Simple Activities to Help Your Child Explore the Natural World

The following is by contributor Catherine Way of Adventures With Kids.

There are plenty of great reasons for getting your children outside to explore nature, from encouraging physical activity to a link to improved concentration, but the best reason is that children love being outdoors and exploring their world.

There are some simple things that you can do to encourage your children’s explorations and deepen their understanding of how the world works.

Here are some nature explorations that you and your child can work on together.  I’ve tried to include something to do in the areas that I find are are of greatest interest to children – animals, plants, weather and the world under the water.

Choose one of these explorations and get started finding out more about the natural world:

Animals: Look for Signs of Life

Wherever you live there will be animals making their homes near by.  If you look closely you will find many signs of wildlife. Go on an animal hunt.  How many signs of animal life can you find?  What sorts of animals are living near you?  Perhaps you can find

  • a spiderweb
  • tracks in the dirt
  • burrows in the ground
  • droppings
  • a snail’s trail
  • chewed leaves
  • What can you hear?  Can you hear animals calling?

Plants: Watching a Plant Grow

Children love to plant a seed and see it grow.  It seems like magic.  But it’s frustrating because it can be a long time before you see anything.

Here’s an experiment that lets you see the growing process.

Find a potato or sweet potato.  Stick toothpicks around the potato to suspend it in the mouth of a glass jar.  Fill the jar with water so that the bottom part of vegetable is covered.  As you wait for it to grow, keep the water topped up.  Place the plant in a sunny spot.  It will take about two weeks for a vine to start growing and you will be able to see both what’s happening above and below the ground.

Water: Looking Below the Surface

When you into the water what you see is often blurred by light reflections off the water.  But there is an fascinating world under there waiting to be explored.  You can build a viewer to help you peek into the underwater world.

Photo by Catherine Way
To build a water viewer you need:

  • a small plastic bucket
  • plastic wrap
  • an elastic band

Cut a big circle from the bottom of the bucket.  Cut a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the top of the bucket.  Secure the plastic in place with the elastic band.

Place the top of the bucket (plastic-wrapped end) into the water.  Look through the hole in the other end of the bucket to see what’s happening down there under the surface of the water.  The deeper you push the bucket the more the view is magnified, but don’t put the top of the viewer into the water or it will fill with water.   The viewer works best in clear water.

Weather: Make a Rainbow

For me, one of the most magical things to see in nature is a rainbow.  Rainbows occur when sunlight bends (refracts) as it passes through droplets of water in the air.  This separates the white light into separate colours and creates a rainbow.

You can make your own rainbow with a glass of water and a piece of white paper. Find a sunny spot, inside or out.  Hold a glass of water above a piece of white paper and watch as the sunlight passing through the glass of water bends and forms a rainbow on the paper.

Try holding the glass at different angles and see what happens.  Try using different glasses (or even use something bigger like a glass vase).

Now What: Start your Nature Collection

Photo by OakleyOriginals

Now that you have your child wondering about the natural world, you can keep them interested with a nature collection. Follow the interests of your child as you decide what to collect.

You could create a general collection of the best natural objects you have found.  You might include: shells, a snakeskin, feathers, rocks, a bird’s nest, seedpods, fossils or bones.

You can also create themed collections, for example, a collection of seedpods, or shells and so on.  This is a great way to compare the different shapes, sizes, colours and other characteristics of natural objects.  This is the start of learning to identify and classify species.

You might want to create a mix of both general and themed collections.

Be sure to check regulations about collecting in your area before you take things.  You might be able to take a photo of the object if you aren’t allowed to collect it.

Collections can be stored and displayed in a number of ways  –  in a bowl, on a nature table or grouped and labeled in boxes.

Other Resources

If you’d like to try some more nature explorations here are a couple of great resources:

  • the US National Wildlife Federation has a great website with activities for all year round
  • I Love Dirt: 52 activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature, by Jennifer Ward

Do your children love exploring outdoors?  What are they interested in finding out about the natural world at the moment?

About Catherine

Catherine Way is mum to two boys living in North Australia. They read lots, run lots, love to learn new things and are good at finding fun and mischief. Catherine blogs about her family adventures and passion for lifelong learning at Indirect Observations.

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  1. I don’t know about the collection, but the outdoors is my kind of place and when we go out, I show my kids all kinds of stuff. To a certain extent, observing nature wide-eyed makes us parents kids again, so the kids are just our excuse 😉

    Great post!
    Family Matters´s latest post: Good Parenting Problems

    • I agree, having children has taken me back to all the things I used to do as a child, and I’m always looking for things and pointing stuff out when we are in the garden or on a walk. Although, my eldest son is now turning into a great wildlife spotter – usually, he sees things before me!
      Catherine´s latest post: on Simple Kids

  2. I love these, Cat 🙂

    Thanks for reminding me of the potato sprouting (I haven’t done that since I was a kid myself and I know my oldest would think that was pretty cool) and I definitely see a homemade water viewer in our very near future!
    Kara Fleck´s latest post: Simple Activities to Help Your Child Explore the Natural World

  3. I had no idea that you could make your own rainbow. How cool – I can’t wait to try it!
    Tina@RideonToys´s latest post: The Barbie Tough Trike For The Princess In The House

  4. These are wonderful ideas! I like the water viewer.

  5. Great post, Cat! We just created a very special rock collection, which we stored in a jar filled with water taken from the very river the rocks came from. Such a great way to remember our hours of fun exploring the river.

  6. We love learning via nature, there’s just infinite possibilities!
    Hear Mum Roar´s latest post: Toddlers like to post

  7. Love this post!!! We have a window sill garden growing at the moment: carrot and beetroot tops… and a couple of other goodies. I love the water viewer, we are definitely going to have to make one – or se7en (!) of those!!!
    se7en´s latest post: Se7en’s Celebrities- MayaMade…

  8. This is such a great post! I love that you can pretty much do any of the above “experiments” right now. You don’t need a long list of items and/or equipment! Truly SIMPLE homeschooling! I especially love the potato and rainbow ideas.

    My eldest is absolutely obsessed with ants, especially fire ants, which we have plenty of here in South Florida! 🙁
    Sofia’s Ideas´s latest post: Reflection in my Eyes

    • You might like to try (if you haven’t already) an ant farm, or to make your own an ant jar. It is fascinating to see what ants are doing underground.
      Catherine´s latest post: a handful of breakfast ideas for children

      • Thank you, Catherine! Yes, we did try giving him an ant farm about 4 years ago. It was a really cool one (, but after the first night, he wanted to set them free. He is VERY compassionate towards ALL living things so he brought them back to their hill so they could go be with their colony “where they belong”.

        So what he does instead, is he goes outside and observes their activities outside of the hill. He is also the kind of kind that won’t go to the zoo “because those animals should be in the wild, not in cages for our entertainment”. My son, what can I say? LOL! 🙂
        Sofia’s Ideas´s latest post: Simple Ways to Get Involved

  9. Loving the water viewer Cat! Totally stealing that idea…
    SquiggleMum´s latest post: The Butterfly Tree

  10. Lots of activities to do in outdoor places,,like if im in a zoo i able to take pictures of the animals that are not allowed to touch and i enjoy watching them.


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