Seven Ways to Teach Kids Through Outdoor Adventures


From the very beginning, my daughter loved being outdoors.  The joy on her face when she’s outside playing with nothing more than rocks and leaves and sticks is one of my favorite things to see.  Children are born investigators, and our outdoor adventures only reinforce that.  Kids can’t help but see the world as a giant invitation to learn, and they are ready to soak up all it has to teach them.

Whether you are new to exploring nature or an experienced outdoors-person, sometimes having a lesson idea or focal point for your outing can help young adventurers keep their excitement the whole trip, help you discover new things, and see familiar outdoor spaces in new ways.

Easy ideas for teaching kids while playing outside

Here are seven of my favorite ideas for turning any outdoor adventure into a learning experience.

1.  Get Outside:  Just taking the time to be outside in our beautiful city is often enough to spark a learning opportunity.  Point out the things you see, talk about colors and textures.  Invent a story about creatures you see.  Simple activities like nature identification are a wonderful way to help the outdoors feel more familiar to your child, and you don’t need any extensive knowledge of flora or fauna.

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2.  Get Your Hands Dirty:  Or at least let the kids get theirs dirty.   Just being able to touch the dirt, taste a fresh-picked blueberry, pick up a snail, hear the rush of the creek, hold a seedpod, smell a flower, or see a bird take flight teaches them so much just through experiencing nature with their senses.  It can also be a great way for them to develop gross and fine motor skills and work on things like balance, strength, and calculating risk.

get dirty

3.  Take A Notebook:  Any kind of notebook is great.  Even a stack of sticky notes would do in a pinch!  With really little ones, you can draw an outline of a favorite discovery and have them color it.  With older kids, they can draw some of what they see and even try and write down words to go with the pictures.  You/they can write down observations and questions they have about what they see, and take it home to research the information.  Another great way to get to know nature is to bring a box of crayons and do tree, bark, and leaf rubbings on paper.  Hoyt Arboretum is a great place to explore with a notebook!

4.  Smartphones/Cameras:  On a hike up at LL Stub Stewart State Park a few weeks ago, my daughter found a wooly bear caterpillar and wanted to take it home.  I was able to search right there for how to care for it and take him home.  This works for any question they might have and you don’t have an answer for.  And you didn’t have to prepare anything ahead of time!  Same goes for cameras.  They are a great way to document plants and creatures you’ve seen and want to remember or identify later.   Let your child take a turn snapping pictures, too!

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5.  Tracking Through The Seasons:  Any nearby park can become a seasonal learning experience by observing and taking pictures of the park as the seasons go by.  Then you can compare the differences, and talk about how the park, the creatures, and the plants change as the year passes by.  One of our favorite places to do this kind of observation in is Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro.  It has a lot of nature to explore, including a huge pond, a man-made creek, a wooded area, and even a Rhododendron garden.

outdoor adventures and learning

6.  Exploration Sheets:  You can create actual exploration worksheets.  They don’t even have to be fancy.  Just a list of items to look for, or even stick figure drawings of objects they can color in as they find them.  It helps the children to learn the different kinds of things they can observe that they might not normally look for.  If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can make a Bingo game or scavenger hunt!  Many of the websites for the natural areas nearby will tell you what plants and wildlife you can expect to see.  Tryon Creek has many different guides you can print and bring along!

7.   Investigate a Place Predesigned for Learning:    One of the easiest things you can do is to visit a place where the learning markers are out there for you.  Hoyt Arboretum has markers to tell you the names and origin of location for a lot of their trees and plants.  The Japanese Garden has informational pamphlets, and they actually provide a scavenger hunt worksheet for the kids to do while visiting.  Magness Memorial Tree farm in Sherwood has informational signs posted along the Nagle Trail loop telling all about the trees and forest nearby.

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No matter how you do it, take your kids on an outdoor adventure and have fun learning while you go!

What are your favorite ways and places to explore and learn outdoors?


StacyjpgStacy was born in southern California, and moved to Oregon as she began high school and has never looked back.  She is a preschool teacher, a firefighter’s wife, and mama to one amazing and super silly three-year-old girl (and two awesome labs).  Stacy loves adventuring to new parks and nature areas and hiking with her family– especially because all of these give her an excuse to take more pictures.  When she’s not outside, Stacy loves writing and blogging at and is continually searching for the perfect mocha.


  1. My kids love being outside and creating their own adventures! To be honest they are pretty good at it, and don’t even need my help! However, I had never thought of creating a little worksheet for things that they can look out for. Great idea! We will use that in the coming adventures!

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