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Outdoor Adventures: Parents and educators can enhance kids’ play

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Ellie Angel/Special to the Town Crier
Storytelling outside offers new creative avenues.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend more time outside this year. Luckily for me, having a toddler makes it pretty easy.

My daughter loves spending time outdoors. It’s become part of our morning routine, where after we have breakfast, she immediately brings me my shoes, puts on her own shoes, gets my mask and keys, and is ready to head out the door – sometimes even while I am still in my pajamas.

My daughter’s eagerness has motivated me to go outside every day. As an educator, I also have seen firsthand the positive effect being outdoors and physical play has on children.
Following are six activities parents and educators can do outside with little ones.

Outside play

• Nature hunt. I would assign students a nature hunt every week, sharing a list of things they could look for on a walk outside. Examples include birds, butterflies, ants, flowers and plants. This activity is great for supporting language development, as well as 1:1 correspondence, which is a mathematical and cognitive concept that supports learning about numeracy. I do a modified version with my toddler by engaging in a game similar to I Spy, but instead I call it What Do You See? Because she is still working on her verbal language skills, I follow her cues. I direct this activity and say, “I see a ... (insert word).”

• Nature collage. This is a great way to incorporate nature with art that supports fine-motor skills. I would ask students to collect items relating to the concept we were learning, and create something with it on a piece of paper with any type of material. Some children painted, others used markers and colored pencils, and others chose simply to glue their items and leave it blank. I did a nature collage with my toddler, too, though with a bit more guidance from me. I made the project into a weeklong activity and made it multifaceted to incorporate her interests.

• Gardening/cooking. I loved cooking with my students, especially if the ingredients came from our community garden. This is a great way for children to learn where the food they eat comes from, as well as getting them involved in the kitchen. Some activities you could do include baking or cooking a meal together, watering and documenting different plants and seeds, or having a picnic outside. My toddler and I are in the kitchen pretty often together. The other day we made sourdough bread and brought it with us on our morning hike.

• Mark-making with nature items. Another early-literacy skill is mark-making, which supports the fine-motor skill of holding a tool to make marks with. When I was teaching in the classroom, I would take my students outside and collect items they could try to write with on a piece of paper. We would experiment to see which worked and which didn’t. We became scientists and hypothesized. With my toddler, I simplified this activity by finding nature items like sticks and rocks, and modeled to show her how to use them.

• This Is Not a Box. One of my favorite books is “Not a Box” by Antoinette Portis. After reading this book with my class, I would have my students draw a box and create something new from a rectangle. I did this often with my students – for example, instructing them to draw something with the letter A. I loved seeing all their different creations. We did a similar This Is Not a Box activity with my toddler. With the expertise of my husband, we created a camera out of a box. After we painted the box together, I followed her lead with her preference of paint to decorate it with. We brought it outside to use during our morning walk.

• Storytelling outside. The outdoors can provide children with tools that unleash their creativity. You can combine books and outdoor time to create something beautiful. One way to do this is to bring books outside and read them together. Then you can ask children to re-enact the story with materials they find outside. This activity is great for developing language, comprehension and social-emotional skills. It also supports verbal and nonverbal learners and can be used with picture and wordless books.

Similar to my students, I see the light in my child’s eyes when we go outside. I am drawn to her curiosity in seeing the world from her perspective, and each time she surprises me. The possibilities of what you can do with little ones outdoors are endless.

Ellie Angel is a local mom and educator. For more early-learning ideas and teaching tips, follow her on Instagram at @mama4learning or visit her blog at medium.com/@Mama4learning.

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