The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Olivia Coombe

Five fantastic outdoor activity ideas

Outdoor play is vital in a child's development and offers many opportunities which could not be granted indoors. Olivia Coombe explores five activities, and the skills children will develop through these.

Playing outdoors presents an excellent opportunity for children to utilize natural materials found within their environment. These materials can serve as a starting point for discussions that can further enhance children's learning and knowledge of the world around them.

Outdoor learning goes beyond simply allowing children to run around while staff observe. While child-led play is important, with proper planning, children can develop a wide range of skills with the help of nature.

Here are five activity ideas that children can participate in the outdoor learning environment of your setting.

Garden soup

This activity is not only fun but also educational. Children can collect various natural materials, such as leaves, flowers, and twigs, and mix them in a pot to create their own unique 'soup'.

To start the activity, provide the children with a pot, spoon, and water. Then, let them explore the garden to gather different items they think would make a ‘tasty soup.’ Children can collaborate and decide what ingredients they want to include, as well as how much of each item they should add.

During this activity, they will discover and learn about various textures, colours, and scents of the items they are using. Collecting materials from the garden will encourage children to interact with their surroundings and gain knowledge about different plants and insects that inhabit it. 

Skills developed

  • Problem-solving - They may encounter obstacles, such as plants or insects they need to navigate around, which encourages them to think creatively about collecting their ingredients.
  • Creativity - By experimenting with different combinations of ingredients to create a unique and vibrant-looking 'soup'.
  • Teamwork - Making the ‘soup’ requires children to work together and communicate effectively, as they decide what ingredients to add and how to mix them. 

Bug hotel

Creating a bug hotel is a fun and educational activity that encourages children to explore their environment and observe the behaviour of different insects.

To create a bug hotel, children can collect natural materials such as leaves twigs, bark, and stones. They can then use these materials to build a structure, such as a wooden box or a pile of stones, that provides shelter for insects. Children can decorate the bug hotel with flowers, leaves, and other natural materials, and can add food sources such as fruit or sugar water to attract insects.

The bug hotel is a fun and educational way to engage children in outdoor learning and help them develop a love and appreciation for the natural world.

Skills developed

  • Observation - As children explore their environment to collect materials for the bug hotel, they can observe the behaviour of different insects and learn about their habits.
  • Language and communication -The use of language and communication skills to describe the insects they observe and talk about their ideas for the bug hotel.
  • Creativity and problem-solving skills - Children use creativity to build their bug hotel using natural materials they collected. And can use problem-solving skills to figure out how to construct the bug hotel to make it stable and attractive to insects. 

Leaf art family tree

To begin the activity, children can collect leaves from the ground or nearby trees. They can look for leaves of assorted colours, shapes, and sizes, and collect as many as they need to create their family tree. Children can then use these leaves to create a family tree on a large piece of paper. 

They can glue the leaves onto the paper in the shape of a tree, and then use markers or paint to draw their family members' names and faces onto the leaves.

The leaf art family tree is a fun and engaging outdoor activity that can help children to develop a love of nature and creativity and strengthen family bonds.

Skills developed

  • Family values and relationships - Reinforce family values and relationships, as children create a visual representation of their family tree and discuss their family.
  • Environmental awareness - This can encourage children to appreciate the natural environment and learn about the different types of leaves and trees in their local area.
  • Communication and social skills - The activity can promote communication and social skills as children talk about family members and share stories.

Nature boards

The activity involves collecting natural materials such as leaves, sticks, rocks, and flowers, and using them to create a nature-inspired display board. The activity is a great way to encourage children to explore the natural environment and develop their creativity and artistic skills.

Look for materials of different shapes, colours, and textures, and collect as many as they need to. Children can then use these materials to create a display board, arranging the materials in a visually appealing way. They can use glue or string to attach the materials to the board and use markers or paint to add labels.

This encourages observation skills as children look for several types of natural materials to include in their display and pay attention to the details of the materials they choose.

Skills developed

  • Sense of accomplishment - Creating a nature board display board can give children a sense of ownership and pride in their work, as they can display it in a visible area and show it off to others.
  • Senses - Children will be feeling and smelling the materials they use and have to describe those senses when writing descriptions.
  • Hand-eye coordination - By involving manipulating small objects and using glue to stick. 

Tuff tray dig site

Measure with mother nature! Children will create a dig site using measuring tools. Bring a tuff tray outside along with, measuring jugs, cups, spoons, scales, and toy cars/trucks. 

Staff will explain measurements and weights to the children, highlighting numbers on the vessels and scales. Join the play and ask questions like 'Could I have 100 grams of dirt?' After children become familiar with the tools, staff can arrange a group discussion. 

Children can weigh the rocks, order them from heaviest to lightest, and further develop their understanding of weight.

Skills developed

  • Numeracy - Learning about measurements and the concept of removing materials will make things lighter and adding will make things heavier.
  • Number recognition - For those children who may not be fond of numeracy activities, incorporating play with the use of jugs and scales is a fantastic way to develop number recognition.
  • Fine motor skills - Children will be using their fingers and spoons to carefully add and remove substances to get to a desired volume or weight. 

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