Have you been told recently that you need to include more opportunities for children to connect and engage with nature play in your program and environment but just don't know where to start? You are not alone there!
Many educators tell me they find planning for nature play difficult because they don't have the budget for fancy wooden resources, loose parts and nature playgrounds (who does??), but what if you just go back to simple and start with some small steps first? We can all do that right?
I've collected some of my favourite nature-based activities and invitations to play created by early childhood educators from The Empowered Ed Community on Facebook to help you feel inspired to give nature and ‘keeping it simple' a try. I've also added a few of my own activities and tips along with ideas from some of my favourite blogger friends!
You don't have time for complicated (trust me I get it!!!) but you do have time to begin incorporating ongoing access to natural elements throughout your program.
It starts with simple. With what you have available. With some creative thinking. Use the photo inspiration below to give some ideas and inspiration then modify to suit your own service type, children and local area.
Nature Play with Flowers
Our Empowered Educator Community Members certainly know how to extend the life of a flower or two. Colour, texture, touch and smell…so much to explore here!
I've also included a couple of flower activities from my favourite early learning blogs – click on the highlighted links to learn more about how they setup and played.
- Amanda Atherton (Educator) set up a lovely invitation to investigate and play with petals.
- Kate from Picklebums Blog – Find out how they made their own chamomile tea here.
- Gabby Clappison (Educator) showed us a different way to use leftover flowers before they reach the compost bin. And don't those wooden bowls make you want to pick a flower and play!
- Kate from Laughing Kids Learn shared this sweet fairy mud activity for some messy sensory play with treasures from nature.
- Natasha Uddin (Educator) added lavender stems and flowers to the playdough for some simple sensory exploration and fine motor fun.
- Amanda Atherton (Educator) also created this beautiful water play experience using flower petals, lemon and lime along with some real-life tools and materials to use with the water.
- Tamara Miller (Educator) froze leaves and flowers in a block to create these candles. So much to explore and discuss as the water melts away!
Penny from the wonderfully inspiring Mother Natured blog shows us how to make biodegradable nature glitter here.
Exploring Australian Native Flora and clay in the sunshine shared by Educator Carlene Cox-Newton from Carlene's Cubbyhouse.
My girls love to pick the Jacaranda tree petals and leave them out on a tray
for the wallabies that come to visit us , (yes, even though they are already all over the grass and perfectly capable of eating them off the ground – but where is the fun in that?) – they love them!!
Nature Play with Leaves
- Renata's Family Daycare (Educator) got creative with different leaves glued onto paper doilies.
- Kate from Laughing Kids Learn Blog – shows us this simple leaf activity that helps younger children connect to their natural environment and recognise the significant changes that can come about from one season to the next.
- Tammy Hammond (Educator) turned leaf pruning into an opportunity for children to paint on a canvas from nature!
- Alyssa Magill (Educator) created interesting sensory bottles to explore. Sensory bottles can be a fantastic option for children who don't yet feel comfortable touching certain textures.
- Laurie Pal (Educator) reminds us of the simplicity and sheer excitement when children discover a pile of autumn leaves!
- Verena Koch (Educator) turned leaves into a fun Valentine's day sewing activity for little hands!
- Amanda Atherton (Educator) introduced natural elements to the playdough table – inviting for the eyes, nose and fingers to explore!
Jessica Muirden (Educator) set up this invitation for the children to create nature heads using this free printable from Mother Natured. Click on the image below to visit Penny at mother Natured and download your own set!
A beautiful invitation to explore and create with a variety of natural materials. I could sit at this table and play for quite some time with the children…how about you? Janelle Duncan (Educator) from Curious by Nature FDC shared this table of nature play inspiration created by her Family Daycare Mentor.
We used old playdough nearly ready to be thrown out as a base for budding florists to create their own arrangement. See more about the setup and how we played here.
Kate from Laughing Kids Learn shared a large scale leaf art activity that is simple to set up and engaging for children of all ages. See how you can do it here.
Renata's Family Daycare (Educator) got creative with one of my favourite leaf activities – leaf rubbings. Simple yet a classic that provides many opportunities to explore colour, classification, texture and the unique aspects of nature.
Penny from the wonderfully inspiring Mother Natured blog shared the many learning outcomes possible from building your own nature boats. See if you thought of the same opportunities and how to setup for this activity here.
Obviously, you don't need a description for this one, but I just wanted to remind you that ‘simple' can be just as much fun for children so even the simple act of a walk collecting leaves around your immediate environment can be a valuable launchpad for learning using intentional and incidental teaching moments!
Nature Play with Sticks, Wood Stumps & Cookies
- If you are looking for some easy ideas to use wood cookies, stumps and sticks make sure to visit this previous blog post where I share some inspiration for you from my own environment.
- Jackie Wulf (Educator) put some donated logs from her local rangers to good use in the backyard – so much fun for balancing, obstacle courses, dramatic play and more!
