The Best of Both Worlds: Bringing Our Favorite Indoor Activities to the Outdoors

The following post originally appeared on Simple Kids in May 2010.

Here in the Midwest, the warmer days are being ushered in with the return of bikes, trikes, skateboards, and wagons rolling down the sidewalks in my neighborhood.  While we have been experiencing our fair share of rainy days this Spring, when the sun is shining my children and I want to be outside as much as we can.

In addition to riding bikes and wagon rides, my kids enjoy simple outdoors pleasures like blowing bubbles and drawing with sidewalk chalk.

My family has happily discovered that some of the things we enjoy doing inside take on a new dimension of fun when moved outside.

Our favorite Indoor/Outdoors Activities:


Lunch is twice as nice when served outdoors as a picnic.  Pack up some of your child”s favorite portable lunch food, snacks, or finger foods, an old blanket you don”t mind getting a little dirty, and pick a spot to set up the scene. Even peanut butter and jelly seems special when served outdoors and your kids will be delighted!

If you don”t have a picnic basket, Muffin Tin Meals lend themselves especially well to outdoor dining – just pull out your muffin tin, fill each cup with something to eat, and carry the tin outside along with some drinks. There”s no need to worry about plates or silverware – just let everyone nibble from the tin. You”re all set for some picnic fun!

Play Dough

My kids love to play with homemade play dough, but I don”t enjoy the clean up.  Taking the play dough outside lets them play and I can relax about the mess it makes because I don”t have to worry about bits of dough ending up in the carpet.

Another benefit of taking this activity outside is that the world in our backyard provides all kinds of new textures and natural tools. Bark, cement, leaves, grass, sticks and stones are fun to experiment with while creating indentations and patterns in the dough.

Here is the play dough recipe my family uses:  .

Crayon Rubbings

Over the Winter, my oldest child discovered crayon rubbings. She has created rubbings of coins, combs, sandpaper, feathers, and paperclips.

Going outside with our crayons and paper gives the kids a chance to make rubbings with flowers, leaves, bark, and other natural textures.

Making Crayons

Speaking of crayons, we have made recycled crayons outdoors, too. Instead of using our low-temperature oven or a crayon mold,  we use the power of the sun. We like to use a muffin tin for regular round crayons and for fancy crayons we use a madeline tin.

Simply fill the cups with broken bits of crayon and set the pan in the sun.  If the temperature get hot enough (a nice June or July day in the 90s will work just about perfectly here in Indiana) a full day in the sun will result in melted wax which you can bring indoors to cool, creating some lovely recycled crayons.

If the temperature isn”t quite that warm, you can also heat things up by creating a solar oven with an old pizza box lined with aluminum foil.  The crayon bits will melt into new crayons in the shape of the tin”s molds.

Just BE CAREFUL and use your oven mitts when picking up the pan because the sun will have made it hot, hot, hot!

Watercolor Painting

Painting together is something my family has been doing as part of our weekly rhythm for years now and we all enjoy it very much.  Painting outdoors in natural sunlight is an opportunity to invite new artistic inspiration and experiences.

When we are painting outdoors, I give the kids cookie sheets to use as trays to hold their paper and give them a firm surface.

But you don”t have to stick just to a paintbrush to have fun with color.  It takes a small amount of preparation ahead of time, but we love to make colorful ice cubes in primary colors (I have used both water color paint and food coloring for this).  We let the frozen cubes melt on our paper and watch the colors mix together – letting the sun “paint” our pictures for us.


My family homeschools and when warm weather arrives, we love to move our lessons outside. A good book, a blanket, a comfortable spot equal a recipe for an afternoon of reading that can”t be beat.

Nature books and field guides are nice to head outside with, of course, but don”t hold back from your favorite children”s poetry or fiction, either.  Cicely Mary Barker”s Flower Fairy poems are perfect for a warm Spring day under a shady tree.


Like watercolor painting and play dough, the outdoors brings a new layer to drawing as well.  The world around us is rich with natural inspiration and documenting those changes in a sketch book as the seasons pass gives us a connection with the world around us.

More Indoors-Out Inspiration:

I hope I”ve inspired you to think outside of the box when it comes to outdoor activities. What are some of your kids favorite indoor activities that you could modify to take outside? Play, Learn, Explore!

