Outdoor Engagement

As I write this article on a snow day it seems appropriate that I am writing about how the outdoors is a perfect place to engage and connect with your toddler and preschool child. Remember snow days as a child? You loved them and couldn’t wait to get your snow pants and mitts on and head out into the wintery unknown. Climbing mountains of newly fallen snow. Is it sticky, snowman, making snow? Or Is it the type of snow that will create a plume as you land in it? With an ever-changing landscape each day, week, month, and season, outdoors bring forth new and exciting opportunities for your child to explore and learn. Stem, creative, fitness and quiet times are right through your door. Let’s bundle up for some outdoor fun.

Older children seem to embrace these days, but younger children may need your participation to get the most of their time outdoor. This also helps us as adults reconnect with our inner child and the natural world around us.

Here are some suggestions that will be fun for both adult and child:

Go for a walk:

I know you have heard it a million times before, but I think walks just for walks are a missed opportunity to explore and play. Play one of the games on the list and see your walk transformed.

I spy (a colour, a shape, a texture):

I spy with my little eye something that is green with a rough texture. Is it a leaf? Is it a tree?
Responses will gauge the type and complexity of questions to ask.
Take turns with your child. Their question may surprise you and take you in an unexpected

Treasure Hunt:

Every time you head out for a walk with a list of items to find it opens your senses. You may think it only opens your eyes while looking for all those items, but we look with our ears and nose too. Ears for hearing the rustle of leaves or a bird chirping in a tree. We smell buds in spring (even if that is a few months off), the smell of pine needles or even some animals. Once the items are found we use touch as we pick up and investigate, nature provides an abundance of textures. Encourage your children to look not taste unless you have expertise in what items found in nature can be eaten.

Follow the Leader:

This is a great way to get in some physical activity. You can guide your child to run, spin, crawl and hop. Go under tree branches and jump to touch a hanging leaf, Climb over a log if they are not too big for your child to get over. Let your child lead and enjoy the activities that their imaginations come up with.

Learn With Backyard Science:

If you joined me on the zoom calls, we had a Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activity each week. I am including a few of those in this post because they were so fun but also a new one for you to try.

Exploring Incline and Friction:

Who’s sled will go the fastest?
Gather your items:

  • Ramp – I Made a ramp out of snow. This took a couple days to create as poured water over the ramp to make it solid and slippery.
  • Sleds – Old boxes, egg cartons, plastic wrapping. The other day I found a plastic Easter egg tucked away in my house and as I picked it up I thought what a great sled this would have been.
  • Passengers – Place outdoor safe toys (plastic, bath toys or fast drying) in each sled. I chose to tape them in to stop them from falling out.

Take it outside:
Bring the sleds to the top of the ramp.
Form a hypothesis for your experiment and ask questions. Which sled do they think will go the fastest? Slowest? Why? Talk about some of the things you notice about each sled. The weight, is it heavy or light? The texture, is it smooth or rough?
Test your hypothesis by sending each sled down the ramp. Where you right? Or are you surprised?

Snow Volcanoes:

What happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar?
Gather your items inside:

  • About ½ a cup of baking soda in a plastic cup. I coloured the baking soda with ground-up sidewalk chalk, but food colouring also works.
  • About 2 cups of vinegar. I just brought the whole container out

Take it Outside:
Make a mound/mountain of snow that once built will be big enough to hollow out and place your cup in.
Once your cup is in place, form a hypothesis for your experiment and ask questions. What do you think will happen when I pour the vinegar into the mountain? Do you think the same thing will happen if you pour the vinegar into just plain snow?
Test your hypothesis. Wow, it is fun to watch and learn what does happen, you will be sure to get a lot of cheering and excitement as the mixture bubbles over the side of the mountain.
It was also fun the next day after it froze to pick up the whole frozen mound and place it elsewhere in the garden…hmm, could this be a game of hid and seek as well?

Frozen Bubbles:

Bubbles always capture a child’s attention, and this experiment will do that and bring in a little whimsy to a cold day. This experiment needs to be done on a cold crisp day with minimal wind.
Gather your items inside:

  • Bubble wands, straws, plastic cookie cutters
  • 1.5 cups of warm water
  • ½ cup of liquid dish soap
  • ¼ cup of light corn syrup

Mix everything in a plastic bowl, until it is blended well and all the syrup has dissolved, then refrigerate until chilled.
As you bundle up, form a hypothesis and ask questions. What do you think will happen when we blow a bubble outside? Do you think it will freeze or pop?

Take it outside:
Test your hypothesis and blow the bubbles. How many different ways can you blow the bubbles? Close to the snow or from standing. With the cookie cutter, bubble wand or by dipping the end of the straw in the mixture. Blowing right into the bowl with the straw to see if you get a different result. I am curious already to see what happens.

Your participation in these activities help everyone to get the most out of outdoor time. It can be exciting to watch and learn with your child. It can help them build a love for nature and a foundation for their future education. While helping us, adults, to reconnect to the environment and create life-long memories with the most important people in our lives.

By Jennifer Wall

Publicity CoordinatorOutdoor Engagement