Nature is all around us.
Nature is everywhere. It’s in our communities, in our neighborhood parks and in our backyards.
There are many benefits to connecting with the natural world, including physical, mental, emotional and academic. From boosting one’s immune system and improving physical health to reducing anxiety and improving one’s outlook on life, spending just a few minutes outside each day can have profound impacts on our well-being.
Below are activities you can do in your backyard or at a park in your neighborhood. Take these ideas for a walk around your neighborhood and share these activities with your family and friends.
Engage with Nature
- Create Art
Making art from natural items you find outside is a great way to connect to nature. Take a walk around your backyard or neighborhood and gather items for a nature bracelet or your own nature mandala.
- Discover the Trees
From discovering the beginnings of buds to playing in fallen leaves, there are so many ways to explore and engage with trees!
- Explore New Paths
Hiking is a great way to get outside, connect with nature, expend pent up energy and alleviate stress. In addition to the trails at ALNC, try out the trails at different Nature Net sites or visit a Wisconsin State Park. Want to stay closer to home? Try a Micro-Hike in your own backyard! Or maybe is just rained? Take a puddle walk.
- Go Birding
Bird watching is a great way to connect with nature. You could start by making your own bird feeder from objects found around your home to attract birds to your yard. Create an indoor bird viewing station with soft seats or find a comfortable place outside…all you need is a great birding view. Write down your observations in your nature journal and use ID books or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to discover interesting facts about the species you see.
- Play Games
Playing games outside – even board games – is a great way to connect children to the natural world. Take it a step further and go on a nature scavenger hunt or play a game of camouflage.
- Practice Phenology
Get inspired by Aldo Leopold! After making your very own nature journal (or designating a special book), take note of the animals, plants, insects and birds you see. Draw pictures and write down your observations in your book – this is called nature journaling. Don’t forget to add the location and the date!
- Start a Garden
Planting seeds and watching them grow helps children connect with nature in a very hands on way. Start your own plants from leaf cuttings or plant seeds using toilet paper roll pots.
- Use Your Senses
Spending time in nature helps us expand the use of our senses. Use your sense of sight to discover the shapes of things found in nature. Close your eyes and open your ears to discover the sounds all around.
Participate with Citizen Science
- Great Lake Bioblitz
Now until May 20th, identify as many species as you can find in yards and green spaces across all of the Great Lakes states.
- Snapshot Wisconsin
Help the Wisconsin DNR identify which species were captured in images by their trail cams. A great way to connect with native species and participate in science on a cold or rainy day!
Explore through Crafts
- Cloud Craft
Did you know that out of all of the months of the year, April and May are the rainiest in Wisconsin? All the rain brings new growth and blooming flowers. There are all kinds of rain clouds. Nimbus Clouds are general rain clouds and often appear dark in the sky. The clouds that produce thunder and lightning are called Cumulonimbus Clouds; these are the ones that tower high into the sky and look big and puffy. No matter the weather, you can try your hand at this craft.
- Jack-in-the-Pulpit Craft
This woodland perennial, Arisaema triphyllum, blooms in Wisconsin in late spring. It has a large, cylindrical, hooded flower that resembles a “pulpit,” or podium, with a person, “Jack,” inside. Its coloring makes it tough to spot on the forest floor, but you can get to know this plant by making your very own model.
- Migratory Bird Craft
The second Saturday in May is World Migratory Bird Day! Celebrate the return of migratory birds to our area by making your very own bird craft in the likeness of your favorite feathered-friend.
- Nature Cards
Get inspired by nature on your next hike with this craft and make a sweet note of appreciation for a family member or friend.
- Painted Turtle Craft
Upcycle your used egg cartons and celebrate the most wide-spread native turtle in North America with this fun painted turtle craft.
