Relaxed summer schedules usually allow more time for more outdoor play, from dawn to dusk and beyond. Free nature play is always encouraged, but when you find yourself scrambling for ideas or want to arm yourself with inspiration, check out this list. I’ve curated more than 36 summer outdoor activities for kids to enjoy in nature, requiring little to no preparation.
Play “sink or float”.
This game is simple but educational! Fill a bucket or container with water and gather a collection of loose parts from nature (sticks, rocks, pine cones, bark, acorns, flowers, etc.) as well as some everyday items (coins, pencils, crayons, dice, etc.).
Before dropping each item into the bucket, have your child guess whether the object will sink or float. Take the opportunity to discuss their opinion (do the biggest ones always sink?) and what determines the outcome: size? shape? weight?… or density?
Try out a new id app.
On your next nature walk, try out a new identification app, such as Seek, LeafSnap, VTree, PlantSnap, iNaturalist, Picture This, Plantnet.
Go rock skipping.
Participate in citizen science.
Find out which citizen science project can be done from your backyard, or contact local nature centers to see if they have ongoing projects. Read our post on citizen science for resources and project suggestions.
Make a sundial.
Use a paper plate or draw a circle on a piece of cardboard. In the very center of the plate or circle, tape a pencil, straw, or strand of (uncooked) spaghetti so that it sits upright, completely vertical. (Instead of tape, try putty or soft clay, which allows for easier adjustments.) Take your “sundial” out to a sunny and level spot.
Draw a line where the shadow falls and write down the current time. Come back one hour later and mark the line and time once again. Be sure to come out at regular 60-minute intervals (2:12, 3:12, 4:12, etc.). Setting a timer would be a great strategy!
If your spot might soon be shaded, move your sundial to a different location, being careful not to rotate it. (Move it right after your last mark, so you can line it up.)
If you can leave the sundial outside (making sure it doesn’t blow away), use it the following day to tell the time!
Make a drip castle/sculpture.
At the beach or in a sandbox, make your own medium with sand and water and drip your way to a masterpiece. Make sure you have a source of water: If you’re at the beach and close to the water’s edge, just dig out a hole in the sand and fill it with water. If you’re in a sandbox, use a bucket.
Mix the sand and water together, making a slurry that is about the consistency of pancake batter. Grab a fistful of sand, then let it drip down your fingers towards the ground, adding drip upon drip as you go. See how high you can get your stalagmite-looking “tower”!
Capture a sunrise or sunset.
Check local times for sunrise and sunset, head out to catch one and take a photo or two. Bonus points for later drawing/painting what you saw!
Paint “en plein air”.
Bring your paints and/or other art supplies outdoors and paint what you see (landscape, flowers, etc.).
Make loose parts art: Insect Friends.
Using twigs for bodies, leaves for wings, berries for eyes, create your own insect friend!
Make loose parts art: Self portrait.
Using a collection of nature’s loose parts, create a self portrait. Grass for hair? Sticks for mouths? Stones for eyes? Try out a few different options and see what you like best!
Find a body of water and dip your feet.
Pick a body of water to explore: a creek, a river, a brook, a lake, a pond, an ocean, a pool, a spray park… Which will you choose today? Dip your feet and feel refreshed!
Dance in the rain.
Embrace the wet weather! Armed with your favorite music (or the music in your head!), head outside and dance away!
Visit a new nature preserve, state/national park.
Research the nature preserves and local/state/national parks in your area. Choose one that you haven’t yet visited and check it out!
Climb a tree.
Find the perfect climbing tree and head higher for a different perspective on your surroundings.
Play outside in the rain.
On the next wet day, head outside for a rainy day adventure! We have numerous activity suggestions.
Go on a bite-sized adventure.
Even if you only have 15 minutes, make time for a mini adventure outside:
- Walk around the neighborhood.
- Take a snack outside.
- Do a listening exercise (sit spot and listen).
- Go for a barefoot texture walk: take off your shoes/socks and see how it feels to walk across different surfaces.
- Play “I Spy” in your backyard.
Go on a scavenger hunt.
Go on a WOW walk.
Head out on a nature walk and see what makes you go WOW. A huge burl? Interesting fungi? A spiderweb? A delicate flower?
Go for a rainbow hunt at the beach (or creek or lake).
Scan the beach or lakeside for seaglass or pebbles in a range of color. Can you make a rainbow?
Choose a favourite tree.
In a location that you can access regularly (backyard, local park), choose your favorite tree. Why is it your favorite? Write a poem about it, hug it, take photos of it. Then return several times a year and note how it changes throughout the season.
