Summer Outdoor Explorations:

Nature-Based Learning Activities for Young Children

As the warm summer days beckon, there's no better time for young children to explore the wonders of the great outdoors. From lush green forests to sandy beaches and vibrant meadows, nature provides a rich and stimulating environment for early years learning. Even time spent in the garden or a few trips to the local park can offer excellent opportunities to fascinate and delight growing minds.

In this article, we'll dive into the importance of outdoor play and nature-based learning for children aged 0-5, and provide you with plenty of ideas for engaging your little one in meaningful outdoor explorations this summer.

The Importance of Play and Outdoor Exploration

As our Early Childhood Director, Caroline, always says: “Play is the work of children”, and outdoor exploration provides children with endless opportunities for discovery, creativity, and growth. Through unstructured play in natural settings, children learn to engage their senses, develop gross and fine motor skills, and make sense of the world around them. Outdoor play also promotes physical activity, strengthens immune systems, and nurtures a sense of connection to the natural world, which is important for your child's overall health and wellbeing.

In addition to physical benefits, outdoor play enhances cognitive development by stimulating curiosity, problem-solving skills, and imagination. Children have the freedom to experiment, take calculated risks, and learn through trial and error in the open-ended environment of nature. Whether they're building sandcastles at the beach while on holiday, splashing in puddles after a rainstorm, or exploring the sights and sounds of a wooded trail, every outdoor experience is an opportunity for learning and growth.

Summer: A Season of Exploration and Discovery

Every season introduces new and exciting elements to your child’s learning journey and summer is no exception! With longer daylight hours, warmer temperatures, and an abundance of natural beauty, your child can immerse themself in the sights, sounds, and textures of the sunny season. From observing wildlife to planting seeds in the garden, summer offers a myriad of opportunities for children to engage with the natural world and deepen their understanding of ecological concepts.

5 Outdoor Learning Activities for Early Years Children

Now, let's explore some nature-based learning activities that you can enjoy with your little explorer this summer:

  1. Sensory Nature Walks

This one never gets old! Take a leisurely stroll through a local park or nature reserve and encourage your child to engage their senses. Don’t forget to stop, smell the flowers, blow on the dandelions, and listen to the birds along the way. Point out all the different textures, colours, and sounds too. Another great way for your child to engage with their surroundings is to collect natural treasures like leaves, flowers, and rocks to examine and discuss later. Let their imaginations soar by imagining that sticks are swords, soil is lava and leaves are boats!

  1. Water Play

If possible, set up a water play station in the garden or visit a nearby park that already has one in place. These are great for amusement, staying cool and having fun, all while building water confidence. If you’re visiting the beach, provide your water baby with buckets, cups, and water toys so they can explore the properties of water through pouring, scooping, and splashing. Don’t forget to apply plenty of suncream. 

  1. Bug Hunts

Whether you’re a fan of bugs or not, you won’t be able to deny their hold on fascinated young minds. Embark on a bug hunt adventure and search for insects in the garden or park. If possible, use a magnifying glass so your little one can observe bugs up close and learn about their habitats, behaviours, and life cycles. Encourage your child to treat bugs with gentleness and respect as they explore the mini world of creepy crawlies. To make this even more engaging, you can ask questions like “How many legs can you count?” and “Where do you think this bug sleeps at night?”. Together, you can make up stories about the little friends you meet, and even practice role-play as different creatures.

  1. Nature Art

Get creative with nature-inspired art projects using materials found outdoors. Collect leaves, flowers, and sticks to make nature collages, leaf rubbings, or mud paintings. Encourage your child to use their imagination and creativity to express themselves through art.

  1. Outdoor Storytime

Set up a cosy outdoor reading nook with blankets and cushions and enjoy story time al fresco. Choose books with nature themes or bring along a favourite story to read together under the shade of a tree or beside a lazy river. Moments like this encourage calm and a sense of grounded wellbeing, and will likely form happy memories of time spent together outdoors.

As you now know, outdoor explorations and nature-based learning activities can offer your child endless opportunities for discovery, wonder, and joy. By providing meaningful outdoor experiences, you can nurture your child's curiosity, creativity, resilience, problem-solving skills, imagination, motor skills and connection to the natural world. So, this summer, step outside as much as you can, breathe in the fresh air, and embark on an adventure of exploration and discovery with your little one. The world is your oyster!