Authored by University of Guelph student Megan Coghill
Social distancing rules and the closure of many public parks and recreation areas has caused many of us to spend more time indoors than we would like. Especially with the warm weather and sunshine, it is important to still find ways to enjoy the outdoors while staying safe. Below is a list of enriching outdoor activities to add some excitement to outdoor time in your backyard or natural areas.
- Explore biodiversity on a microscale: Place a hula hoop (or jumping rope, sticks, etc.) on a patch of grass to create an enclosed space. Ask your child to create a list of everything inside the hula hoop. For an added challenge, categorize the list by living and non-living. Online resources for identifying insects can be found here (insectidenfication.org) and common plants here (https://cwf-fcf.org/en/resources/encyclopedias/native-plant-encyclopedia/).
- Go on a rock and fossil hunt: Ontario is abundant with a wide variety of rocks and fossils. Rocks and fossils can be found on nature walks, at the beach, or along riverbeds. There are several fossil hotspots in Ontario, including Rock Glen Conservation Area, Macgregor Point Provincial Park, and Devil’s Glen Provincial Park. Be sure to check for Covid-19 updates before making a trip to a park or conservation area. Fossil identification resources can be found here (https://www.fossils-facts-and-finds.com/fossil_identification.html) and rock identification here (https://miningmatters.ca/school-programs/students/rock-and-mineral-identification-guides/rock-identification-guide)
- Start a garden: If you don’t have space for a larger garden there are many herbs and flowers that can be grown in smaller pots. Try growing herbs such as basil, mint, cilantro, or chives. Your child can chart their growth and record how to care for the plants and even conduct a taste test at the end! For more information on starting a garden visit kidsgardening.org
- Flower and leaf pressing: Flowers and leaves can be preserved by placing them flat between two pieces of parchment paper and pressing them under a heavy book for at least a week. Once they are dry and flat they can be used for art projects and arrangements.
- Hold a backyard household object percussion concert: Take the noise outside and see how household objects can become instruments. Try pots and pans, sticks, brooms, homemade maracas with rocks and containers, and so on. Check out the musical group “Stomp” on Youtube for some inspiration!
- Paint some rocks: Acrylic paint works best on rocks and it comes in non-toxic versions. Try splatter paint by putting a dab on paint of a stiff paintbrush or toothbrush and flicking it. Masking tape can be painted over and removed when dried to create patterns. Currently many families are creating “Kindness Rocks” and leaving painted rocks, often with inspirational messages, at public parks or essential workplaces to lift spirits. Consider spreading your children’s art and joy around the community.
- Make a map of your yard or neighbourhood: Using a tape measure or ruler, ask your child to measure objects in your yard and label the length and width. Older children could calculate area or create a scale using grid paper.
- Determine how old trees are: Using a tape measure or string and ruler, measure the widest part of a tree trunk. Trees increase in circumference by about 2.5cm a year, so have your child divide the circumference in centimeters by 2.5 to get rough idea of how old a tree is. After a bit of practice, encourage your child to estimate the circumference before measuring the tree. If you have access to a tree stump, the age of the tree can be calculated by counting the dark rings, each ring representing one year.
- For children working on counting: encourage them to collect objects in your yard and group them in piles from 1-10. For example, one pinecone, two sticks, three rocks, and so on. Next, they can place the objects in order from smallest to largest.
- ABC outdoor scavenger hunt: In your backyard or on a walk, challenge your child to find as many things as they can that start with each letter of the alphabet. Bring a paper and pencil and something to write on so they can practice spelling.
- Create an outdoor reading area: Find a shady area and set up some blankets and pillows to form an outdoor reading nook. This is also a great opportunity to take your own work outside!
- Start a nature journal: Using a notepad or workbook, ask your child to document what they find outside. Prompt them to write about their favourite part about being outdoors, describe plants or insects they find, or plan a nature outing.
We hope that some of these many activities inspire you and your family to engage with the outdoors, while also social distancing in your community!
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