British educator Charlotte Mason once wrote, “In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air.”
Charlotte Mason’s pedagogy is one that is reflected in a lot of homeschooling communities. However, you don’t need to homeschool to promote time outdoors with your toddlers! I personally have been making the habit of getting outside with my children every day. And while it often starts as a “5 minute reset,” it tends to turn into several hours of play. We have seen so many benefits to this practice, too.
But, getting outside with toddlers might not seem natural. That’s okay! All you need to do is persist at getting outside until you form the habit! This particular post can help give you some ideas of how to get outside – and stay outside (before you give up!)
Activities to get Outside with Toddlers
Meal or snack time
Try to eat your meals outside whenever possible! A lot of our time outside starts with snack time – especially messy snacks – and we simply stay outside once they are finished eating.
Some great snacks to consider are toddler charcuterie boards with crackers, cheese & fruit, or messier options like bananas or muffins. (Or is it only my children that like to crumb their muffins all over the house when given the opportunity?)
You might also consider preparing lunch or dinner and bringing it outside for the whole family to enjoy. Sometimes that means bringing out an extra chair from inside, but those meals are super memorable.
You can always pack a meal and blanket and head to a nearby park for a picnic, as well!
Explore and engage your senses
Step outside of your front or back door. Talk to your toddler about all their senses.
“Do you feel the sun on your skin?” or “Wow, I feel the wind in my hair,” is plenty to start a conversation. Can you smell anything, like the rain? (The rain has a special smell in the Sonoran desert, in case this is a regional thing!)
What sounds do we hear? Are there morning birds singing, or can we hear the caw of a large crow nearby?
Finally, what is there to see? Is the wind rustling a nearby tree? Are there any animals or insects nearby? My toddler knows there’s a couple of hummingbirds that like to drink from the bush near our front door. He also notices the family of seven quail that looks for food on our street this winter (ahem: great counting activity, there!).
“Sight see” on a nature walk
You don’t need to go far to sight see! Sometimes all you need is your back yard, front porch, or patio. Even if you live in an urban area, you can teach your children to notice the world around them.
We personally like to sight see from our front porch. Using our five senses, we can talk about what we see, hear and experience. Of course, sometimes we take this further as we walk through our suburban neighborhood. What do the leaves in the tree look like (if there are any?) How many nests can you count on your nature walk? Were there any animals to observe at the park?
These experiences are not only grounding and mindful, but they’re a great way to open up learning opportunities. You can count virtually anything with your toddler or preschooler. You can also discuss letters and phonics; “We saw a bunny! Buh, buh, bunny. B is for bunny!” then come back to the topics later. (Is there a short youtube video on bird sounds in your area? Maybe print the letter B to color in. What books might you tie in to your observations?)
Psst, feel free to follow me for help with tying in these subjects; I have tons of content and printables planned for this exactly 😉
Art or Story Time
Use your time outside to do art and crafts that are normally a little more cleanup than you’d like. About 85% of the time I bring out the paint, it’s when we are outside, because it’s much easier to hose down our patio than to scrub the walls of our home! I put an oversized shirt over the kids and let them paint to their heart’s content.
While it’s been colder outside (by our standards), I’ve been bringing play dough outside for my toddlers to play with, as well. Not only do they get rolling pins and cookie cutters, but we can use nature parts for them to incorporate, too! Let them decorate their play dough with flowers (or let’s be honest – rocks). If you make it from scratch, it stays fairly malleable while they play and there’s much less guilt with throwing it out. (It’s fairly easy to make and there’s no additional plastic landfill waste!)
Need a playdough recipe? I’ve got an easy homemade playdough recipe for you!
You can also bring a book or two outside – with or without pictures! Read aloud to your children while they relax, eat a snack, or simply explore! Don’t stress if they aren’t sitting still, I promise the love of literature is still being set in place!
Just Get Outside With Your Toddlers!
Whatever you do, just get outside with your toddlers. Step outside and get five minutes in. Make it a habit! It doesn’t have to feel the same. Pretend to romanticize your life and the rest will follow suit. Before you know it, you may even have the goal of 1000 hours outside! But the first step is just doing it.