As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it’s easy to hibernate (indoors) similar to our fellow mammalian friends. The feelings of coziness and comfort (and epic amounts of food from the holidays) that the fall weather brings can be enough to call it quits on staying active even before the weekend begins.
But the research is in, and we know that playing outside helps children in many ways, including improved physical and mental health, increased collaboration, and strengthened executive function skills like multitasking and being creative.
I know it might take a little convincing to get your family to head outside, so I’ve put together some of my favorite nature-based activities that will engage and inspire your whole family to take in the benefits of being outdoors.
Preschool Through Second Grade
- Sorting and Ordering: Collect Autumn Leaves: Here’s an easy and fun fall activity for even your littlest learner. While taking a nature walk with your child, collect colorful leaves and sort them. Not only will this simple project help your child learn valuable math and science concepts of sequencing and size, but they’ll also get a chance to appreciate the beauty of nature and its changing seasons as they create a pretty leaf collage.
- Patterns in Nature: Interconnections and patterns are all around us, and they are especially visible in nature! In this social-emotional learning activity, your child will go on a nature scavenger hunt to look for patterns in nature and take time to experience the wonder of natural beauty. This is a great activity to help your child build skills around self-management, managing relationships, and mindful seeing.
- Autumn Tree Paintings: This hands-on art and science activity engages children in mixing autumn colors. Create a full nature-based experience by taking a nature walk prior to creating your paintings. As you walk through your community, local park, or neighborhood, ask your child to think about what colors they see on the trees. For example, some maple trees are vibrant orange and yellow. Other trees mix red and brown. Still others blend green and yellow. Record their ideas on a piece of paper. When you get home, use your child’s ideas to paint what you saw in nature!
- Color Spy: Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and indulge in a colorful game of I Spy while you’re at it! Kids love this classic game, and this color-themed version is just as fun but twice as educational. Create a challenge for older children by encouraging them to use unique adjectives to describe each color (e.g., the vibrant pink flower). Help your child come up with ideas to support language development and creativity.
Third Grade through Fifth Grade
- Discover the Colors of Fall: This nature-based activity has kids go out into their community (with an adult), and then create their very own book all about fall. Using photographs from their trip outdoors as the artwork, children will write their own book about what they saw, putting into practice their knowledge of grammar, complete sentences, and sensory words. This activity will inspire adults and kids alike to take time to explore the beauty in their community and discover the colors of fall while developing their descriptive and creative writing skills.
- Listening for Silence at Home: Encourage your child to take a walk outside, listen to the silence in between sounds, and draw what the experience was like for them. This activity is a great way for your child to practice mindfulness and communication skills while connecting with the world around them.
- Everyday Darwin: Create a Nature Journal: Here’s an activity that encourages your child to tap into their inner scientist as they research and track a native species. By creating an interactive observation notebook, your child will strengthen their organizational skills and get a chance to see the world from a different point of view. Get involved in this activity by creating your own interactive observation notebook. Next, compare and contrast your findings!
- Nature Appreciation Walk: Showing gratitude for family and community is essential, but let’s not forget our gratitude for nature. Use this writing worksheet during a nature walk to remind your learner of the beauty and bounty of nature and how worthy it is of our appreciation. First, children will go on a nature walk (with a grown-up) and write and draw their observations. Then they will write about their appreciation of nature in a letter. Engage the whole family—encourage everyone to write their own letters of appreciation!
Other resources to inspire your nature-based adventures:
- Nature Journal: Nature is not only the biggest classroom, it is often the best teacher of all. Use this nature journal to inspire kids to get outside and learn in the great outdoors.
- Mandala Coloring: This mandala coloring worksheet creates an opportunity for students to color in a nature mandala and create their own illustration as a reminder of the impermanence of the gifts to be found in nature.
- Nature Sketchbook: Celebrate the fall season with this nature sketchbook, perfect for any lover of the outdoors! Just cut out each page and bind them together, and you’re ready for some hiking and observing of the beautiful sights that autumn has to offer.
Most studies that look into the benefits of outdoor play agree on a few important things: Kids who play outside are happier, more attentive, and less anxious (see this article from the Child Mind Institute for more information). So spend some time outside today, and don’t forget to dress for the weather!
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.