Go on a color-matching walk.
Before going on a nature walk, gather a few items from your home: crayons, colored pencils, paint swatches, scraps of paper. Can you match their colors to things you find in nature?
Go on an insect hunt.
Head into nature and see how many different insects you can find. Insects are often found under leaf litter, under rocks, under sticks, in shrubs, on flowers, in the grass, and on rotting logs. Lift up a leaf, rock, or piece of wood, but try not to disturb the area too much (and put them back in place). If you don’t immediately know what you’ve found, consider the following strategies:
- Bring an identification book with you and compare its descriptions and images;
- Take a photo of the insect and consult an insect book when back at home;
- Use an insect-identifying app on a smartphone to help you determine the species you’ve found.
Play nature “I Spy”.
In one of your quiet moments in nature (in your sit spot, while on a snack break, etc.), play a game of nature “I Spy”. Use multiple descriptors (color, size, shape, texture, etc.) and see if you can guess each other’s sightings!
Visit a local pond or wetlands.
Look for turtles, frogs, snakes, insects. How do the plant life and animal life differ from those in your backyard?
Go for a rainbow walk.
When in nature, can you find the colors of the rainbow in the plants, birds, animals around you?
Go on an evening pajama walk.
Before bedtime, head outside in your pajamas and take a walk around your neighborhood. Every few minutes, stop and listen. What sounds do you hear? What is different from a daytime walk?
Do a tree shake.
Place a sheet or blanket under the branches of a small tree. Shake the trunk or branches of the tree and see if anything falls out! Sit down next to the sheet and examine it closely. Any insects? Seeds?
Go berry picking.
Pick your own berries at a berry farm or in the wild (with a knowledgeable adult who know which ones are edible).
Make a fairy garden / gnome home.
Using materials that you find in nature, make a fairy garden or gnome home. Will it have a roof? Is it a lean-to?
Make a bee bath.
Find a shallow vessel (such as a plate, lid or bird bath) that you can leave outside. Place in a sunny, sheltered spot. (Especially near where you have seen bee activity.) Choose clean pebbles or rocks and place them around the plate. These will serve as “landing pads” for the bees, as they cannot swim. Having a dry spot to land allows them to safely stand when drinking. Consider rough, textured rocks/pebbles that will offer some measure of traction (not a slippery surface). This is a great way to give purpose to all those rock treasures that come home with you after a nature walk! Add clean water, allowing the pebbles to rise above the water level. Check daily and re-fill when necessary.
Make a stick raft.
Using a few loose parts (sticks, bark, leaves), build a raft to float in a nearby water source.
Plant a butterfly garden.
Support your beautiful pollinators with a butterfly garden. Research native plants that are good sources of nectar, are brightly colored (especially red, orange, yellow, pink, purple flowers), bloom throughout the season, and are beneficial to both caterpillars and butterflies. Find a wealth of helpful information here and here.
Play tic tac toe with loose parts.
Using loose parts from nature (sticks, rocks, pinecones, shells, nuts, etc.), set up a tic tac toe “board” on the ground. Use the sticks to make your grid, then make sure your play pieces can easily be distinguished from each other: (e.g., use rocks for Os, shells for Xs). If the game becomes too predictable, try your own twist: closing your eyes and throwing your game pieces at the grid, hoping it lands in an empty space.
Play an “old school” game.
Go outside with friends and play an “old school” game! Hopscotch, Four Square, Kick the Can, Freeze Tag… which is your favorite?
Play card games outside.
On a not-so-windy day, take your deck of cards and enjoy a game of Go Fish, War, Rummy, etc.
Play a memory game.
Using loose parts you’ve collected in nature (stick, stone, feather, fern, acorn, berry, flower, etc.), play a memory game.
- In a small group (or pair), appoint a leader.
- The leader chooses a certain number of pieces for their collection and put them out on display. (Fewer items for younger children, more for older children.)
- When the leader is ready, everybody has the opportunity to study the the collection and memorize the different objects.
- The leader then asks everyone to turn their backs or close their eyes and removes a single object from the collection.
- The players then turn around (or open their eyes) and try to identify the missing object. If the players are unable to guess the missing object, the leader can give hints.
- Tips: Choose objects that are distinct from each other. For older children, consider removing two or more objects at a time.
With loosened schedules and warmer weather, many of us try to spend most of the summer outdoors with adventures aplenty. But if you’re looking for a space somewhere between grand adventures and free play, consider some of these summer outdoor activities for your kids. Help them connect with nature, be creative and have fun!
Check out our Summertime Outdoor Activities Bundle for even more resources.