Day Camp at Home Week 3: Exploration

Welcome to the third week of Active for Life Day Camp at Home! Every week until Aug. 24, we’ll provide you with activities, crafts, and book recommendations for you and your kids to do at home. Here you’ll find a variety of games and activity ideas, using little to no equipment and materials, that will keep your children active, engaged, and having fun!

Welcome to Week 3: Exploration

This week we share lots of nature-inspired games and activities for your child to play on their own and with a caregiver. Along with arts and crafts projects, book suggestions and some bonus activities, your child will connect with nature and the world around them.

Even if your outdoor space is a balcony or concrete patio, you can find lots of ways to bring nature indoors!

You decide how you want to use these activities: pick one thing to do each day of the week, plan a full day of fun, or just scan through for inspiration on the go!

Here’s what we’ve got for this week:

Other weeks

Week 1: Animal Planet
Week 2: Music Makers
Week 4: Olympic Games
Week 5: Going Green
Week 6: Under the Sea
Week 7: Splish, Splash
Week 8: Where the Wild Things Are

  • Independent play: Make a homemade magnifying glass to check out small critters and get creative by building a miniature national park!
  • Arts & crafts: Get your hands dirty with some dandelion playdough and be an artist with the use of some natural paintbrushes.
  • Active family fun: Hug a tree, start a sock garden, and head out on a nature scavenger hunt.
  • Quiet time: Find your very own sitting spot or check out some nature-themed books for all ages.

Independent play

Playing freely in nature is critical to a child’s development and helps them grow physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially and as parents we can help them connect with nature by giving them the space to explore.

Activity: Homemade Magnifying Glass

What you’ll need: 

  • Small glass jar with the label removed (i.e. honey jar, baby food jar, etc.)
  • Water

How to play: 

  1. Fill up the glass jar with water to the very top.
  2. Screw on the lid.
  3. Hold the jar a few inches away from a flower, a bug, or an interesting rock and look through the water. What do you see?

Keep the fun going: 

  • Put the magnifying glass in your backpack and take it on a nature walk or use it to take a closer look at items around your house!
  • Make a journal of what you see—be sure to include a drawing, the location it was found, and any other interesting facts from the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Encyclopedia.

Activity: Bug Pooter

What you’ll need: 

  • A large straw (a milkshake straw works great!)
  • Pantyhose (or other very thin fabric)
  • Elastic band
  • Clear container

How to play: 

  1. Cut out a small piece of pantyhose (3 x 3 cm).
  2. Using the rubber band, secure the piece of pantyhose to the end of a straw (this acts as the “pooter” filter). 
  3. Let your child go out exploring and “suck” up any small bugs and gently put them in the clear container.
  4. Have them grab their homemade magnifying glass and take a closer look at the bugs they’ve found (just remember that bugs need to go back to the wild once they’ve taken a closer peek!)
  5. Check out the Big Bug Hunt to learn more about bugs. 

Modifications:

How to make it easier:

  • Collect some bugs in a jar and then have your child look at them through their homemade magnifying glass.

How to increase the challenge:

  • Get your child to find three to five different bugs within the play space.
  • Have your child grab a piece of paper and draw or colour the bugs they’ve found and have them include the environment where they were found (i.e. dirt, grass, tree bark) as the background of the picture.

Keep the fun going: 

  • Have them build a bug national park! (Read on for instructions!)

Activity: Bug National Park

What you’ll need: 

  • Boundary marker (i.e. string, hula hoop, etc.)

How to play: 

  1. Place the marker in an area of your backyard, at the park, or even in your house.
  2. Get your child to design a “national park” for bugs within the marked area.
  3. Encourage your child to be creative by using natural items within the play space that could include: a twig used as bridge, a pile of rocks for a mountain range, a puddle imagined to be a giant lake.

Modifications:

How to make it easier:

  • Reduce the size of the marked area.
  • Provide some items and ideas to get them started, like using a rock for a pathway or sticks for a forest.

How to increase the challenge:

  • Increase the size of the marked-off space (i.e. large portion of your backyard)
  • Give children 3-5 items/features that need to be part of their national park (i.e. a lookout, a rest area, etc.)

Keep the fun going: 

  • When they’ve completed their national park, have them be a tour guide and show you what they created.
  • Ask children to draw a map of their park’s features, complete with happy bugs enjoying them!

Arts & crafts

Making arts and crafts projects out of natural items is a great way to get children up close to things around them (and it’s a great way to get crafty on a budget!)

Craft: Dandelion Playdough

Materials:

  • A big handful of dandelions tops (yellow parts only)
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • Basic playdough recipe: 2 cups of flour, ⅓ cup of salt, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (or baby oil), 1-2 tablespoons of cream of tartar, large bowl, blender/potato masher

Instructions:

  1. Bring one cup of water to a boil and remove from heat.
  2. Using your blender or potato masher, mix hot water and dandelion tops until completely blended.
  3. Transfer dandelion mixture to a large bowl and add oil, salt, cream of tartar and stir until salt is dissolved. 
  4. Add in flour and mix until completely incorporated.
  5. If the mixture is sticky, add more flour and knead until the playdough is smooth. 

