Are you bored with your outdoor play, learning environment or program? The collection of outdoor activities, invitations and play ideas shared by educators throughout this post will reignite your motivation and perhaps inspire you to try something a little different.
If you’re not already in my Empowered Educator Facebook Group you can join here - it’s a clever and creative community of early childhood educators who share inspiring ideas like the ones you’ll find below.
Outdoor Activities - Invitations to Play
I’m a big fan of invitations to play or play ‘prompts’ and I’ve previously shared lots of simple but engaging invitation to play ideas here that you might like. However, this time we’re taking our invitations to play and explore outside!
Abigail shared her tuff tray setup with us - rocks, blocks and a tuff tray are all you need for this one. So many textures to explore while also sparking imagination.
Anna used coloured rice and colourful plastic frogs - I love the inclusion of a book about frogs to encourage further investigation.
And then made use of logs and other wood pieces to create this interesting dinosaur invitation.
Emily used a toddler pool to assemble this birds nest outdoor invitation to play.
Construction setups are always fun - and perfectly suited to outside. Thanks to Tara for sharing this one with us.
Carlene put an Aussie spin on this nature based provocation, using native Australian flora, playdough and pebbles.
Pots and Pans are always a fun addition to children's outdoor spaces - add some water and real utensils for hours of imaginary play. Thanks to Clare for sharing this photo.
Carissa also used pots and pans and added some water, flowers and ice.
Anno added opportunities for simple math investigation using an invitation to play that encouraged an exploration of light and heavy.
Outdoor Play - Sensory & Messy Play
There’s no better place to explore sensory & messy play than outside - sand, water, mud, dirt, wind moving the trees, living creatures, gardens, clouds creating patterns and so much more.
Sometimes all you need is to add a few simple but different elements to your play space outside to reinite sensory engagement and interest in forgotten areas. Think about what you could add to your sand or water play area to make it more appealing and allow a child to direct and extend their play while switiching on their senses.
Some simple favourites to start your collection with...
- Real life kitchen materials - try adding those with shiny surfaces for some reflective fun.
- Cups/bowls/jugs/plastic containers with lids for filling and shaking
- Picnic baskets and rugs
- Buckets of loose parts and recycled materials with different textures
- Fragrant elements from nature (flowers, herbs, vegies, gumtree leaves etc)
- Child sized gardening tools and buckets.
- Musical instruments or ribbon hanging from tree branches
- Spray bottles with coloured water
- Compost piles, worm farms, bug hotels
Need some outdoor sensory & messy play inspiration? Try some of these ideas:
Carissa added some large recycled items to her beautiful big sandpit area - I enjoy seeing the different ways children incorporate traffic cones and tyres into their play - it's not always in the way that we adults would immediately think of!
You'll find lots of inspiration for reusing tyres in play environments here.
You don’t need a large sand pit - Tamara added rocks, flowers and loose parts to some sand for a fun afternoon.
Hide some dinosaurs in sand for a fun fossil dig activity - thanks to Belinda for sharing this photo with us.
Whether it’s a simple bucket of water and a few scoops or an elaborate water wall, water play provides many opportunities for engaging play outdoors.
Our creative Empowered Ed’s have shared some ideas with us and you'll also find more inspiration for all ages in this post.
Jo and Suzanne made their own impressive but different water walls.
Christine showed us how she adds a little colour to her water play invitations
Jessica added rose petals and orange pieces to her water play (reminds me of a spa!)
Helen found a way to reuse the fruit & veg skins leftover from lunch by adding them to their water play.
Don’t forget about the fun of bubbles in an open space!
This bubble whisk activity is one of the most popular activity posts on my blog - proving simple can still be interesting.
Bubble Whisk Activity
Karen setup bubbles in the tuff tray - you can see how much fun the children are having in this photo!
Toni made a snake bubble blower. My 11 year olds STILL love this activity!
OTHER SENSORY PLAY INVITATIONS TO TRY
I couldn’t resist sharing these other sensory & messy play ideas with you too.
Kristy got REALLY messy with some oobleck & gelatin play. These photos make me want to put my hands in there and have a play too (It's the best part about setting up sensory play activities in my opinion ).
Painting can get messy so why not take it outside when you can. Helen set up this clever DIY outdoor painting screen.
Vicki set up this activity and invited children to paint a friends portrait - isn't this a clever idea?
Don’t forget about music when it comes to outdoor sensory play opportunities - Melissa shared this photo of her outdoor music wall with us.
You might also like to try making a music spool table with tin cans similar to the one we created here.
Outdoor Activities - Pretend Play Ideas
The following images shared by our Empowered Ed members will give you more ideas to invite pretend play into your outdoor learning environment.
Janelle made an outdoor campsite - complete with campfire!
Sue, Annette and Christie setup their own versions of camping invitations too.
A shop is always popular outdoors and indoors but why not turn it into a farmer’s market? This inviting little space was shared with us by Allysha - I really love those shelves!
Faseer turned her shop into an outdoor cake shop (combining some sand play too). Why have I never thought of using a mixer with sand?
An outside pretend play and fine motor idea - thanks to Debbie for this reminder of how much fun a simple washing line setup can be.
Tonia created this magical space in the shade with lots of little invitations sprinkled throughout to explore.
Nature in Outdoor Play
Outdoor activities and invitations to play definitely don’t need to be elaborate to be engaging and enjoyed by children- nature always offers us meaningful moments if we look for them.
How have our Empowered Ed's been embracing the learning opportunities nature has provided in their outdoor spaces?
Christie observed the bees in the yard, Jenny and her children went bug hunting (pretend bugs, but you could look for real ones too of course), and Marina found tadpoles so they could explore the life cycle of a frog together in the moment.
Kate set up a sensory garden, Melissa’s children had fun cutting herbs, Rachael made potions from nature and Christie planted seedlings.
All Sue-Ellen's children needed was a collection of branches and sticks to make a fort!
I hope these play ideas from early years educators around the world have inspired you to go ahead and try something different so you can encourage more engaged learning through your outdoor activities, planning and invitations.
Do you love setting up playful activities, provocations and invitations? Share them with us in my Empowered Educator Facebook group and perhaps I can feature your work in a blog post soon!
Feeling motivated and want more outdoor play ideas? Here are some posts you'll find useful:
Outdoor Play Ideas
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.