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Backyard Play Activities

Ideas for Outdoor Activities From Your Friends at the Zoo

Play With Loose Parts
Cardboard boxes, Sleds, Tarps, Rope, Wood scraps, Stumps, and Bark are just a few things to pull together to come up with your own play creation.  Construct dens, make tunnels, dress up, make fairy houses, and many other things that you might do inside…but take it outside!  Don’t forget to dress appropriately!

Wearing Nature
Take masking tape in a length for wrists or heads and turn it so the sticky side is out.  Wear it as a head band, wrist bracelet or any other way as long as the sticky side is out.  Take an adventure outdoors and decorate the tape with interesting objects you find along the way.

Animal Tracks
See what kinds of critters are visiting your backyard.  Just place a plate of birdseed and peanut butter on unsalted crackers in an area as far from human activity as possible.  Spread sand around the plate about 1” deep and 6” wide.  Pack the sand down and spray it with water to help it stay in place.  Leave the area alone as much as possible and check in the mornings to see if any tracks have been left in the sand.  If so, do some research to discover what kind of critters are in the backyard.

*You can do this same thing in a muddy area.  A great time to take advantage of soggy ground!

Straw Feeder
This Norwegian tradition consists of bundling together wheat and storing little food treats throughout the bundle for wild animals. You can use dried grasses from a field, sticks, or other natural material that you can bind together. 

Bundle the straw together with string and hide treats inside. Then hang the bundle from a tree so all the animals can enjoy it!  Examples of treats could be: birdseed, peanut butter, unsalted crackers, berries...

Snowball Trees
Make snowball decorations using household objects and/or nature’s bounty.  This activity works best when the temperature drops below freezing (32°F).  You can use snow what nature provides or make some snow with shaved ice. 

First, form the snowball around a string or a pipe cleaner.  Make a knot under the snowball or use a large button to help hold the snowball on the string.  Using a spray bottle, on fine mist, spray the ball to help it keep its shape.  Decorate the snowball with sticks, berries, nuts, ribbon, buttons, and any other objects you have permission to use.  Hang the snowballs on a tree for everyone to see!

Pine Wreaths
Cut a few ends of pine tree branches (small enough to bend) and cut off any extending branches.  Take one branch and bend it to make a circle.  Tie the two ends together.  Swirl and inter-twine other branches around the circle, until you’ve made a wreath.  Decorate your wreath with pine cones, needles, berries or any other natural materials you can find.  This will bring that pine fresh smell indoors!

Seed Collection
Go on a mission to find as many different seeds and seed carriers as possible.  Look for tree seeds, flower seeds, shrub seeds and more.  Some may be on the ground, on the plant or on top of objects.  Some examples are acorns, persimmons, pine cones, berries, and bean pods. 

Break open the seed carriers to find the seeds inside.  If necessary, have an adult provide or help you with tools to get to the seed.  Compare the different kinds of seeds and the cases they came from…Now, what can you do?

Mini Ice Skating Rink
Grab a parent and some materials to make a mini ice skating rink.  All you need is a border, a sheet of plastic, a hose and some cold nights!

First, figure out how big you want to make your rink (smaller areas freeze better).  Build a border that is the size you want and put plastic down on the inside.  Add enough water to cover the bottom of the plastic.  When that layer has frozen, spray a little more water on top and let it freeze as well.  Repeat until you reach the desired depth of ice.

Nature’s Art
Look for natural materials that have interesting colors or shapes.  Leaves, sticks, rocks, and dirt of different colors are good items to start with. 

Create a natural piece of art by arranging them in patterns or shapes.  Look at some of Andy Goldsworthy’s work for inspiration.

Other Outdoor Activity Ideas

Nature Detectives

Preschool Rainbow