Modifications

How to increase the challenge:

  • Have your child measure ingredients or be your assistant when making the playdough.
  • Get them to collect different types of plants to see what other coloured playdough they can create (i.e. purple lilac flowers, green leaves, etc.)  
  • Try making the basic playdough recipe and add in different herbs and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, and thyme.
  • Take your playdough on a nature walk and your child can make imprints of natural items you find along the way like rocks, leaves, and tree bark.
  • Use the dandelion stems to write a secret message on a piece of white paper. When the “dandelion ink” dries, it will reveal the message!

Craft: Natural Paintbrushes

Materials:

  • Natural items (i.e. twigs, leaves, rocks, blades of grass)
  • Paper
  • Paint
  • Paper plates or containers

Instructions:

  1. Set out paint on paper plates or in containers.
  2. Have your child paint use the natural items as paintbrushes, stamps, etc.

Modifications:

How to make it easier: 

  • Give your child a limited number of items to choose from.
  • Draw an outline of a picture on a piece of paper and get your child to complete it using the natural paintbrushes

How to increase the challenge:

  • Have your child create pictures of animals, landscapes or stories using only the natural items. 
  • Try painting with items that could be more challenging like tree bark, flower petals, pinecones, etc.
  • Find and use natural “paint” like dandelion tops, flower petals, and even clay or dirt!

Keep the fun going: 

  • Using a large roll of craft paper, have your child paint a mural for a large window or wall.
  • Use the natural paintbrushes to create pictures outside on the sidewalk, driveway, or balcony.

Active family fun

There are so many great ways to get your family outside and playing in nature, including a scavenger hunt around your neighbourhood, heading out on a hikegeocaching, or even some fun nighttime activities. 

Activity: Tree Hugger

Equipment: 

  • Scarf or bandana (for a blindfold)

How to play: 

  1. Designate a starting point (i.e. a rock, a twig placed on the ground, etc.)
  2. In pairs, have one partner lead the blindfolded person to a nearby tree.
  3. The blindfolded person then has two minutes to use their senses to “remember” their tree.
  4. After the two minutes, the blindfolded person is led back to the starting point with help from their partner.
  5. Once the blindfold is removed, the person must go back and find “their” tree.

Modifications:

How to make it easier:

  • Choose a smaller play space. 
  • Help by giving clues to where their tree is, like it’s beside something that rhymes with “lock” (rock)

How to increase the challenge

  • Complete steps 1-4 then spin the blindfolded player around before they try and find their tree.
  • Play in a heavily forested area to really increase the level of challenge.

How to adapt the game for smaller spaces:

  • Place similar natural items on a tray (i.e. 5-10 leaves, pinecones, etc.) and have the blindfolded player choose one item off the tray and use their senses to “remember” the item before taking off the blindfold and trying to find it again among the tray of items. 

Activity: Sock Sprouts

Equipment:

  • Old socks

How to play:

  1. Have each person put a pair of old socks over their shoes.
  2. Take a walk (or run!) through a field, grassy area, or forest. 
  3. When you get home, carefully take the socks off and place each pair in an aluminum foil pan with a little water (just enough to make the socks wet).
  4. Place the trays in a bright window indoors and make sure the socks stay moist. 
  5. Watch what grows!

Game: Nature Safe Spots

Equipment: 

  •  None

How to play:

  1. Find a natural space or park area.
  2. Have one person as the leader who calls out, “You are safe if….” (i.e. “you find a dandelion, are standing on a rock, touching a tree,” etc.).
  3. Each player runs to complete the task. 
  4. The last person to complete the task can do a funny dance, five jumping jacks, etc.
  5. The leader switches after each turn. 

Modifications:

How to make it easier:

  • Instead of natural items, use colours or textures (i.e. “You are safe if you find something that is yellow, rough, etc.”)
  • Give a five-second head start for your child to find the item.

How to increase the challenge: 

  • Instead of running to complete the task, choose other physical skills like skipping, rolling, hopping.
  • Check out this online encyclopedia from the Canadian Wildlife Federation to find specific names of native plants in your area and use them instead of “find a tree, sit next to a flower,” etc.

How to adapt the game for smaller spaces: 

  • Rainy day? Play this game using natural materials found around your house ( items made of wood, wool, etc.)

Activity: Nature Scavenger Hunt

Equipment:

How to play:

  1. Print off a scavenger hunt card for each person.
  2. Head out into your backyard, local park, or natural space and check off all the items you can find!

Quiet time

Looking for a way to find some quiet time? A great way to enjoy nature is by creating a sitting spot!

Sitting spots can be a special rock, a log, or even a quiet corner in your house. They’re a great way for both children and adults to have a quiet place to think, observe, or listen to what’s happening outside. You can also try some of these great ways to use a sitting spot to explore meditation.

Here are some recommended reads on our exploration theme (and links to read-aloud videos on YouTube).

    • 0-3 years: The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

    • 3-5 years: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

    • 6-8 years: The Hike by Alison Farrell

  • 9-12 years: Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman (available at bookstores and online)
  • For parents: The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Bonus activities

We hope you got your hands dirty with our fun nature games and activities!

Join us next week as we celebrate the Olympics and what would have been the start of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games! Get a sneak peek at what’s ahead in our printable Active for Life Day Camp at Home adventure map. Give it to your child to colour in and see what themes are coming up next.

We’d love to hear from you and your child! What was your favourite activity? What did you learn this week? Share in the comments below.

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