Mother Nature: Outdoor Learning Opportunities and Activities

Take the children in your care outside to play and experience nature’s lessons

Children are like little scientists, learning about the world through exploration, experimentation, and repeated attempts with different approaches until a discovery is made. The great outdoors serves as the ideal laboratory for their informal educational pursuits.

Children enjoy being outside, feeling the sun on their face, getting dirty, and experiencing the freedom that comes with spending time in the open. Nature serves as an excellent teacher, and the learning opportunities it contains can include every subject and part of life.

Loosely structured play and time spent outdoors are the perfect ingredients to a great day with the added benefit of educational opportunities.

Ideas for playing outside

Delight the children in your care by offering fun outdoor learning activities. While it’s true that playing outside can involve some additional challenges, such as being appropriately dressed, having adequate sunscreen or shade, and an increased need for awareness, it’s worth it for the change in the learning environment.

Consider the following ideas to add outside enjoyment to your care-giving curriculum.

Scavenger hunt

Spend some time alone in nature to prepare and either take photos or collect samples of various elements, such as leaves, petals, seeds, or pebbles. Create a list by either compiling the pictures or taping samples to a piece of paper or poster board. Explain what a scavenger hunt is and the expectations for outdoor behavior before heading outside.

Either explore as a group, break them into small teams, or let each child conquer the challenge individually if you’re able to supervise the children appropriately in the space available.


There are so many lessons to be learned through gardening. The basic ideas behind the growing cycle, plant parts, nutrition, and the responsibility and commitment involved with nurturing life. Obviously, gardening is a longer-term activity, but the rewards are bountiful. Use plants that are easy to grow in your region – fruits, vegetables, and colorful flowers are all great options for keeping children interested. Dedicate a small area to a raised bed or container garden and start your seeds. Give children simple responsibilities like planting, watering, and weeding.


The great outdoors is the perfect place to experiment with art because it’s easy to clean up. Roll out butcher paper and small trays of paint, and work together to create a classroom mural or bring out some sidewalk chalk and let children decorate walkways or a safe area of the parking lot that represent their personalities. Use this time to have them practice shapes, letters, or numbers.

Water play

Playing with water is always fun and ideal to do outside. Set up some shallow bins full of water and add cups, scoops, eye droppers, sponges, strainers, boats, foam alphabet letters, or any other interesting items you can think of and allow children to splash and play on a sunny day.

Nature walk

Spend some time discussing the five senses before heading outside for a nature walk. Bring a notebook and stop periodically to ask children what they see, hear, smell, or how something feels when they touch it. Bring a natural snack such as fruit or veggies to incorporate taste, as well. Talk about the walk when you return and review your list of sensory experiences.

Adding variety to the daily routine is the perfect way to keep children engaged and excited about learning. Find a way to include nature in your lessons and help the children in your care develop interest and curiosity in the environment they live in as you show them the joy of playing outside.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.


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