Developmental milestones are skills that children typically develop from birth to age 4. They are the foundation for higher level learning. Some of these milestones include the ability to walk, talk, sort or match objects, build a tower with blocks, and more. While jumping through an obstacle course and collecting interesting objects are fun games for kids to play at the park or on a walk, they’re also playful ways to help them reach some of those milestones.
Although every child is unique and may reach a milestone sooner or later than expected, all children need opportunities to explore to encourage their development. Spending time outdoors can be a great opportunity for kids to explore, have fun, and connect with those milestones.
Here are three activity ideas to try the next time you go out together.
Play a matching game with nature
Children begin to notice the similarities and differences between objects and living things at an early age, which contributes to a child’s ability to solve problems, remember details, and make sense of their world. . Matching objects can help develop this skill. To play a simple matching game, pick up a few objects from nature, such as leaves, sticks, or rocks, and place them in front of your child in no specific order. Take a step back and allow your child to explore the elements on their own first – this will encourage them to make their own connections. After a bit of free exploration, begin to identify each item with them and group similar items together. Similarities can be based on what the item is (e.g. sticks go with sticks), color (e.g. brown items go with brown items), or size (e.g. all small stones go together). Want to go further? Have your child collect assorted items on a nature walk or go on a nature scavenger hunt like Nature Cat does with his friends. Find more fun ideas to practice grouping objects with your child with our sorting and collecting activities and videos.
Go through an obstacle course
An obstacle course consists of many challenges that a person must maneuver to get to the desired place. You can make an obstacle course at home, although natural areas like parks and beaches have structures and objects that make great obstacle courses! Although artificial obstacle courses are acceptable, interacting with nature can stimulate children’s curiosity and make them appreciate the natural world. Obstacle courses also offer tremendous opportunities to develop children’s spatial sense. Remember to use location and positional words and phrases like “go around”, “climb”, “roll” and more to familiarize children with them. The next time you go on a nature walk with your child, encourage him to:
- To jump finished sticks and puddles.
- To walk below lower branches.
- Move approximately big rocks.
- To walk finished the raised edge of a path.
- Hold objects with both hands while maneuvering on a curved path. You can use a stick to draw a line in the ground that goes from one tree or bush to another in a curved line. Ask your child to follow it while carrying objects with both hands, like rocks or sticks, and drop them at the end. This activity challenges children’s balance as they cannot lift their arms to the sides.
Make a sensory bin
A sensory bin contains various objects with different sensory characteristics. They encourage children to explore objects that activate their senses, such as sight, smell, touch and hearing. The next time you go out together, collect items that interest your child and have specific sensory qualities. Some elements that provide a robust sensory experience include:
- Smooth, cool-to-the-touch rocks
- Soft and velvety flower petals
- Bumpy and hard acorns
- Strong-smelling leaves or flowers, such as lavender, roses, or pine needles
- Flat pieces of bark
Once the objects have been collected, ask your child to explore them with their hands. For smaller children, you can place the items in a shallow container and pour water over them together. Water will alter the sensory qualities of objects and provide endless entertainment for your little one. Don’t forget to name the elements and talk about their sensory attributes. Take note of the objects your child attracts and the objects he tends to dislike or ignore. For example, if your child is particularly drawn to the smell of lavender, you may want to incorporate lavender into their daily routine to promote relaxation. You can also try other games and activities to stimulate the senses, like participating in bubble bath scavenger hunts and making natural face masks.
While it’s fun to encourage your child to interact with nature by picking up objects, moving them, deconstructing them, etc., remind children that these disturbances impact outdoor spaces, as each object plays a role in nature. For example, the stick they picked up may contain small creatures that we can’t see clearly, or the flower they picked for a sensory bin contained pollen that a bee could have collected. It’s never too early to teach your child how nature sustains life and how we can respect it. You can encourage your child to develop a healthy relationship with nature by:
- Ask them to put the objects back where they found them. Some children may have trouble understanding this and may want to take items home because they were fun to use. It may help to explain that the object lives in the park, beach, etc. and that it is home to animals.
- When picking flowers, leaves, etc., give your child a limit on how many they can pick and explain why. You can say, “We leave flowers for the bees. Encourage them to be gentle when picking or picking things up. Remind them to say “thank you” to the plant they picked.
- Collection and disposal of all waste you find along the way.
Check out these books and songs to continue teaching your child about nature.
- “Planting a Rainbow” (Ages 0-3) by Lois Ehlert explains how plants, especially flowers, grow while teaching children about colors.
- “The EARTH Book” (ages 3-6) by Todd Parr is a vibrant read with simple ideas we can all do to protect the Earth.
- “I Love My Planet” is a catchy song that can help kids remember that the outdoors is everyone’s home.