When I was doing the research for my book, Outside Our Window, I interviewed many parents about their own childhood play experiences. I asked how has play changed for their children and wasn't surprised at their answers. Their responses aligned with what the research confirms.  I wish so much that I had filmed their interviews and believe it is one of the primary reasons parents value my nature kindergarten program and why I am so passionately committed to supporting teachers who are transitioning to an outdoor program. 

This excellent video from the Opal School on the importance of play shares their story as a school and helps us to understand what children want and need. The link is below.

These art activities complement mixed age groups and are pretty simple to set up. Most will not need tools. However, including an outdoor art tool kit in your pack back or car broadens the playful art opportunities for your children. These mini kits can include some of your child's favourite pieces like shells, stones but string but scissors and side walk chalk should be there a well. 

Theses are all nature art activities that I have done with my nature kindergarten class and were easy, fun and done over an over again!!!

Clay Fairy Homes
Bring enough balls of clay for each child. Pat into flat pieces to attach, add nature's loose parts for decoration and find a quiet space in the forest to leave the fairy home. Include a special gift for the fairy like a beautiful acorn or smooth stone.

Nature Faces
This is a really fun seashore or forest activity and can be expanded to animal, monster, silly or alien faces. We prepared for this art activity by playing circle games which use facial expressions to guess feelings, looked at land art and read Let's Make Faces by Hanoch Piven. 
Collect nature's loose parts from the seashore and arrange to make different faces. Some examples are stones, sticks, shells, driftwood and seaweed. Sometimes a carry a basket with special loose parts which complement the activity like flowers, leaves or pinecones.

Nature Mandalas
This really creative activity can take place at the seashore or in the forest. I like to bring baskets for collecting nature's loose parts as it can require quite a lot of pieces. Begin by choosing a big enough area for fit your art and that people can walk around. Choose a larger piece for the centre such as a large rock or seashell. Then layer with circles or lines until you run out of materials. Sometimes when we returned the next day, the children were often surprised and delighted to discover that visitors had added another circle to our mandalas.

The children enjoyed this creative activity so much that I prepared a mandala provocation in the classroom and carried a mandala kit to our outdoor classroom for weeks. The kit included sticks, stones, shells and some cedar branches the children had collected and picked apart to make uniform sizes. They still collected loose parts in the outdoor classroom but the kit included some favourite parts.

 photo borrowed from Mud Puddles and Meteors

Nature Bracelets
These very artsy bracelets are super simple but require you to bring wide sticky tape and scissors with you. Begin by going on a hunt to find small colourful loose parts to decorate the bracelet. Then your child can lay the pieces out in a pattern or design that or choose to be random. Wrap the tape sticky side out on your child's wrist and add the design. With all the wonderful colours of tape you can go wild and choose yellow, red, pink, purple or even zebra.

Nature Collage
This activities can be as simple as creating picture frames out of sticks or planning ahead and brining a old frame, box lid, white glue, sticky Mac Mac or even string to make a clothesline. 

Collect nature's loose parts and then arrange them in different combinations until you like the look. These can be very detailed and beautiful. If making a permanent art display then transfer to the backing.

I love to offer this same experience in the classroom using old frames, pieces of fabric or felt for the setting then giving the children some nature loose parts and time. This activity can be seasonal, setting based and works excellently with recycled parts indoors and out. 

Want to discover even more fun activities check out this link.

These games are easy to teach, active and collaborative. Just mix outdoor with play and a dash of nature’s loose parts and you have a recipe for fun!!!

Balancing Rocks
Estimate the number of stones you need to build the stone cairn. Collect stones and then stack. We watched a You tube video to help with prior knowledge before building and then began practicing with small stones at the seashore moving up to small boulders in the forest. The children were making what I thought were wild guesses but they were actually very close!! Then I set up a math provocation in the classroom to extend their interest with rocks of different sizes.

This active partitioning games does not require any materials but does require space. For our purposes we usually play this math game in the meadow adjacent to our forest. The "caller" calls out a number and the children move into groups. If they need more group members then they hold out a hand show the number. The "caller switches to a different number and the children rearrange themselves. I wish I had a video of this game but hope that you can imagine how much fun it is!!  

We also play it as a partner game using loose parts indoors and outdoors. This very flexible game also lends itself as 1:1 for assessment, build fluency or as an intervention.

In small groups of 4-5 students, assign numbers to each participant and have them hunt for nature's loose parts to sort and count using a grid format. Follow-up with a gallery walk so that groups can compare and contrast their collections.

This could be a partner or a small group activity. Ask students ask them to choose a tree for their measurement task. Then working together with a string (any non-standard item will work) they measure the circumference of the tree, it's shadow and any loose parts like seeds or leaves which have fallen. They can also sort the loose parts from the tree by size, shape or colour.

This can be done with a paper bag if you plan on combining collections to make a larger number otherwise just asking students to work on a number line in small groups works well and is fun for the children. They collect nature's loose parts and then build the numbers along the number line together. When we are at the seashore I draw in on a long log using sidewalk chalk. This would also work at school on the patio if you have nature loose parts in your classroom or nearby on the school grounds.


Math Fluency In An Outdoor Program

This past year I focused on the core concepts in Kindergarten math using three primary access points; counting jar routine, daily math partner play and story problems. Our circle times were also infused with opportunities for the children to build numeracy through games, songs, read aloud, small group work and math talk.

Although I do reference many math and literacy activities in my book Outside Our Window: developing a primary nature program I wanted to share some new activities that we do outdoors and a few of our indoor math activities.

Counting Jar Framework provided the children with regular opportunities to count objects, develop counting strategies like organizing, skip counting, touch and count, conservation and adding on. The children had access to counting mats to help with organization, subitizing and skip counting. Some examples were five and ten frames, repurposed milk cups, egg cartons, dot cards and hand prints. I provided jars with different numbers of objects and time to count. Over the year, I added more jars and increased the quantity while increasing the amount of time dedicate to counting each week.

Math Partner Play is a regular part of our kindergarten day and easily flows inside out. While providing the children with experiences to build social skills they also work on fluency in the core concepts; patterning subitizing and partitioning.

The children copied, extended and built their own patterns during math play with the materials being refreshed regularly.  In the forest the children used leaves, sticks, stones, shells and seeds for pattern play. The forest pattern play was so open ended the children began to used the same object but positioning it differently to create the pattern encouraging flexible thinking.

To build fluency with subitizing, many of the math games included using dot patterns like Find It & Dot Bingo from Carole Fullerton, domino games as well as board games which used dot cards or dice. We would bring our dot cards to the nature classroom and the children would collect nature loose parts to play the game or we would bring a basket of loose part with us to ensure that we had lots of resources.

We had so much fun with partitioning found it one of the easiest to adapt for the forest or seashore. Some of the math games included hand and cup games where the partner had to guess how many were missing from Math Their Way,  adding towers, number bags (from Suzanne Dodd, SD68) and number challenges which required the children to roll a die or turn over a number card to compose/decompose the number of objects i.e. blocks, pine cones, shells, stones... 

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