Both children and adults benefit from being immersed in the natural world.
There is no doubt, that a good dose of fresh, outside air is good for us. Both children and adults benefit from being immersed in the natural world.

As an educator and mother who works with intention to share experiences outdoors with children, I know and understand that when children play outdoors it yields physical, social and emotional benefits including:
  • Opportunity for children to use their imaginations and to be creative.

  • Heightened overall use of the senses.
  • Opportunity for children to develop independence, decision making and problem solving skills.

Related: Gardening With Kids - Create Memories and Mud Pies

Encourage outdoor nature play with these five fun ideas:

1. Make a Mud Pie Kitchen

A mud kitchen is simply an outdoor play kitchen for children. Your child's imagination and creativity will abound as they make flower soup and muddy cupcakes given simple props and permission to dig in the dirt.

Tips for Making Your Own Mud Pie Kitchen:
  • Provide old cooking utensils, bowls, pots and pans. Thrift stores and yard sales are great places to gather these items. A shoebox size plastic storage tote can act as a sink and also contain smaller items when the mud pie kitchen is not in use.
  • Encourage your child to gather pine cones, dirt, flowers, sticks, rocks and leaves for "ingredients."
Sometimes it can be hard to let kids get dirty. I recommend leaning into this discomfort and encouraging fun, open-ended imaginative play. A good strategy for management is to model appropriate clean-up and care. Give your child some appropriate responsibility (ex. making sure he is wearing appropriate clothing and washing up afterwards) to have the privilege of playing in the mud kitchen.

2. Nature Scavenger Hunt

Go forward with intention and encourage your child to find artifacts from nature in a game-like activity that encourages mindful observation and also expands your child's vocabulary. This is a fun activity to do with a play group or birthday party, especially if you offer a little incentive upon completion.

Have your child try to find the following:
  • pine cone
  • insect
  • seed
  • spider web
  • green leaf
  • pine needle
  • feather
  • twig
  • rough rock
  • smooth stone
  • spider web
Here are two printable nature scavenger hunts:

3. Nature-Inspired Art

Encourage creativity outdoors by facilitating nature-inspired arts and crafts. Try one or more of these fun activities:

Related: How to Practice Mindfulness With Children

  • Nature Mandala. This simple and fun activity is both a creative and meditative process that promotes mindfulness while exercising a child's imagination and ingenuity. Follow step-by-step instructions here.
  • Leaf Rubbings.
  • Painting Rocks, Shells or Pinecones.
  • Make a Nature Mobile From Found Objects. String Pine cones, leaves, shells and feathers from a small stick to create a natural decoration.
  • Nature Prints. Make prints by pressing leaves and flowers into paint then transferring on to paper.

Related: Heading to the Beach? 6 Fun Things Kids Can Do With Shells

4. An Outdoor Loom

Creating an outdoor nature/garden loom is a fun activity that connects nature play with the creative arts. You can make a frame by making a square frame with branches or boards. Warp the loom with gardeners twine and guide your child to weave in natural materials, such as ferns, grasses, flowers and twigs. Encourage your child to pay attention to the colors and textures of found natural materials. Weaving is a great activity that helps children develop their fine skills. Completed pieces can be photographed, even bound off and displayed.

5. Fairy Garden

Making fairy houses has gained popularity in recent years. A quick internet search can yield hundreds of inspirational ideas. Garden and flower shops and specialty websites cater to hobbyists with accessories and supplies. Handmade complements using natural items such as stones, twigs and moss are a critical element as well.

Related: Why Free Time for Play is So Important for Every Child

A couple of years ago I took a class with my daughter at a local greenhouse and together we created and accessorized a unique fairy garden that became a tiny imaginative playscape. Fairy gardens can be designed outdoors or in pots and brought indoors over the wintertime. If your child is not interested in fairies you can take the idea and design a play garden around a different theme, such as gnomes or dinosaurs.

Make the most of your child's playtime outdoors with these fun activities!