- Bird Feeder
Put up a bird feeder or make your owMake binoculars using toilet paper tubes and keep track of the birds you see, use field guides to ID birds and keep a list of birds you’ve seen
- Make Your Own Book
your own bird, animal or tree book
Use old magazines, cut out pictures and glue into a booklet of blank papers
- Imaginary play outside What do you want to be or explore in your neighborhood?
- Make fairy or toad houses
- Find a spot to lay near a tree and look up. What do you see?
- Enjoy the night sky.
Play outdoor games like Shadow Tag and Duck, Duck, Goose.
Move like animals. Try hopping on one foot, crab walking, walking backwards, flying, etc.
Use sidewalk chalk to draw and play hopscotch.
Get your garden ready! Weed and work ground. Start your seeds inside this year and you don’t have to buy starter plants.
Keep a journal of all of your daily nature adventures.
Read often to your child, but allow time for your child to read and enjoy books on their own as well.
Write a letter, email, and/or call a different friend or family member each day- include pictures to raise their spirits!
Write a story cooperatively. One person picks a character and the other picks a setting and then take turns with the plot!
Make a reading tent (use tables, chairs, blankets) Read inside or have shadow shows.
Do an outdoor treasure hunt. Bury the “treasure” and leave clues or make a map to find it.
Draw or take pictures every day of the new growth you discover in the yard.
Have your child pick a topic they would like to learn about and dive in for the day!
Build with sticks.
Collect a bunch of tape markers and cardboard boxes and let your child decide how to use them. That’ll keep them engaged for a day or two.
Make and use playdoh. You can find a variety of microwave recipes online. No food coloring? Use herbs and spices to color it and make it smell wonderful. Try cinnamon, cocoa, turmeric, rosemary, or paprika.
Use playdough to make a bird’s nest with materials found outside
Gather sticks, rocks, etc. and use it to build creations with playdough
Give your child child-sized tools like a screwdriver or hammer. Allow them to pound nails into soft wood, old squashes, etc. Get them started first and let them finish hammering. Start screws in soft wood and let your child practice using a screwdriver.
Teach your child how to hand sew. Use a big needle, hoop and simple stitches. Sewing can be done using old fabric scraps or even paper.
Observe and record the daily weather. Temperature, rain, snow, wind.
Plan and build a maze using sticks.
Use all of your building toys to create one giant structure.
Family puzzles. Choose ones that are 100-300 pieces and have a challenging but not frustrating picture.
Sort nature objects found while walking or playing in the backyard. Let your child decide how to sort them and then ask them to explain. (There are no right answers!)
Count rocks, pebbles, birds.
Create a pattern with pinecones, sticks, pictures with sidewalk chalk and then have your child complete the pattern (or choose the next object that keeps the pattern going). Take turns and repeat.
Set a time for 30 seconds and have everyone gather as many objects (rocks, sticks, leaves, objects that are red, etc.) as they can. Look at the piles- which has more? Which has less? How many more are there? Count and repeat. Sort them. Classify them. Then tidy up!
Build numbers with sticks and then find that many objects.
Art projects -beading, painting, drawing, kinetic sand, etc.
Explore with sidewalk chalk outside.
Outdoor crafts to try:
Make a bird nest out of whatever you can find in your yard! Decide what kind of bird might live in this nest and why? Birds are coming back looking for materials to make their homes.
Painting: mud, watercolors, water, etc.
Paint or decorate rocks for pets or to brighten the yard.
Make up a song about your outdoor adventure.
- Do yoga at home. Try this website: https://preschoolinspirations.com/kid-yoga-videos/Use scissors to cut grasses, leaves or tiny sticks.
Use scissors to cut strips of paper (make strips ahead of time) or if proficient, cut out shapes to decorate for spring.
- Put on Your Hiking Gear and Try New Paths
A few ideas…Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Edna Taylor and Woodland Park, UW Madison Arboretum, UW Madison Lakeshore Path and Picnic Point, Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, Blue Mounds State Park, Horicon Marsh and Glacial Drumlin State trail