I recently read a fabulous article about how important play is to a child’s holistic education, specifically for kiddos under 7 years old.
I loved playing outside as a kid, and know my own Bundle can’t go a day without being outdoors. Occasionally though, as a child care provider and teacher, I feel mentally stuck with just a couple tired ways to play outside…sidewalk chalk, playground, tag. These are great ways to play, but kids can get bored doing the same three activities on a daily basis, with no mental or physical break from the norm. Getting out into the beautiful outdoors this morning was just the inspiration I needed. If you’re like me, sometimes a few new play ideas are just what we all need.
We went to a park we don’t usually get a chance to visit, and the colors of autumn were just exploding around us! As I watched my daughter explore and discover and enjoy her surroundings, suddenly SO many ideas popped into my head!
All of us want to make the most of the beautiful fall weather while we still can, so here are ten different, toy-free ways to play outdoors this fall:
- Dig in the sand or dirt.
So simple, and a bit messy, but so worth it. I’m no scientist, but there is research out there that has proven that playing in the dirt can actually be good for your health and immune system. I love this activity more for its sensory experience and imaginative value. It only makes sense that if children (or adults, for that matter) are given limited resources, their imaginations will be working harder in order to create their desired outcome. Our desired outcome as parents and care providers would simply be this: a playful, imaginative experience.
2. Balance on a wooden beam or curb.
Bundle absolutely loves doing this, and I never would have thought of asking her to try it if she hadn’t gone and done it herself today! There were giant beams of wood outline the perimeter of the park we went to today. She took it upon herself the balance all the way around it, one foot in front of the other, until she had walked all the way around the playground. Talk about honing in on large motor skills! The best part was watching how proud of herself she was.
3. Pick apart berries, leaves and nuts.
As long as you are careful about your child not ingesting anything, this can be a great way to explore nature. Chances are, your child’s natural curiosity will take over and lead to questions, picking and prodding, finding useful natural tools (like a stick to crack open an acorn), and more questions. We found some bright red berries on a tree today, but weren’t sure what they were or what kind of animal can eat them. Bam, instant pre-K research project!
4. Discover a new park you’ve never been to together.
We have yet to do this one this fall, but I can’t wait to do a little online research and make a mini-road trip on a day off!
5. Let the leaves be the only play toy.
Rake them with your hands, jump in them, sort them by shape and size and color…the possibilities are endless. Leaves (especially beautiful fall ones!) provide a plethora of sensory experiences just waiting to be discovered.
6. Build with sticks and rocks.
Build on the grass, the sidewalk, the back patio. Use a wide variety of materials to give you a bigger range of building ideas! Flat rocks work great for stacking or sticking in the mud. Twigs are perfect for making mini log cabins! After a light rain a few days ago, Bundle discovered a rather large area of mud beneath our huge oak tree. She began poking the mud with sticks and acorns, and pretty soon, both of us were deep in the midst of building elaborate fences and houses with the sticks and nuts.
7. Play hide and seek.
Of course, the key to this game is making sure your child is always within sight and within a safe distance from you. But with safety in check, how fun is it to watch your child crouch under playground bridges or behind a tree or under a bench, then pop out at the last minute? If you have older kids, you could even set a tag rule, where if the seeker finds the hider, they’ll have to tag them before they get back to the counting “base.”
Yesterday we made smoothies and ate them on our patio. Next on my list is having kids frost their own graham crackers and make peanut butter and celery “ants on a log.” If you have access to a garden, you could even have kids “pick their own salad.” Trust me, it can totally make a difference for those picky eaters.
9. Explore and chase our shadows.
Here’s your chance to utilize that tired sidewalk chalk for a new purpose! Find your shadows and trace their outlines! You could color the shadows in, or trace and color the shadows of various objects, too. If you have older kiddos, they might be interested in how shadows relate to time and clocks. If you’re simply looking for a fun game, try shadow tag! Every person is “it” and every person tries to tag each other’s shadow! (If you’re older kids need more, have each “tagged” child stand with one hand in the air. They can only get free if another child gives them a high-five.)
10. Swing with our eyes closed.
This is another Bundle created and approved activity. I had forgotten how amazing the sensation of swinging with your eyes closed really is. This activity can really engage all of your child’s senses. Even with their eyes are closed, they see the various colors the light can make while moving. The air rushes around them and their clothes and hair might sway with the wind. Encourage them to feel and smell and taste the air and listen their surroundings as they experience the next best thing to flying. 🙂
What ideas do you have for simple outdoor play this fall?