What a beautiful time of year to be outside! Children love being outside in the fresh air and, as a teacher, I enjoy finding ways take our learning outside to our outdoor classroom.
I am lucky to teach in a place that our kindergarten program is inquiry and play based. If children show an interest in something, then we create our program around these interests.
Whether it is a mini unit or a theme that lasts months, the children guide their learning. All of the subject areas, from language and math to science and art are taught with the theme in mind.
With the changing seasons, children have been keen to learn everything about fall, from leaves to pumpkins. For our outdoor education class, I decided to take all of those great things about fall and create centers for the children to explore.
We had so much fun outside in the beautiful weather with all of our outdoor play activities. Although many of the centers are fall themed, they could change slightly to work for any season.
Setting Up Your Outdoor Play Area
I am lucky to work at a school with a beautiful outdoor play space. However, all of the activities can be done with minimal materials in virtually any outdoor space from your back yard to a neighborhood park.
When I introduce children to the centers, we usually walk, as a group, from center to center and I briefly describe the center and what materials are available to play with and explore.
I feel that the important thing is just getting outside and enjoying being outside – especially with kids. Below are the centers that I set up and a brief description. There is so much you can do!
Outdoor Classroom Centers
I like include at least one science based center whenever we go outside and do centers. Since we have been learning about pumpkins, I wanted children to get a chance to get their hands on some pumpkin goop!
I put some pumpkin seeds, pumpkin goo, a few gems, felt leaves and some water into a baggie and then froze the mixture. Once frozen, I then put the frozen mixture in a tin pan with popsicle sticks for children to scrape and pick at and magnifying glasses for inspecting.
If you are doing these centers at a different time of year other then fall, you can always use a different material to freeze. Try apples, flowers, bananas or even a mixture of materials. (Make sure to be mindful of any allergies.)
We have a plexiglass easel that the kids love to paint on. Today I made some leaf stamps for them to use. I glued a wooden cube to the back to help keep their hands from becoming covered in paint (it only somewhat helped.)
I put out a few different colors of paint and students painted the felt stamps and then pressed them to the plexiglass.
It was an interesting sensory experience for kids and slightly different than regular painting.
A few weeks ago, I did a sensory walk with children that ended up being the most popular center. (Link to full description of “A Walk Through Fall” at bottom of post.)
I used the same idea again today, but I added a few more buckets for children to step in. I made sure the area was clear of anything that they could step on and hurt their feet.
Bare foot, children walked through dry corn, dry mini leaves, pine cones, pebbles, leaves, and sand.
This was such a great sensory activity and children wanted to go through the walk again and again. I think because we rarely do sensory activities that use bare feet, they loved the freedom of being outside without socks or shoes.
We have a beautiful structure that I am always trying to come up with new ways of using. Today I kept it simple and tightly wrapped yarn around it and then encouraged children to slip leaves between the pieces of yarn to create a wall of leaves.
It wasn’t the most popular center, but there were always a few children who were drawn to it.
Although this worked well in the fall with all the leaves on the ground, you could do this at any time of year.
You could go for a walk around the outdoor classroom area and collect any leaves you could find. Then bring children back to the where you have wound the yarn and they can slip their leaves through.
When done, it creates a really pretty wall of leaves that almost look like they are floating.
On our plexiglass easel I also set up an art center that did not involve children painting. Before bringing children out for the centers, I painted the back side of the easel with blue and green paint. Once it was dry it was ready to use.
Children then used twigs to scratch pictures into the paint. The twigs that they used were very bendy and did not scratch the board. The blue represented the sky and the green was the ground. Children created various pictures on the board.
In our sensory bins I used, mini pumpkins, leaves, pipe cleaners, pine cones, mulch and dry corn. Many children spent quite some time at these tables.
Some children created leaf bracelets with the leaves and pipe cleaners. I also encouraged students to pick the corn from the cob. It is a interesting sensory activity that left us with a bin of corn kernels.
Outdoor Classroom Pumpkin Art
Since the children were excited for fall, I used 2 pumpkins to create a center. I put write and wipe markers at the table with the pumpkins and encouraged children to draw and create faces on the pumpkins.
The marks easily wipe off after children have drawn. However, my students mainly added on to the child’s drawing who had gone before them.
I love to include a building project for my students. I have several children who I love to build and have all the qualities of future engineers! At this center I put out lots of sticks and a few balls on the bridge.
I encouraged children to try, using the bridge, to roll a ball down on the stick(s) without it falling off. Construct some structure/ramp that could be balanced on the bridge and allow the ball to run down without falling off until the bottom.
We had a great day outside and lots of smiles, play and learning happened!
For More Hands-On Teaching and Outdoor Classroom Ideas
If you are looking for more fun learning activities for children, below are a collection of my favorite and most popular activities.