Make your time outdoors enjoyable and educational this spring by creating back yard learning centers. The following tips will help get you started. Watch for more articles on ideas for specific learning center themes.
1. A traditional outdoor learning center is a weather station. Set up a center with simple weather tools such as a rain gauge, thermometer, homemade barometer, wind direction indicator and sundial. With your help, kids can log weather information and test folk methods of predicting weather. For example, counting cricket chirps for 14 seconds and adding 40 is said to give you the temperature. Is it accurate? White, fluffy clouds in the morning are supposed to indicate a stormy evening. Did it happen?
2. Set up a station for musical exploration. Your center might include items such as a series of glasses and a pitcher of water for making a xylophone, pots, pans and homemade instruments like willow whistles. Another educational option is a back yard project such as a Hank tank drum. This instrument has a beautiful sound and is inexpensive to build. For more information, watch a video about how a high school student built one for a science project.
3. Set up an insect observation station. Provide a magnifying glass, clear containers for capture and release and a notebook for sketches. It is also nice to have a field guide handy for identifying bugs.
4. You can create a garden center for kids even in small spaces. A three sisters garden is easy to grow and maintain and a container herb garden can fit on a sunny patio.
5. An art center promotes creative thought. Possible materials include homemade sidewalk paint, glue, chalk, plaster of paris and crayons. Materials can be stored in a deck box or airtight tub. Don’t forget to include an area to display nature crafts and artwork.
6. For a unique tactile experience, set up an area with homemade moon sand, a corn box or a sand box. Provide lots of spoons and containers for experimentation.
7. Set up a building area. Small children can create simple constructions with sticks and rocks while older children might be ready for using some simple tools.
8. Exploring an archaeology center is an exciting activity for kids. Block off an area of your yard and bury some items. Provide kids with brushes, spoons and pans of water and show them the proper way to excavate the site.
9. Teach kids to compost. For more information, see Parenting our Kids.
10. Construct a wildlife observation area by setting up various feeders to draw animals and insects. The station should include binoculars and a notebook. It can also be nice to document your observation with photographs.
To see an example of outdoor learning centers for preschoolers, visit Snip and Snail. For cool photographs of activities that one homeschooling family completed, see Outdoor Classrooms Homeschooling Style.