- Jenny Ainsworth (Educator) from JA Happy House keeps it simple with this DIY block play – no ‘perfect' shapes and sizes here leading to lots of open-ended play opportunities!
- Christine Goodale (Educator) invites sensory play, construction, problem solving and self-expression with this nature sand table outdoors.
- Janelle Duncan (Educator) from Curious By Nature FDC supported children to direct their own play and create a firepit by providing access to sticks, wood and stones.
- & 7. Here at The Empowered Educator we love using logs, branches and twigs to create budget-friendly outdoor play equipment and I always ensure they are available in the outdoor and indoor environment to encourage open-ended and dramatic play opportunities.
Lisa Russell (Educator) has created a beautiful space here for children to investigate and engage in dramatic play while outdoors.
Christine Walker (Educator) added logs and stumps to this outdoor space to create an interesting ‘bug hunt' area!
Carlene Cox-Newton (Educator) from Carlene's Cubbyhouse has included logs and different sized bush blocks along with a treasure trove of other materials to invite the children to create with loose parts discovery play.
Narelle Williams (Educator) added small wooden bush blocks and other simple materials to create a space for children to explore dinosaurs and natural materials.
I love the outdoor spaces at Renata's Family Daycare. These wooden logs provide not only a climbing and balance challenge but also a canvas for chalk drawing!
Nature Play with Loose Parts
- Amanda Atherton (Educator) provided natural materials in her loose parts collection for the children to create faces with.
- Dawn Hall (Educator) used smooth pebbles with other open-ended materials to invite the creation of individual ‘stone people'.
- Can you put the nuts into the basket? A lovely fine motor activity shared by Mignon Piper (Educator).
- Amanda Atherton also created loose parts materials from nature to use with playdough – seed pods and gumnuts make interesting patterns and imprints to explore!
- Sorting and counting shells in this simple but engaging invitation from Rebecca Wilson (Educator).
- Kate from the Reggio based An Everyday Story shares just some of the ways her children interact and create from a simple nature table setup in this blog post.
- Renata (Educator) again shows us how simple it is to incorporate natural materials into everyday activities and games with a little outside the box thinking!
How quick and easy is this sink or float activity from Laughing Kids Learn? You MUST check out Kate's blog if you are stuck for some simple activities for toddler and baby!
Bamboo ramps leading into the sandpit – it doesn't get much simpler than this but oh the possibilities!! Thanks to Renata's Family Daycare for sharing.
Nature Play with Art & Mark Making
- Mother Natured gives us plenty of ideas for adding natural materials to sand play in this blog post.
- Kaylene Milligan (Educator) set up this sketching table with pictures from nature as the creative inspiration.
- Vivienne Varis Putra (Educator) shared with us the simplicity of mark making fun as the children use sticks to draw in the dirt.
- An Everyday Story shared how inquiry-based learning was encouraged to explore and document native birds in their area.
- At Danya Banya turned seed pods, gumnuts and pine cones into stampers from nature. Read more about how they played here.
- Linda Tandy (Educator) from Sunshine and Puddles Family Day Care set up this simple invitation to create and draw using inspiration from nature.
- We used different textured leaves and flower petals to make imprints in our white clay then turned them into ornaments as the clay hardened. Get my simple ‘white clay' recipe here.
Don't you just want to get in there and create something special at this table set up by Frosyni Magkafaki (Educator) !!
Nature Play with Mud, Potions & Outdoor Kitchens.
- Penny from Mother Natured is always inspirational when it comes to mud play and this collection of 20 marvellous mud play ideas will certainly fill your program!
- Carlene Cox-Newton (Educator) from Carlene's Cubbyhouse has so many interesting outdoor spaces in her Family Day Care environment but this kitchen area has to be one of my favourites! You can read more about Carlene's service in this blog post feature.
- Who doesn't love getting messy in the dirt or bark with trucks!!? Renata's children certainly look like they are having fun!
- When did you last jump in a muddy puddle or tell the children to go for it? Love this playful photo from Petrina Kane (Educator).
- We never see snow like this where I live but what a fantastic sensory experience it must be to play in this ‘Snowflake Cafe' created by Educator Laurie Pal
- Sandi Richardson (Educator) shares a magical space for building, cooking, creating and problem-solving – lucky children!!
- Sue-Ellen Jackson (Educator) invites children to mix their own nature potions in this outdoor kitchen area.
See how we made our lavender perfume potions and created unique labels for our bottles here.
Love the colours and textures available for children to mix and create with here in the outdoor kitchen area – shared by Sue-Ellen Jackson (Educator).
We love our dirt, sand, greenery and mud play here at The Empowered Educator!
Another interesting invitation to play from Educator Amanda Atherton – this time using natural materials with water play and foam fun.
Nature Play with Trays, Tables & Small Worlds.
- Ready to get messy in this glorious ‘mud pit'? Created by Educator Crystal Letkeman-Cohen.
- Educator Kaylene Milligan turned this pirate water play tub into a fabulous fairy garden!
