Tired of homeschooling? Let nature do the teaching for you!
This may be a spring like no other, but look outside and you’ll see that the sun is still shining, the birds are still singing, and wildflowers are still nudging their way past last fall’s leaves. Nature doesn’t stop blooming, and neither should you or your kids! There’s plenty of fun to be had close to home — and all the better if you can get to a nearby forest for some woodland adventures (following all proper social distancing protocols, of course).
Below are 10 fun nature-inspired activities your kids will love - and if you're looking for more educational resources, check out our T.R.E.E.S. curriculum.
1. Teach your kids how to (safely!) climb a tree
Tree climbing is a great way for kids to build confidence and gain strength, balance, and agility. Plus, it’s just plain fun! Worried about them falling and getting hurt? Just stay close and see how far they can get on their own. Or, show them how to do it safely: find a tree with low branches and access points, stay low, and test every branch to make sure it’s alive before resting your full weight on it. Resist the impulse to climb up to the top, and you’ll also lower the risk of falling, as the branches at the top of the tree tend to be younger (and therefore more likely to break). And stay close to the trunk, where branches are sturdiest. You’ve got this!
2. Get up close and personal with your favorite tree
Bark rubbings are a fun and easy way to allow your kids to explore the patterns and textures of nature. So gather up some crayons, tape, and craft paper and head outside. Help them find a tree with bumpy or otherwise interesting bark and leave em’ to it! You can also discuss how the patterns are different from tree to tree, and teach them about how trees add new rings as they grow.
3. Sail off into the sunset
While your kids are making their masterpieces, look for fallen scraps of bark for another fun creation: tree boats! Because tree bark is buoyant, it’s a great boat-making material. In fact, Native Americans used Birch Bark to construct their canoes, navigating treacherous waters with ease. For guaranteed success, look for the flattest piece you can find—this will form the hull (bottom) of the boat. Next, enlist the young-ins to help you find and attach a straight stick to the hull (mud helps!)—this will form the mast. Finally, thread a fallen leaf or two to form “sails.” Now it’s time for the princess voyage in a puddle or pond. Let your kids take it from there!
4. Make natural paints for your budding Picasso
Following this simple recipe, you can make herbal paints with just 3 simple ingredients that you likely already have on hand: powdered herbs, clay, and water. So mix up a nature-themed color palette, park your little artist outside, and tell them to paint what they see. Bonus: by having them paint outside, you're less likely to spend the next week scrubbing paint off of every surface in your house.
5. Make dandelion crowns
Yellow is a joyful color, and dandelion has plenty to spare. Found everywhere from garden beds to cracks in concrete, this herb has a lot to teach us about resilience in the face of tough conditions. If your yard is unsprayed, let your kids harvest dandelions and make crowns by weaving or braiding the stems. You can also use thin young (bendable) branches or craft wire to create a rounded frame first. Whether you then stage a Shakespeare-esque play on your lawn is totally up to you, we'll just say you might want to have a camera read for the adorable results.
6. Make seed balls and distribute them at random
A great, hands-on craft to do with your kids, seed balls are also a valuable teaching tool for budding naturalists. Download our 1-pager here for all the details on how to combine wildflower seeds with moist paper to create natural clumps, then take a walk to find just the right spots to leave your seed balls to grow.
7. Play with rocks
Send your kid outside to find a cool rock. When they come back in, give it a good rinsing and pat it dry (them too, if necessary!). Now, it’s a blank canvas just waiting for their original artwork! Using whatever paint you have on hand, let their imagination run wild. From patterns to silly faces to secret messages, the possibilities are endless!
8. Capture their imagination with fairy houses
Head into the forest (or your garden) with your kids, regaling them with stories of elusive fairies (or elves, hobbits, or gnomes—whatever they're into). Encourage them to gather small sticks, pebbles, pinecones, acorns, moss, pine needles—or anything else that catches their eye. These will be important building materials. Find a tree that feels appropriately mysterious and show them how to build a sturdy home for their invisible friends. Encourage them to get creative and add fun details like a moss roof, a pebble walkway, or a pinecone fence to keep evil sprites away. And spread the joy: leave the houses up for future hikers to enjoy.
9. Make frame-able art
Have the kids collect a handful of leaves, ferns, and flowers that they love. Then, show them a fun, easy way to preserve their treasures: plant pressings! You’ll need 2 sheets of paper per pressing and a few heavy books. Carefully arrange the plant material on top of one sheet, then cover it with the second sheet, and place this between two heavy books. Add another heavy book on top and leave it for a few weeks. Then, get the frames and clear glue ready: your kids will have fun arranging their pressings to create a unique piece of artwork for their bedroom wall.
10. Show them how to whistle with an acorn cap
This is for older kids, as acorn caps may be too tempting for your younger ones: find an oak tree and have them collect a few caps. Then, show them how to turn them into whistles! Here's how: make a V with your thumbs and hold the cap in your hands with the top rim of it in the middle of the V. Put your top lip on your thumb nails and your bottom lip below your thumb knuckles, and blow! You may have to adjust your hold and angle to get it right, but you should end up with a loud, high-pitched whistle.....and you may regret teaching them this trick, but at least your kids will be impressed with your ingenuity!
Spring is a season of hope, and we hope we’ve inspired you to get and get your kids engaged with nature! Have a budding naturalist on your hands? Check out our schools page for more fun activities and lesson plans!
We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?
by Meaghan Weeden