Some of my best memories as a child are outside. I had the privilege of growing up with a garden, near to parks, woods, and fields that stretch for miles around the whole town. I remember making mud pies, running through sprinklers, sneakily pulling petals off my mother’s roses to mix together to make ‘perfume’. Walking through the woods and hiding in bird spotting sheds, sliding each other over the ice when the lake froze on dark days.
The benefits of being outdoors for children are endless and there’s something special about seeing children come alive once you let them loose in an open, natural space. One of the schools I did a teacher training placement had bought up the empty space around their playing fields and created a massive outdoor area for the children to roam and explore. The difference in the children’s behaviour and attitude to the work was incredible and seeing them explore and develop in the space was an amazing experience.
My uni gave us a Forest School experience day to try and promote our use of the outdoor area and so on a cold winter day a group of us students trudged down to the woods and did our best to bring out their child-like enthusiasm. I’ll be honest, it was very early and very cold and it took a while to kick in but given the chance to play hide and seek in a forest and make mud creatures, I don’t care what age you are, it’s fun.
It’s pretty much what you think. The Forest School Association describes the practice as: “an inspirational process, that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees”. In short: getting kids outdoors and experiencing nature in a number of ways, such as:
Natural Dyeing / Natural Printing on Fabric
WHAT YOU NEED: Pieces of absorbent fabric, hammer or a rock, leaves, flowers, petals, etc.
WHAT YOU DO: You need somewhere flat and sturdy to work on; we used a tree stump as our base. There’s a couple of ways to do the actual dyeing – you can put the fabric down flat and work right on top or either fold or put two pieces together like a sandwich. The designs above are from a single folded piece of fabric with the leaf in between. Then hammer away until you see the colour come through.
WHAT YOU NEED: Trees, Clay, Mud, twigs, leaves, and petals to decorate.
WHAT YOU DO: Design faces with the clay using the tree as a canvas. You can mix in mud, leaves, petals, twigs to decorate or use a theme like monster faces or alien faces. This can be a good activity to use to learn about facial features, expressions, and emotions by talking about what features are used and why they’ve chosen to use a certain feature or expression.
Flour Floor Murals
[Sorry for the blurry pictures but by this point my fingers were frozen solid!]
WHAT YOU NEED: Flour or icing sugar, and you can use a sieve or something to make it fall more powdery than clumpy. You also need to clear a space of leaves or debris so you can clearly see the designs.
WHAT YOU DO: You can create patterns or pictures by either pouring the powder out in lines or using a sieve over things like hands or leaves, as you would use a stencil.
You can use spare wool, garden twine, string, shoelaces, or anything you really have available. Weave in leaves and petals.
Drawing with Light and Shadow
You can do this on any scale, using small sketch or notebooks or even taking a roll of old wallpaper or cheap drafting paper outside. Lay the paper down under trees in the shadow and trace around the areas of light and dark, and then paint in the gaps. Try different variations and textures by using mud, charcoal, watercolours, crumpled wet leaves etc.
This activity promotes children’s creativity and motor skills (pencil/brush control), and you can also use it to bring in some scientific and nature skills with the discussion of light and shadow.
This is a great activity to not only promote creativity and exploration, but also fine motor skills and pattern recognition, which is part of the Maths National Curriculum statements. You can take plastic needles and thread or use sticks you find in the forest. Tip: take a pencil sharpener to sharpen twigs to use as needles.
- Good old fashioned scavenger hunt – can use themes such as colour or shape.
- Make a little obstacle course based on the child’s ability, climbing over pieces of wood, uneven ground etc.
- Stamp art – if it’s been snowing get out and get stamping a trail in a pattern.
- Texture rubbings – take crayons and paper and rub over different textures to create patterns.
- Texture stones – use some of the clay from the faces and form balls, push them into different textures and peel off or push twigs or flowers into them to create little paperweights or poke a hole in them to make baubles.
- Stick wands – wrap ribbons and wool around sticks to create wands and dance sticks.
- Fort building using old sheets or tarps and string or just create open structures by binding sticks together.
- Lie down and find shapes in the clouds.
- Ordering things biggest to smallest, lightest to darkest, longest to shortest.
You can always find more ideas on my Kids: Outdoor and Nature Pinterest board.
Let me know if there’s any activities you’ve done that I haven’t mentioned!