Kids love to play outside! If you ask any of our children what their favorite part of the day is, hands-down it will be outside play time. Playing and learning with natural items can be a FUN part of outdoor play with a few simple ideas! It doesn’t take children long to begin to develop their own ways of playing and learning with readily found items. Below you will find some ideas to get the creativity started!
Materials: Sticks (for making the domino outline), rocks, chalk, and assorted nature items that can be counted (Suggestions: small pine cones, rocks, leaves, acorns, flower petals, other seeds, etc.).
To Play (can be a small group or individual game): have the children gather the items in a basket or a bag. Collect as many rocks as the children can find (flat-sided ones work best for labeling with the chalk). Make a domino outline (see photo above) from the sticks the children find. Have the children label the rocks to resemble a domino (assist younger children). Have the children shake one of the labeled rocks in their hand and carefully pour it out onto the ground (remind the children to “roll” the rocks carefully like dice and not to THROW them – we had a few FLYING rocks, but not many).
Once the children roll the “rock” dominoes, have them copy the dot patterns on the rocks to their stick domino outlines using some of the smaller items. Count the total number of items in the domino. How many items do you have ALL together?
In the photo below, we used basic addition skills (4+2) and put the corresponding number of flowers under the rock domino. The kids loved playing this game and looking for different items to play with. We forgot that we were learning MATH; isn’t that the way it should be?!
For a competitive game: Have a race to see which child can collect the most items in a predetermined amount of time. For a cooperative game: See if all of the children can work together to get a predetermined amount of items in 5-10 minutes.
Nature contains all kinds of natural patterns. If you look closely at the tulip tree petals in the photo above, you will see color patterns that are the same. Have the children look outside to find patterns that occur naturally.
To introduce basic patterning to the children, use some of the items the children collected for the domino game above. For an ABC pattern, the children would use three different items and then repeat the pattern (in the photo above, our kids used sticks (A), rocks (B), and tulip tree petals (C)). For very young children: start a basic AB pattern with two items (ex: rocks/sticks) and see if the child can complete the pattern that is started. An adult could also make an entire pattern row and see if the child could copy the pattern (using his own materials) in a separate row.
Tally Marks and Skip Counting
Materials: lots of sticks, chalk, and several rocks.
Have the children collect sticks and help them break the longer ones into shorter lengths. Label rocks by 5’s (5, 10, 15, 20, 25) with chalk. Have the children practice laying the sticks to make a tally mark set. To teach the concept of tally marks, there is a rhyme we chant with our children here.
Practice the rhyme with your children as they lay sticks to make tally marks. Tally marks are a great way to introduce counting up by 1’s and skip counting by 5’s.
For younger children: use single sticks to make tally marks. Label the rocks with the numbers 1-4. Have the children practice making single tally marks that correspond to the numbered rocks before moving on to larger numbers.
Have the children practice forming the letters in their name with any items they can find in nature. For younger children, see if they can form any letter they have had introduced with items they can find. It is a fun way to explore and help cement beginning letter recognition.
ROCK Word Families
Materials needed: Rocks and Chalk
Have the children find several rocks. Label ONE rock with the two ending letters for different word families (for ex: _at: cat, sat, bat, pat, mat, fat, rat, hat; _it: sit, lit, hit, pit, bit, kit, fit, bit; etc.) Label other rocks with various beginning letters. The children must choose a rock that has a beginning letter that would form a word in that word family.
The rocks can also be used for: single letter recognition, CVC words, CVVC words, CVCe words, or for building any sight words your children have had introduced. It is fun to see what the children do own their own after introducing ROCKS and LETTERS!
Have the children look for any items in nature that they can use to create something. It is amazing to watch young children assemble natural items into different forms. What items can your own children use to make….ART?!
For MORE great ways to use nature items for play, please visit some of the extra resource links below:
From Fun at Home with Kids:
From Housing A Forest: