Outside activities for kids that promote drawing, reading, writing and math, help children find meaningful ways of using skills they have previously learned. Include lots of opportunities for movement between times when the children record information and draw pictures of their observations. Keep activities fun and relaxed and not too structured.
Make “I Wonder Why…” books
1. Whether you live in a rural area or in the city, take an “I wonder why…” walk with the children (or bring items into your classroom if weather prohibits this).
2. Gather a clipboard, paper, and a pencil and ask the kids to come up with as many “I wonder…” questions as they can think of as you wander outside.
3. Record the children’s “I wonder why” statements and put their names beside them to refer to later.
If you have a lot of students, this activity is easier if you bring, for example, bugs or other live creatures into the classroom and put them in a large glass jar or aquarium. Then you can record the children’s, “I wonder why” statements throughout the day and focus their attention on one or two of the statements at a time.
Children might come up with questions like…
- I wonder why only pill bugs live under the log…
- I wonder why this leaf is curled and stuck together…
- I wonder why the plants can grow in the cracks of the sidewalk…
- I wonder why the little birds are chasing that crow…
4. Children investigate one question at a time by exploring on the spot or by finding and reading library books on the subject.
Using short periods of time examining and investigating objects, captures children’s attention and challenges them to inquire, to develop problem-solving skills and helps them to think independently. It also provides many opportunities to increase students’ vocabularies.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to do this, it’s covered in a step by step way in my ebook, Challenging Children to Investigate with Everyday Things.
5. Children create a book that has the cover title, I wonder why… (complete their question), then record their findings inside. Download the free copy of the, I Wonder Why… cover , or have students design their own.
6. Children insert as many blank pages as they need, then staple their book together.
Make a “5 Things I Notice About …” book
After an exploratory trip outside, bring a slow-moving animal such as a slug, a snail or caterpillars inside for an hour or two for the children to study.
While outside, have kids notice…
- The habitat of the animal. Is it dry? wet? Are there sticks? rocks?
- Gather a few items from around the area where you found the creature.
- Place the items in a big glass restaurant jar or aquarium.
- Add a few drops of water.
- Only keep the animal for an hour or two in a shady area and then let it go.
- Mini-books – Cut 2 piece of photocopy paper in half and then stack and fold all the pieces and staple to make a mini-book. This will make enough pages to write on one side only as felt markers may bleed through the pages.
- One felt markers per child for drawing
- Crayons for coloring in their drawings (coloring with felt markers often makes the drawings unrecognizable!)
- Magnifying glasses
- Children observe the creature collected
- Encourage the students to notice 5 different things about the creature.
E.G. “5 things I notice about the snail”
- Make a booklet yourself and encourage children to draw pictures, make labels and arrows on their diagrams and to print short sentences about the animal.
- Keep a library of the children’s mini-books and read them together. Compare observations.
- Express the importance of returning the creature back to its natural environment and placing it carefully out of harms way.
- Teach the four Ls of learning from living creatures: Look at them, learn about them, let them go (after an hour or two), then leave them alone.
- Role play how it would feel to be stuck in a jar in the hot sun and the importance of only studying a living creature for a short time
Outside activities that help children make collections…
Collections are great and may later be used for further investigations and comparisons. The simple grid below keeps children from gathering too many objects. Ask children to come up with ideas of items to collect. Help them to narrow their focus if necessary.
A note about clipboards:
Gather clipboards at the beginning of the year. Having one for each child makes it easier to complete outdoor observations throughout the year. Securely tape a black felt marker to each clipboard with packing tape. I removed the lids from the markers when I passed out the clipboards because some always got lost outside! When each child comes back inside they put the lid on their markers.
- Cardboard or paper the size of the clipboards for each child or pair of children
- A clipboard for each child or pair of children with dark felt marker and string taped on to it (Crayola sells sets of black markers)
- Double sided tape
- Make a grid like the one in the image with a permanent marker on the cardboard or paper. Don’t worry about it being perfect, the kids don’t care.
- Children can make their own grids if you like.
- Make fewer grid sections for younger children who print larger and more for those more skilled at printing
- Put a piece of double-sided tape in each square.
- Have fun!
- Attach a grid to a clipboard and go outside.
- For different excursions suggest that children look for different items to collect.
- Suggestions –
- Things that are round
- Things that are brown
- Things that fall from trees
- Things that are light
- Seed pods in the garden
- Children gather items and then stick them on their grid
- They investigate items and try to print the name of each item underneath.
Extending the activity
When the children are inside,
- they can cut along the grid lines
- sort their own objects
- compare what they gathered to what their friends found
- compare and contrast items, measure items