- Sylvanna Mizzi (Educator) set up this small world tray to investigate the effect rubbish can have on our sea life and water quality.
- Christie Doven (Educator) shared this creative small world area using native flora and fauna as the main materials. Love it!
- The addition of natural materials in the small world tray makes it even more inviting and somehow ‘real'. Created by Educator Elizabeth Dennis.
- Ester Aguzzi (Educator) has added the natural elements of wood cookies and branches to this engaging Gruffalo story table – so many resources here to help children tell their own interpretation of the story!
- Educator Mignon Piper has added kinetic sand to natural materials to help her create this sensory small world area for children to investigate.
Christine Walker (Educator) invites children to make their own nest for bird eggs using a few simple natural elements. Also, love the wooden bowls…but then I do admit I have a little bit of a problem with collecting wooden bowls!!!
A sensory texture path using mostly natural materials – a fantastic option for those children not often exposed to or able to access outdoor environments and elements like this. Shared by Renata's Family Daycare.
Joanne Wooding (Educator) incorporated leaves, gumnuts, water and seedpods to create these mini dinosaur swamps.
Love this bug small world and inclusion of materials from nature from Vanessa Bradshaw (Educator).
Weaving & Threading with Nature
- Renata’s Family Day Care shared this beautiful weaving loom made from interesting branches – who wouldn't want to give weaving a try here?
- Pink Stripey Socks shows us how to create and use recycled cardboard flower looms. See this activity and 5 other ways to have fun with flowers here.
- Amanda Atherton (Educator) put together this simple weaving frame using twigs. Easy to hold and manipulate for little hands
- Jess Kuronen (Educator) turned these simple branch offcuts into threading tools.
- Find out how here we strengthened our fine motor skills by making our own wooden stump geoboards. So much fun and so easy!!
- Mother Natured shows us how to make our own beautiful DIY nature weaving frames
- Make sure to also watch her video here of how to make a backyard weaving frame to invite calm into your environment!
Renata added cup hooks to a large log to provide the opportunity for threading and pattern making.
Nature Play in the Garden
- Find out how we made and decorated our own worm tower tunnels for the garden here.
- Little Bins for Little Hands shows us how to encourage STEM skills as well as insects by making this simple Bug Hotel that doesn't take up much room.
- Selena Frank (Educator) presented a table with heavy and light materials from nature for the children to weigh and explore.
- Natasha Uddin (Educator) showed her children how to make compost in a bottle – a valuable active learning activity that doesn't need a large compost pile to remain in the yard if that isn't your thing! Download this step by step activity guide from Green Industries SA
- A beautiful gift idea made by the children using succulents from the garden and repurposed bowls. Shared by Educator Jill Selby.
- There are just so many valuable active learning opportunities when children are encouraged to take responsibility and care for living things. This lovely moment shared by Educator Joan Miller.
- Tamara Miller (Educator) froze leaves and flowers in a block to create these candles. So much to explore and discuss as the water melts away! (For those reading closely I know, I made a mistake and included this one twice in a photo collage so no need to write and tell me ha!)
You can see how we saved our sunflower seeds to plant again then turned the large heads into a sensory painting activity here.
Garden spaces don't need to be large to be a valuable addition to nature play experiences! This one created by Educator Sue-Ellen Jackson.
Nature Play with Living Things
- Mother Natured shares a fun activity to help children explore and learn more about water bugs. See how to go water bug hunting here.
- Kidspot shows you step by step how to make a bug hotel here.
- Lindianne Clinch (Educator) used recycled pallets and soft drink bottles to set up this sustainable planting activity with the children.
- Little Bins for Little Hands takes you through how to set up a simple seed germination experiment in a jar. See additional extensions and variations to this activity here.
- We love finding ways to look after and encourage the native birds in our outdoor spaces at home and they love bathing and drinking from our terracotta pot birdbaths. See how the children made them here.
- The simple joy of searching for and collecting bugs in the garden – this moment captured by Mother Natured here.
- Ditch the paintbrushes and use rosemary twigs instead – they are sturdy and smell wonderful when brushed across the paper. Shared by Educator Sonya Mathers.
Tennille Zammit (Educator) reminds us of how simple it is to share opportunities with children to explore and learn more about living things with a simple bug hunt – turning over logs and leaves.
Love this active learning activity shared by An Everyday Story here. Investigating and creating ant nests using the medium of clay.
Tennille Zammit (Educator) set up this interactive sensory nature table area to invite the children to explore life-cycles.
All you need for this activity is a white sheet and a tree to shake! Find out how you can use them to explore bugs close up with the children over at Mother Natured here.
Are you ready to add a little nature play into your children's day? It's really not as hard as you thought is it? Let me know what inspired you and what you decided to try first by popping over to our Empowered Ed Facebook group and sharing a photo with us!
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.
Kate Cashin says
So many great ideas. I’m an outdoor family photographer and love seeing the children I work with getting out and enjoying nature.