Outdoor Activities: Great Games to Play Outdoors
- Grades: PreK–K
When many of us think back to our outdoor experiences in childhood, outdoor games are a highlight. Whether they are organized games through school or camp, or neighborhood activities, physical games are an essential part of the outdoor experience. These seemingly simple games are educational and content rich. When children are engaged in outdoor games, they are developing skills in areas including language, math, and science. At the same time, children are working out important social interaction issues so that they can play cooperatively and successfully. And they thought they were just playing a game!
In the following activities, children will explore the world in BIG ways, using their bodies and their senses. Sometimes, children just have to do things with exaggerated motions and sounds. And outdoors is the place to do it! So enjoy the following activities as children explore the outside world and their own inner landscape.
We sometimes forget to think of games as an educational part of the curriculum. But if you start your outdoor games with an awareness of the body-mind connection, you will be sure to underscore the learning inherent in the games.
Kinesthetic awareness is an essential element of outdoor game activities. It is the way children use their bodies to learn. No matter how simple the game, children are asked to use their bodies to try something new, to pretend to be something, or to express something. Children learn through movement of their limbs and trunk and through the experience of translating that movement into words, thoughts, and feelings.
After children participate in the games, find a relaxing space to gather together. Ask them to reflect on what and how their bodies feel and what new things they have learned. A "tuning-in time" before and after a game can help children learn to appreciate their bodies and their bodies' intelligence.
Using the Activities
There are so many learning areas you can focus on with outdoor games. One fun way to do this is to play the games several times, each time focusing on a different skill. Everything from the science of body parts to social interaction can be a focus. Just choose one of the skills in the "Skills & Objectives" box, or a concept in the "Concepts to Explore" box, as a jumping off place and play on!
Ask children to talk about cooperation and rules for the games. All games work better when everyone cooperates, but what does that mean? Ask children to define the word and then test it out. Children may want to brainstorm a cooperative rules list too.
Introduce the concept of time. Many of these games can be timed for added fun and learning. Ask children to estimate how long it will take them to go through the obstacle game. Record the time and then see if they can do it s-l-o-w-e-r rather than faster!
Invite children to explore what their bodies can do. The challenges of balance and movement inherent in the games help children focus on their bodies as a whole, as well as specific parts. Ask children to isolate different body parts in a game to focus more attention on a specific skill. Can you do the elephant toss game with just one hand? Can you do it using only your feet?
Focus on how their bodies move inside and out. After an active game, invite children to sit or lie down and feel the movement inside that continues even after the outside has stopped to rest. Allow them quiet time to reflect and then ask them to tell about how it felt!
Play with language and vocabulary. As children move in different positions, they are kinesthetically experiencing action words and prepositions. Invite children to verbalize their actions as they move. They can use the familiar tune of "Go In and Out the Windows" to sing and sway their way through the obstacle course.
Conversations and Questions
When it comes to active games, the best questions are gentle challenges. Try some of these to keep things moving:
- What would happen if you couldn't use your hands in a game?
- Can you play the game while keeping your eyes closed?
- How can you play with something (bean bag, scarf) balanced on your head?
- What would happen if we didn't cooperate with one another?
- If you were the leader, how would you give your friends the directions?
- How can you communicate with the other players without using words?
- What other ways can you think of to play a freeze game?
- Can you pretend to be an animal in the freeze game?
- How little space can you use with your body? How much can you use?
- What will happen if you drop a ball off the elephant toss? Will it go up and up or will it ever go down?
- How can you work together to make a ball move faster down a hill?
- What can you do when you don't have enough players to play an outdoor game?
- How many ways can you think of to pass a ball to your partner?
- Can you think of a game to play without using your arms?
- What can you do before starting a game to make sure everyone understands the rules?