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. I love your sun-melted crayons – perfect for candy molds that can’t go in the oven! We love taking card games and board games outside and playing them on a blanket. And I agree, food just tastes better outside! :)
    .-= Amy@Let’s Explore´s last blog ..Road Trip! =-.

  2. Thanks for the ideas, Kara. I’m particularly interested in bringing homemade playdough outside and reading to them outside. Now I’m thinking of all kinds of other things we could bring out there–not to replace the unstructured outdoor play, but to allow us to do some of our other activities outside too and increase the time we spend in the fresh air.
    .-= Jaimie´s last blog ..Self Portrait Saturday #2–May 8th, 2010 =-.

  3. I often let my kids eat lunch/dinner outside at their picnic table. I’ve been trying to get together enough for painting as well. Less mess inside the house and I usually get the kiddie pool out for them to rinse off in.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Real Food on a Real Budget Giveaway @ Simple Mom =-.

  4. Lovely ideas, Kara! We’ve never actually made homemade playdough before, so I think I need to add that to our to-do list!
    .-= Simple Homeschool – Jamie´s last blog ..Curriculum Choices: Tackling Math =-.

  5. Kara,
    Great post. My husband and I giggle about this kind of thing because it seems that all our indoor home repairs get shelved for outdoor projects. It’s so hard to go in after a long winter.
    Every summer we set up a nice bug tent with a picnic table inside and it’s been the place for most meals, math lessons, reading and we had just enough sand inside for good lego and playmobile fun.
    One of the best things about moving things outdoors is just letting your mind wander, observing things and letting the imagination take off.
    .-= Sarah Clachar´s last blog ..Fit Family Together Home =-.

  6. The melted crayons are such a great idea – can’t wait to try it! We like to use our watercolors outdoors in some creative ways. I save pine cones and we paint them in the summer and use them for tabletop decorations in the sunroom. We also search for round and flat rocks that can be painted with any kind of artistic images and place them along walkways or by entrance doors. The kids love it!
    .-= Tina@RideonToys´s last blog ..The Power Wheels Little People Tot Rod Provides 2 Stage Learning =-.

  7. I think the inside of a car on a hot day would be a great place to melt crayons. No wait, I *know* it would. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Though without the cute little molds. Yours are adorable, by the way.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Clouds =-.

  8. I love this post and all the ideas. We spend hours of time outdoors everyday. It is very rare that we have a day where we cannot dash out between rain showers, even on the worst day we find time to go out doors. Fresh air is really the food of life!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..The Week that Was – 2.45 =-.

  9. What fun, Kara! My, you never fail to impress me with your never ending bag of tricks.
    Those recycled crayons look SO cool.

    I am most definitely inspired.
    .-= Aimee @ Simple Bites´s last blog ..Encourage Kids to Cook By Hosting a Cooking-Themed Birthday Party =-.

  10. We tried ice cube painting for the first time in January (being in the southern hemisphere, it was summer for us) and I found this great ice cube tray that makes long sticks of ice which makes it much easier to hold and paint with.
    .-= Christie – Childhood 101´s last blog ..Nature Kids: Our Backyard Nature Play =-.

  11. My kids love eating outdoors, nd in our part of the country, this is the best time of the year to do it before it gets too humid. Play Dough is a great idea too, especially because of the clean-up included, thanks for the ideas!

  12. My oldest daughter loves to take a book outside and cuddle up in our small porch and read quietly and peacefully. My younger ones bring out their kitchen toys and pretend they are cooking outside. They have an imaginary grill, and they set up a picnic table on the grass. It’s amazing how different it feels to do the same thing outside when the sun is shinning!

    Angelica @ Modern Familia

  13. This is great. We don’t realize some of these things we do indoors can be done outdoors. Most of the times with good weather I am outside on my patio reading a good book and have the kids outside drawing. It is important to get some fresh air and some Vitamin D! Great post


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  2. […] Bringing Our Favorite Indoor Activities Outside | Simple Kids […]

  3. […] don”t give the tins themselves to the children, but I do use them as molds for making homemade melted crayons.  Madeline tins and  muffin tins come in a variety of  shapes that make for really beautiful […]

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