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Play and Learn Outside

Just being outdoors together is a good way to spend time with your family. But with just a little planning you can multiply the benefits.

Walk and Learn

Whether you walk around the block, in a city park, or through an official wildlife preserve, you can build a great learning experience and improve your child's observation skills.

  • Look for things whose names start with the same letter as your child's name—Bernardo can find birds, butterflies, buildings, and bugs; Sandra can find squirrels, sand, sunshine, and swirls made by the wind. If your child knows all the letter sounds, take an "alphabet walk" and try to find something that starts with every letter of the alphabet.

  • Challenge your child to find things that are under other things. Pick up rocks to find pill bugs; look under logs to find worms; pick up leaves to find ants. Remind children not to bother the animals they find.

  • Help children observe with their ears. As you walk, listen for different sounds—natural and human-made. Can they identify what they hear? Can they identify cars passing by, footsteps, birds chirping, dogs barking, the wind blowing through the trees, acorns falling, chipmunks scurrying through dry leaves?

  • We're missing a lot if we just say leaves are green. Challenge your child to find different colors and shades of green. Why are some leaves on the same bush or tree different colors? (New growth is usually lighter in color than older growth.)

Find Out More

Take a bag on your walk to bring home things you would like to learn more about.

  • Learn about basic flower parts: petals, stems, and leaves. Then, have children look closer to find more: the stamen (the thin stems around the inside of the flower that end with fuzzy bits); the pistil (the central inner tube that sticks up); the sepal (the green petal-like parts that grow at the bottom of the flower).

  • Gather interesting leaves and place them around the floor. See how many different characteristics your child can describe. (Some leaves are rounded; some are pointed. Some leaves have smooth edges; some have rough edges. Some leaves have only one point; others have many points. Some leaves have large, thick veins; some veins are small and spidery.)

  • Take pictures of birds you see on an early morning walk. Then, use these pictures and a bird-identification book or the Internet to find out more about the different birds that share your world.

Family Nature Book

A family nature book can catalog the many things you and your family do and see outdoors. It can include:

  • Pictures of the family playing in different areas outdoors—from the backyard to a nature preserve.

  • Lists of the names of animals and plants that live in your area or that you have observed when traveling together.

  • Dried flowers and leaves or rubbings of flowers and leaves made with crayons on paper.

  • Drawings of favorite things from the outdoors.

  • Landscape drawings of what you see from your window, or as you travel by car, or sit in the park or at the beach.

  • Plastic bags of the different kinds of soils or rocks you’ve found as you walked or traveled.

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Updated on 3/21/2012