Nature provides the best excuse for outdoor activities where kids get down and dirty! Tap into your child’s built-in curiosities about the natural world with these inexpensive activities that guarantee giggles and memories. Your children will learn without even knowing it.
Nature provides a natural learning laboratory for children to understand how the world grows and changes. When children neglect the natural lab, they loose their innate curiosity for nature and the environment, losing the connection and concern for their natural world.
Put sunscreen on your kids for outdoor activities and have them put on clothes that can get dirty. You can even look at fun books for inspiration. Then, provide supervision for your little ones outside, of course.
1: Food Prints
Fruits and vegetables make interesting stamps for note cards, wrapping paper or spring art. Paper bags work well. Apples are easy to work with and make nice prints. Cut the fruit or vegetable in half and blot it onto a paper towel to absorb any juices before painting it with a thin coat of tempera paint. Press the coated half onto your paper surface. It will take a few trial-and-errors to determine if you need more or less paint for your print. Pear, eggplant, carrot and squash halves all form interesting designs.
2: Painted Rock Markers
Transforming ordinary rocks into garden markers, paperweights or gifts is fun and artistic. Collect medium size rocks and wash them with your child in a sink, bucket or big bowl. Once they dry, use tempera paint or markers to bring designs to life. Your child can make markers for your new garden by painting the name of the plant or vegetable on a rock and adding a creative nature design. The decorated rocks can be given as gifts to family members, teachers or friends.
3: Compost Capers
Kids can compost, too. Help your child gather grass clippings, old leaves and kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds, eggshells and fruit and vegetable peels (no meat, bones or fat). With adult supervision, your child can chop the compost material into smaller pieces that will produce finished compost more quickly. Mix all of the ingredients together and pile in a sunny, out-of-the-way location. Push down the center to make a dent or depression and thoroughly moisten with water. Wait a few days and mix everything up again with the shovel and water. Watch the pile, which may steam as it warms up and the pieces break down into compost. Once the entire pile is a rich, dark color, the compost is ready to use. This may take from one to several months, depending on temperature, size of ingredients and amount of mixing.
4: Wiggle Worm “Terrarium”
Use that old five- or 10-gallon aquarium in the basement to create a composting ecosystem. Even if the aquarium leaks, it will be fine for this use. Tear black-and-white newspaper into thin strips and moisten with water. Line the bottom of the aquarium with 4 inches of strips. Cut vegetable and fruit scraps and rinsed eggshells into small pieces and add about a 1-inch layer of this kitchen mixture, stirring in with the paper. Purchase red wiggler worms and gently add them to the top of the mixture — they will wiggle their way down. Keep a lid on the container tight enough to keep them from escaping but roomy enough for some air movement. Watch the wigglers turn the mixture into compost for the garden or houseplants. Keep moist — not wet — and add more of the newspaper strips and kitchen mixture (maintaining the 4:1 ratio) as needed.
5: Hummer Haven
Hummingbirds are no strangers to Middle Tennessee. Watching them hovering, wings reaching speeds of 60 miles per second, is magical. Work with your child to create hummer attractions. Although the little birds will visit plants of other colors, they prefer red tubular flowers. Purchase annual flowering plants such as red salvia and fuchsias. Hummingbirds are also drawn to perennial plants that come up every year such as azaleas, flowering quince and honeysuckle. Colorful hanging baskets, containers and windowboxes of salvias, impatiens and petunias will brighten your deck and invite hummingbirds to hover and perform at close range.
6: Water Works
Children gravitate to water. The next time it rains, go splash around in puddles or take a walk in the rain. As long as it is not storming, have fun. After the rain ends and the sun comes out, look for rainbows and smell the difference in the air. Measure the rainfall in your area with an inexpensive plastic rain-measuring gauge. Place it in your yard or on your deck and let your child record the rainfall each week or month. Or, purchase an animal fountain or water sprinkler at a local garden center. Standing copper fountains in fun shapes such as snails, bugs, flamingos and butterflies are attractive and reasonably priced, providing a safe water play experience for your child. On a warm day, give kids a bucket of water and a paintbrush and encourage them to paint the sidewalk or the house with water. Explain evaporation as they observe how quickly the water disappears. Don’t forget that birds and butterflies enjoy water too. A birdbath or a large saucer in your yard filled with water will invite them. Line the bottom and sides with rocks for hummingbirds to perch on while they drink or with sand for butterflies.
7: Growing Names
“Write” your child’s name in plants. It’s a perfect time to prepare a planting bed about two-foot by four-foot. Sketch out names on paper to judge the desired size and proportion. Draw the names in the prepared bed with agricultural lime or outline it with a stick. Purchase easy-to-grow curly or upland cress seed (tightly ruffled-leaf herb). Plant the fast-growing seed thickly within the design for each letter. Cover lightly with soil and keep moist until germination. Continue to water the plants when the soil seems slightly dry. The leaves add a tasty tang to salads or sandwiches.