10 Teachable Moments at the Playground

Your local park offers exercise for body and mind. Get creative with these brain stretchers.




  1. Act out opposites. Younger kids can get in touch with the concept of opposites with this quick activity. Pick pairs of opposites like heavy vs. light, little vs. big, hot vs. cold, happy vs. sad, and ask your child to embody each attribute physically.
  2. Give a shout for rhyme time. As your child plays, exchange simple rhymes. The call and answer starts with one person giving a rhyme-able line like, "Can you guess my favorite thing?" to which your child might answer, "Oh how I love to go up in a swing!"
  3. Design the ultimate fun space. Playgrounds are all about fun, and who knows what's fun better than kids? Bring a sketchbook and colored pencils along, and invite yours to draw his ultimate playground, complete with captions explaining how the "Fast and Furious Whirling Swing" will work.
  4. Take a wacky measurement. Size takes on whole different meaning when you throw away the ruler and replace it with a . . . stick of gum? Or try a juice box, a scarf, or a favorite stuffed animal.
  5. Navigate an obstacle course. Grab a stopwatch, and have your child design the route. Timed trials up and down the jungle gym, up and over the slide, and to the swings and back not only offer an important physical workout, but also an opportunity to work with numbers and averages.
  6. Get into orbit. Open up the universe with the wonders of chalk. Bring along a book on the planets (or use a mnemonic like "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" to remind your child of the planetary order). Have your child draw the planets and use as many details — Saturn's rings, Jupiter's moons — as she likes.
  7. Make a scale model. Have your child count off different spaces, such as the sand pit or seesaw area, with footsteps or a tape measure (consider measuring in metric for an extra challenge). Have him record his findings in a notebook. Back at home, he can create a model of the playground using graph paper, construction paper, or even three-dimensional sculptures made out of clay or toothpicks and marshmallows.
  8. Transform the world around her. Try this imagination game with younger children. Take a fresh look at all the playground equipment. Does she imagine the slide as an elephant with a big, silver trunk? Does the sandbox become a desert where the sun beats down?
  9. Bring favorite fairy tales to life. Boost literacy skills and the ability to organize thoughts through storytelling. The playground comes complete with plenty of opportunities for sets: the slide becomes a castle's tower, or the space around the swing-sets a moat. Ask your child to pick a favorite fairy tale, or offer him some suggestions.
  10. Give a bird a treat. Try this simple nature project before your next playground trip: have your child collect pinecones, then coat them in peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. Once at the park, she can hang these handy birdfeeders from branches and watch to see who comes to eat them.
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Early Learning
Games and Toys
Outdoor Activities and Recreation
Exercise and Fitness
Creativity and Imagination