Play equals learning across developmental domains and occurs in many places besides the classroom. Outdoor programming offers children developmentally appropriate experiences with a balance of skills, concepts, games, and learning that support the interests of individual and groups of children. Play environments should be viewed as dynamic resources for learning and child development. Well designed playgrounds can be ideal outdoor classrooms, especially when paired with fun, hands-on experiences. When integrated into play, these programs help deepen children's understanding of skills and concepts, and even meet academic standards (Sattlemair & Ratey, 2009). Children solve problems, negotiate, evaluate and engage in other high cognitive skills such as dramatic and imaginative play. These activities often can be cross-curricular and easily implemented for a new, exciting way to bring learning outside through informal activities and formal outdoor lessons for experiential learning.
Activities that promote math concepts, music through the use of musical playground equipment and rhythm principles, language and vocabulary development, and science concepts such as biology and physics are just a few examples of learning that can occur outdoors.
You may consider bringing learning outside by developing activities around fun themes that interest children. Here are a few to consider:
Children will enjoy activities such as painting with water on the sidewalk, water slides, pools filled with different types of textures and temperatures (mud, jello, ice, soapy water, etc.) car washes, variety of bubble making items, baby washing, mud pies, water sprinklers, bobbing/scooping for items, or creating a "rainforest".
Include a variety of camping activities such as pitching tents, finding specific objects/materials through games like I Spy or Scavenger Hunts, singing camp songs, telling stories, teaching fire prevention, playing pretend games like roasting marshmallows, fishing, and canoeing, and acting out "Going on a Bear Hunt". You can also use a variety of props, such as a compass, sleeping bag, canteens, butterfly nets, lanterns, fishing rods and back packs.
Enact your own "Athletic Games" by having a variety of events between peers. Incorporate an opening ceremony by having flags, costumes, choices of countries to represent, medal ceremonies, and closing ceremonies. Activities can include obstacle course, field games, trike/bike races, shot put by throwing different sized balls, broad and high jump. and various relay races.
Include square dancing with blue grass music, hay rides in wagons with shredded paper and/or hay, sliding down into a "haystack", apple cider and apples to munch, face painting, scooping/bobbing for apples and little pumpkins, picking pumpkins from garden of "patch", painting pumpkins and gourds, exploring pumpkin pulp and seeds, rolling pumpkin relay race, pumpkin and apple hunt, painting with apples, produce stand (decorated cardboard box with props), and even dress up clothing can bring fun fall learning outdoors.
Host a day full of fun with fall leaves! Children can collect leaves for collages, have leaf relay races, rake leaves, sort leaves by colors, match leaves to trees, simulate falling leaves through dance and movement, learn about the process of photosynthesis, and make their own costumes/accessories from leaves.
Set different areas for children to learn about various community helpers through games, meet and greets, and art/learning activities. This is a great way to get the local police, fire, and emergency medical employees engaged.
Kids will love these winter themed activities that can include "snow ball fights" (balled white paper, small sections of white stockings or socks stuffed with soft fillers), "bob sledding" (scooter boards), tracking footprints in the snow, or snowball roll (filled white sturdy trash bags). If real snow is available, make snow angels, build igloos or a snowman, or make snow cream to enjoy!
Around the World
Set up stations to represent different countries, provide props (food, clothing, etc.), use different types of riding toys (scooter boards, tricycles, bicycles, scooter bikes, wagons, and cars) to travel to different countries, make a variety of maps and ask children to follow maps to different "countries" on the playground, or pretend to be flying on an airplane and visit different countries and discuss what you might see and compare and contrast the differences.
Magic of Butterfly Metamorphosis
Plant marigolds to attract butterflies, pretend to be butterflies with wings and props that you make from tissue paper and other simple art supplies, model the life stages of the butterfly, hide plastic butterflies around the playground for children to find, use butterfly nets to catch and release butterflies, or release the butterflies after they hatch from cocoons.
Let children plant seedlings in cups or flower beds, place worms in gardens after learning about their role in enriching the soil, role play "Jack and the Beanstalk", create a community herb or vegetable garden, compare and contrast weeds and plants, and hold taste tests of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Exploring the Seasons
Host a day of kite flying that children make or bring to your site. Other activities can include make wind chimes, learning stations setup with the different seasons, seasonal props to correlate with the season for different activities, and learn about rainbows and find the "Pot of Gold" (smooth rock painted gold).