20+ nature activities for kids

Fresh air and time in nature offer myriad superpower benefits: improving sleep quality, strengthening our immune systems (dirt is good!), lowering stress levels, and even improving eyesightIn fact, time outdoors in nature is so vital for our well-being that the forestry service in Iceland has even encouraged people to hug a tree for five minutes to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.

But, despite the importance of parks and forests, it can be difficult to incorporate nature into each day when our happy places aren’t as accessible as they once were—or are too crowded to enjoy. 

It’s hard on all of us, because we’re craving the outdoors. So I’m trying to make sure that my kids and I are still engaging with nature every day, even if it’s on a much smaller scale than before.

If you’re looking for some new ways to help your child connect with nature close to home, try these creative and explorative nature play activities with your family. Hopefully, you’ll all have fun, relax, and maybe even learn something new as you stay connected to the wild.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

-Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

Explore nature through art

Hapa zome art

Using natural materials from your yard or found on a walk, create hapa zome art (beating up leaves with hammers), using the pigments in berries, leaves, and flowers to create print, cards, or colourful sheets to use for outdoor forts!

Sun catchers

I want these beautiful sun catchers in every window of my house. This simple craft is such a fun way to use recyclables and preserve flowers and natural items using little more than plastic wrap, recycled containers, and string. 

Stone art and learning games

If you have a collection of treasured stones at home (we do!), these rock activities make great sensory and learning games. I especially love the stone puzzle game that helps with spatial awareness.

Get messy

Kids will love this sensory-stimulating play that gets them outdoors. Hang up a clear shower curtain or plain sheet outside, and let the kids at it with their creativity and paint!

Wander the neighbourhood

Go on a scavenger hunt

I love the ideas in this nature scavenger hunt [PDF]. A wand for a fairy? Too cute. Using a colour wheel to search out all the different shades and hues of the natural world is a great way to discover the colours of nature. You can also try adding an active twist!

As you walk around the neighbourhood, peek around under pine trees for cones to use in pine cone palaces or as part of a nature sensory bin. Little ones will love running their hands through rice (I’ve also used dried beans), and feeling the texture of their various treasures. 

Take a listening walk and notice everything you hear. With fewer cars on the road, it’s a great time to start a conversation with local birds using this sound identifier, or to listen to chirping crickets and the sound of geese’s wings as they fly low overhead.

Get your hands dirty

Gardening is a great activity to teach kids about the biology of plants, learn about the life cycle of our food, help develop fine motor skills, and explore different senses.

Little Sprouts Learning has tons of ideas for urban and container gardening, and even tips for making tasty goodies like your own dried herbs. My kids love getting their hands dirty and taste-testing everything when it’s ready.

If you don’t have a lot of ground space, this DIY shower caddy planter is a brilliant (and inexpensive!) alternative. 


Related read: Make gardening an active family affair


In the backyard

Set up a tent

Spend the night outside in your backyardwith storytelling, stargazing, and s’mores of course! 

Backyard bingo

My kids love having a mission. Print out this active bingo sheet [PDF] from the U.S. National Park Trust for a ton of nature exploration in your own yard.

Make a mud kitchen

One of my favourite and most vivid childhood memories is of the outdoor “candy shop” and kitchen I regularly set up along our backyard fence. My mom would come along and buy a pine needle and mud confection for the low price of one popsicle. Thanks, Mom!

Get tips for making your own mud kitchen at EcoKids and let the kids’ imaginations and creativity loose.

Practice math skills

Use a hands-on, creative approach to learning math skills by using items from the natural world to play with math concepts in the backyard. You can find more outdoor learning opportunities at Outdoor Learning Made Easy.

Build a fairy garden

Using simple items from the house and yard, kids can make this adorable fairy garden to take care of and play with throughout the summer.

Observe the teeny tiny world of insects

Week-long Junior Naturalist lesson plans invite kids to explore the world around them and create a deeper connection to nature. Week one: Bugs!

Telling time

We’re at the stage where my littlest is trying to learn how to tell time on an analog clock. This project using stones and twigs makes it SO much easier, and way more fun, than paper and a pencil. I painted some stones with addition and subtraction symbols so we can also practice math!

Connect screens with green

These programs and digital resources can help inspire your kids to get outside.

  • Outdoor Family Fun with Plum from PBS Kids offers daily activities that will get your family outside, exploring your neighborhood and learning about nature.
  • Visit the Parks Canada Facebook page for weekly challenges and activities that kids can do at home or in the backyard.
  • The Ecologist School Program has ideas to get out into nature, to encourage siblings to play and learn together at home, and to support or supplement science education. There are 16 lessons on topics like climatology and paleontology, which can be done in a backyard or even inside your home using minimal materials.
  • Audubon for Kids! brings together activities including the classroom curriculum Audubon Adventures, DIY activities, and content that can be done at home. 
  • Sur le balcon offers (in French) fun and free tools to discover nature that hides around your house. With downloadable sheets, you can learn about neighbourhood animals and plants.

Related read: How to help children connect with nature


For even more nature-based activities, read 10 Nature Activities to Help Get Your Family Through the Coronavirus Pandemic from Children & Nature Network co-founder Richard Louv. The article includes a sampling of activities from his books (Vitamin N, Our Wild Calling, Last Child in the Woods) and other sources to help families cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Photos of the pinecone palace, backyard camping, and rock clock courtesy of Christine Latreille.

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