree, in the middle of the lawn. Set out a towel, tarp, blanket or chair, dress appropriately and read a favorite book. Depending on the weather, this might be a short activity, but it can be done in any season!
“SIT SPOT” and LOOK
Using the same “sit spot”, take time to look around you. Sit quietly, minimize distractions, and look at your surroundings. What do you see in nature? Birds flying, leaves fluttering, ice melting, water dripping, branches swaying? Write them down and choose one to draw later.
“SIT SPOT” and LISTEN
Head out to your “sit spot”. Close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Sounds of civilization, sounds of nature? Cars, wind, birds? Write them down, repeat a different day, compare.
Using items that you find in your yard and nearby (logs, hula hoops, rope, branches, stumps), make your own obstacle course. Jump over this, crawl under that, balance on this, race from here to there. Try it out, tweak anything that didn’t work for you, repeat! Record the different steps and try re-arranging them next time.
Keep a weather journal! Record the date, time, temperature, then jot down what you observe of:
- precipitation: rain, sleet, snow, hail, wintry mix, etc.
You can also consider adding a prediction for the next day’s weather. Be sure to circle around to see if you were correct.
If possible, check the weather at approximately the same time each day, allowing for more accurate comparisons (especially when comparing the temperature).
Choose your favorite scavenger hunt, whether it’s a checklist or bingo-style. You can choose a scavenger hunt that has specific targets (a bird, a round stone, a nest, etc.), or one that is more open-ended, in the style of I Spy (something that is smooth, something that is etc.)
If you’re looking for ways to encourage outdoor play and help foster a connection with nature at any time of the year, give these a backyard nature activities a try! And when outside time is purported to be “boring”, read your kids the list. Your kids are sure to find one to enjoy!
*If you don’t have access to a backyard, many of these activities can be done at a local park or school ground.