Here's a list of some simple nature activities that can offer endless fun, adventures and learning.
Mud pie master pie maker
Do you have any pie tins lying around the house? Take your kids outside where there is some good looking mud and bring a mixing bowl and the pie tin. Get your hands in there and glop several handfuls of mud into the mixing bowl). Stir the mud concoction so that you get all the lumps out and it’s as smooth as brownie batter. Pour the mud into a pie tin and leave out in the sun to dry!
If you have no true mud available, just do the same using sand or dirt and a cup or so of water. Put some grass or leaves on top of the dry pie as a nice garnish. Let your kids have fun experimenting with different types of pie: garden soil, dirt, mulch, sand, mud or a combination of all of the above.
Make a bird bath
Birds love to freshen up after flying all day and they’re great to watch. Use some empty plant pots or even a frisbee as the bath. Take the container out to your yard and let the birds come to you! The best bird baths will have running water. You can turn an old soda bottle into a drip bottle as another do-it-yourself project.
Once birds start coming, watch with your kids and try to identify them. If you have stagnant water, empty it out and refill it every now and then to keep the mosquitoes away and the birds healthy.
What’s around the block?
You’ll be amazed by what might be right in your neighbourhood. Try taking a walk around the block and look at the plants and trees that surround you. Are there some especially pretty or unusual ones? What animals do you spot along the way?
Take a piece of paper and map anything interesting on it. You can bring it the next time you come and constantly add to it. Bring a neighbour or friend with you. Everyone sees the world differently.
Hill climb and panorama
Is there a tall hill nearby? Kids love lookout points. Climb a tall hill with your kids and look at the view. What can you see from that’s different every time you look in another direction?
Try to find some points of interest from the top of the hill. Bring a camera and take photos of your kids looking like they're on top of the world. Imagine you're on a journey across the highest peak? Ask your kids what you would do, wear or eat!
Guess what’s inside! Nature’s mystery bag
Collect different types of leaves, grass, twigs and foliage that will fit in a sack. Have kids reach their hands inside (without looking!), hold onto something. Older kids will have fun guessing what they’re touching.
Collect the objects for the bag when your kids are occupied doing something else so it's a complete mystery for them.
Backyard campout staycation
Spend a weekend away in your own backyard. You don’t need a big place for a big adventure. All you’ll need is a tent and your family to join you. Pitch the tent, bring some flashlights, ghost stories and enjoy the time away from the world and with your kids.
Have the adults or older kids be prepared to tell some ghost stories in advance to add a real sense of the outdoors.
The smallest bug
Use a magnifying glass/binoculars to look at the smallest plant or animal you can find. How many legs does it have? Does it have wings? Does it wave at you?
When you're done looking at the animal or bug, go inside and recreate the animal by drawing or painting it. Be careful not to burn the creature because magnifying glasses can create a lot of heat in the sun!
Animal sounds guessing game
Take turns making animal sounds. Add some mystery to it by having your child guess what animal you’re mimicking. Then take a turn being the guesser.
If you're going to be at a park or away from home, bring a list of fun animals for ideas. Don't be afraid to be a kid for this one! You're children will love your participation in this wacky game.
What scent is this?
Gather four different objects with different scents, like grass, flowers etc. Place the object close to the child’s nose with his or her eyes closed, and ask the child to smell it and try to identify what it is.
Flowers and grass are particularly pungent. Take notes of the most weird or nice smells.
Can you find the treasure?
Hide a surprise in the backyard. Make a map and have the kids find the surprise. Draw in trees, bushes and walkways to help them along the way. X marks the spot!
Read a pirate or treasure themed book for fun before you do this. Dress up like pirates for the day, I'll put you in the mood!
Feeling the wind through your hair is as easy as getting on a bike. Take your whole family. It doesn’t have to be far, just right around your neighbourhood or around your local park.
Make sure your bikes are in good shape. Don't have bikes for everyone? There are a lot of rental and bike share programs. Check online for one near you. Plan a route that stops at an ice cream parlor for an extra treat. Let your kids decide where you should bike! As long as you stay near, your spontaneous trip can be a quest.
Nature scavenger hunt
Make a list of some common things and a few rare ones that can be found outside near your home or in a park. You can includes things like: gum nut, pine cone, flat rock, etc. Pass the list out and give your kids 20 minutes to find as much as they can.
Your neighbours might enjoy this too. Invite some local kids and parents to join you. Keep everyone together by telling the kids in advance what is out of bounds. Play a few times and have some small prizes or treats.
Identify plants and trees
Check a local plant guide out from the library. Take a walk around your garden or a near park. Can you identify the different plants and trees? What other plants and trees do you see near?
Keep a journal of all the different things that you find. Next time, take a book out from of a faraway place's plant and animals. How are they different? Once your kids know the lay of the land, let them take some friends around and show them what they know.
Sneaky secret agent, mission: bug discovery
This is your mission if you choose to accept it. Create mini search parties and seek out bugs and insects. Compare relative sizes and shapes – not all bugs are alike! For an extra challenge, try catching one in a jar, but don’t forget to let him go once you’re done.
Find some pictures or a chart of bugs online and print it out so your child has a suspect in mind when he begins his search.
A nearby state or national park will have fire pits that you can pull your car up to, or better yet, park a small distance away and walk to one. Make and appointment or get a permit and be on your way! Bring the marshmallows, crackers and chocolate with you, but let the kids find the sticks for roasting. Most parks are Leave No Trace so bring a bag to hold your garbage.
Don't forget the matches at home!
Who am I? What am I? 20 Questions!
Take turns thinking of people, places or even objects and then having the group ask yes or no questions to figure out who or what you are. This is the perfect activity for a hike or even just sitting outside.
Think of more common/obvious people and places when first playing and with the young'uns.
Easy-peasy compost bin
Choose a location that is easily accessible from you kitchen and/or garden. You can use a bin or just surround a pile with a mesh fence. You can start it with leaves, grass clippings and other garden debris. Help activate the compost by adding a shovelful of finished compost or garden soil to your compost pile of one cubic metre brown and green material (2 parts brown to 1 part green). You and your child can work together to turn the pile about once every week. You’ll be satisfied to see finished compost about two months after you began the project.
Do not add any animal waste, oils, dairy, diseased plants or chemicals to your compost. Checking the moisture level and adding water/drying pile will prevent the compost from not heating up and from smelling.
Rock skipping rockers
You used to do this all the time during the summer, but have your kids ever tried? Show them how it’s done. Skip stones in a lake or wide stream. Who can make jump the most times?
Collect good skipping rocks in advance as you see them. Use light rocks for more effective skipping and less chance of hitting anyone.