Outdoor Learning Spaces…At Home!

Photography: Katherine Heise

By Lisa Cheaney-Hogan

Playrooms, bedrooms, family rooms, living rooms and dens are all great solutions for when it comes to toy storage and play spaces. However, nothing can quite compare to the great outdoors. The winning combination of the sweet smell of the earth, the energy of the outdoor elements and the ability to use your outdoor voice…essentially, ‘freedom’, is the perfect recipe for creative exploration!

Outdoor learning environments are often spoken about and planned in schools and child care settings. With the home being the first and most prominent teacher, it is crucial to evaluate your outdoor environment to provide an extension of your home. Granted, various changing seasons for some may pose different opportunities and challenges, the ability to extend play exploration outdoors is truly valuable.

Creating an outdoor learning space does not have to be complicated or costly: a simple outdoor blanket and some building blocks may take on a new flavour once outdoors.

Creating an outdoor learning space does not have to be complicated or costly: a simple outdoor blanket and some building blocks may take on a new flavour once outdoors. The lack of roof and structured barriers (even a fence provides more visual flexibility than a wall!) allows children and adults alike, to literally, ‘think outside the box’. With limitless possibility and using natural materials in combination with familiar toys is a great start to an outdoor learning space.

The following are some ways that I have personally further developed to enhance our outdoor learning space:

  • Your kids want to paint? Let them go wild…with water! Water painting deepens the colour on fences and decks without any permanency. (Note: Add, ‘natural paint brushes’ – feathers, tree branch, flowers, etc, to further this nature inquiry).
  • Recycle, reduce and reuse! Have an unused baby bath tub lying around? This perfectly shaped basin doubles as great sensory table. Sand, water, goop, you name it!
  • Know anyone cutting down a tree? We did and scooped up the larger pieces to create natural outdoor seating.
  • A wooden play structure has been a great addition to our outdoor space – constructed or home-built options both work (Note: we added simple shelving in the lower covered portion to create a ‘kitchen’ and to provide a space for treasures).
  • Items worth adding to your space: small clipboard (great for small hands), magnifying glasses, binoculars, scrap pieces of wood (sand the edges for minimal splinters), buckets, shovels, rocks, wood discs, sticks, empty kitchen containers/canisters that you would otherwise recycle…Honestly, anything that sparks interest and that allows for open-ended play is key.
  • Use that child-sized clipboard and have a scavenger hunt. Don’t have much space? Extend to the front yard/park/neighbourhood walk.
  • Have a picnic and no one has to clean the kitchen floor. Take kids on a ‘bear hunt’ with their food and set up a teddy-bear-picnic.
  • Have a tent? Set it up! This can double as an outdoor reading corner or an, indoor/outdoor play area that provides shade on those sunny days.
  • Don’t have a pool? Neither do I! A sprinkler, kiddie pool or even just a water sensory table does the trick (Note: hot day? Have the sprinkler run down the slide for a water slide effect).
  • Plant! In pots, in the ground, in planters, a fairy garden, in mason jars…PLANT! To care and nurture something from seed to mature plant also helps nurture gentle minds who develop empathetic hearts.
  • Don’t forget puddle jumping. This is the reason why you purchased those rain boots and rain coats! It is a good thing kids are washable.
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