Outdoor Exploration Activities - Action for Healthy Kids
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Outdoor Exploration Activities

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Spending time outdoors and in nature is good for both the body and the mind. Some of our favorite activities such as walking, hiking, and biking are done outdoors and it’s a great space for unstructured creative play. Interacting with nature provides opportunities for discovery and creative thinking and supports social-emotional growth and development. Build the outdoors into your day to day – whether opting to play outside or bringing nature to you with arts and crafts.

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Get creative when exploring the great outdoors and use your imagination to turn the things around you into so much more.

  • Set up a treasure hunt. Work with children to brainstorm a list of “treasures” found outside (e.g. flowers, a bug, animal tracks, a smooth rock, etc.) Explore the backyard, playground, or park to see what all can be found. Invite children to draw, journal, or take a picture of what they find and compare to other outdoor spaces. To make it a little more challenging – have children identify or look for certain items that have a specific shape, color, or purpose (e.g. used for cooking or in medicine, can be used to build a shelter, food, etc.). Need inspiration? Start with these scavenger hunt ideas.
  • Take a nature book walk. Get a book at the library on plants, flowers, birds local to your area or research online and invite children to write down in a journal or draw.  Using the pictures see what you can identify by looking outside your window try to match various characteristics or categorize and support learning and reading development.
  • Create art. Items collected or found in nature make for a great art project.  A little glue and seeds on construction paper or crayons and leaf rubbings are all ways to find ways to incorporate nature into other activities.
    • Leaf rubbing. Gather pretty leaves, branches, or twigs. Lay the items out on a table and grab two pieces of paper and crayons. Lay one leaf on a piece of paper and place the other piece of paper on top. Hold the leaf in place by pressing down on the paper and rub the side of a crayon across the leaf. You’ll start to see the print of the leaf come through almost like magic! Repeat to make a collage with all of the items you’ve collected and use different colors.
    • Paint rocks. As simple as that! Gather rocks that have a smooth surface and are somewhat flat. Using paints, decorate with patterns and drawings, or turn them into little creatures or pretty flowers. Let dry and place in your garden or near a windowsill.
    • Make a birdfeeder. Using items found in nature and recyclables from home including a paper towel or toilet paper rolls – you can make simple bird feeders to hang outside your window. Whether in your backyard or on a small balcony, bring nature closer to home!
  • Use tools to explore. Bug catchers, magnifying glasses, shovels, and treasure boxes out of old shoe boxes are all great ways for children of all ages to collect and explore items found. Invite them to explore on their own and share a story of their adventure or encourage them to lead the family in an outdoor expedition.
  • Go fruit or vegetable picking. Find a local pick your own farm and determine what items are in season.  Kids love to pick AND eat.  If you can’t make it to a local farm, try growing some of your own from table scraps or by planting a garden.
  • Take a hike. Whether finding a local path or getting out of town, hiking can give kids a sense of accomplishment, as well as build their endurance.  Exploring new trails is a great way to experience new locations, wildlife, and realize how vast the world actually is. No trails nearby? Take a walk around the neighborhood and see what nature has to offer right in your backyard.


Exploring nature together is a great way to spend time as a family, too. Older kids and younger kids can work together or can explore more independently or using age-appropriate activities.

Remember to model respect for nature and helping to instill that respect in others. Discuss responsible collecting and make sure you’re in an area where it’s permitted. Clean up any trash and be mindful of animals in their natural home.

Don’t be afraid to get dirty! Sometimes a little play with dirt, water, sand, and mud is all that’s needed. Explore different senses such as the feeling of grass under your feet, the sound of leaves crunching, or the smell after a fresh rainstorm.

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