School’s out. The first official day of summer has come and gone. Time for life to move outdoors.
For some kids (OK, some caregivers, too), heading out to the backyard, the beach, the parks, and the forest preserves can feel daunting—what do you DO once you’re out there?
“Hands in earth, sand, mud: building, digging, sewing, baking—these are what humans DO.”
Build an ant playground out of sticks! Sue Dombro of the Forest Preserves of Cook County gave us tips for building one, adding this telling comment: “My daughter used to do this all the time, and now she’s a wildlife biologist.”
For fun, interesting, and education-based answers, we turned to a fun, interesting, and education-based crowd: the 190 teachers, home educators, day care providers, park district staff, museum employees, librarians, and just-plain-curious caregivers who came together at the Garden recently for our first Nature Play conference in May (sponsored by the Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Wilderness, and the Alliance for Early Childhood).
That morning, opening remarks were short, but sweet. A few thought-provoking highlights are quoted here. Then we did what any group of early childhood-oriented people would do: We all went outside to play.
At our outdoor “playground,” 19 organizations shared their fun, interesting, and education-based ideas for playing outside. You may recognize many from your own childhood.
1. Pick Up a Stick
How cool is this? In 2008, the stick was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame! It’s in great company: the jump rope, dominoes, the Frisbee, Tinkertoys and, yes, the Easy-Bake Oven are co-recipients of the honor. The possibilities of the stick are endless—it’s a musical instrument, a light saber, a wand, a fishing pole, a giant pencil for drawing in the dirt, a conductor’s baton, the first leg of a tepee, and anything else a child says it is.
2. Learn to Lash
If one stick is interesting, a pile of sticks has real 3-D potential. The art of lashing teaches kids to turn something small—two twigs lashed together—into something big: a ladder, a lean-to, a stool, a swing.
3. Find the Art in Nature
Twigs + stones + leaves + “tree cookies” + seeds = a nature “painting,” a sculpture, an imaginary animal, backyard trail markers, or utterly simple, charming drawings like the happy face made out of seeds shown with our headline.
“For children, the most powerful form of learning is with their hands.”
Imagination can run wild when kids are outside.
4. Nature as Paintbrush
Sure, you can use a standard brush to paint with, but feathers, pine needles, and arborvitae segments not only expand the creative possibilities but also feel wonderfully different in the hand.
5. Kid-Made Kites
Send the imagination soaring with a simple paper bag and a couple of kitchen skewers—in moments, it’s a kite! And then there’s the process of decorating it with ribbons and streamers…
6. Cricket Bug Box
Catch a cricket (or buy a dozen for $1 at the pet shop). Friendly and chirpy, crickets are many kids’ first experience with the insect world. Even little kids can collect the foliage, food scraps, and water-soaked cotton balls to accessorize a temporary shoe-box habitat.
“Nature is children’s real home.”
What’s under that log? Life.
7. Lift a Log
One of the simplest of all outdoor projects: lift up a log that’s been sitting on the ground and be amazed by the tiny wildlife that lives underneath it! Don’t forget to bring your magnifying glass.
8. Make a Magic Circle
Tuck a few wooden embroidery rings into a backpack. Placed on the ground in the woods, or the garden, or the sand, they become magical circles for kids to explore. What’s in yours?
9. D.I.Y. Dyeing
Rainy days need projects, too. Natural dyes made from vegetables (beets, onions), fruits (grape juice), or spices (turmeric, chili powder) transform undyed yarn or fabric into a personal style experience.
10. Paint Chip Color Hunt
One quick visit to the paint store can send kids off to hunt for hours, as they try to match nature’s colors to the humble paint chip card. (Handy to keep in the car for unexpected delays, too).
Simple but engrossing: match the colors in nature to the colors on a paint card.
Looking for fun things to do with the kids this summer? June is Leave No Child Inside month, so Chicago Wilderness/Leave No Child Inside has organized all sorts of ideas for you on Pinterest!
©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org