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Outdoor Learning Games for Preschoolers

Tania K. Cowling
July 19, 2017

Your kid learns a lot indoors, but it doesn't have to be that way. Take advantage of sunny days with these 5 outdoor learning games for preschoolers.



Your preschooler has the energy to run circles around you --- children need to hop, skip and jump daily. Believe it or not, sometimes using her body helps your preschooler learn with her mind! Play helps kids develop muscles and shake out their sillies.

"Through learning games for preschoolers, your child learns about rules and how to follow them," says child development expert Dr. Gail Gross, who has a two doctorates, in education and psychology. "She learns about instructions, teamwork, camaraderie, collaboration, competition and motivation as she pushes past her effort to win. With outdoor play, your preschooler also develops cognitively, by getting out and trying things, rather than simply hearing about them."

"The single best way to instill learning games for preschoolers is to make it fun," notes Vicki Palmer, a preschool teacher for over 35 years and owner of the preschool resource site TicTacTeach. Choose games, Palmer says, "that are active and cover a range of developmental areas." Why not put a twist on some of these games to teach a specific skill?

Here are a few outdoor learning games to try:

Learn Letters

  • Sound Boxes
    Play this game and watch your child march his way to learning the alphabet. Randomly draw eight 10-inch boxes with chalk on a concrete surface. Write an alphabet letter in each box. To play, call out a letter and have your child run to it. Once he's there, ask, "What's the letter? What's the sound it makes?" He tells you and then begins to list words that begin with that sound while marching in place. When he can't think of any more words, he stops marching. Call out another letter and repeat the process.
  • Get Digging
    At a park or in your backyard sandbox, randomly bury a set of foam or wooden letters. Use sidewalk chalk to write out the alphabet, and let your kids start digging! As they race to find letters, have them run over and place each found piece on the matching sidewalk-chalk letter. Have them dig and match until every letter is found, and award points for each correct match. The child with the most points at the end of each round wins.

Teach Numbers

  • Bounce-Count
    Make use of sports equipment and get your child counting. Find a flat area outdoors -- a patio or driveway works well. Begin by having your child watch as you bounce the ball, and then let him have a turn. Count the number of bounces the ball makes together. Next, have your child turn around and listen to how many bounces you make with the ball. Choose numbers randomly from one to 10, or however high your kid can count. If he answers correctly, you run a lap around the lawn. If he answers wrong, he takes a turn running.
  • Buzz Off
    Gather a group of friends to play a fun game that develops counting, listening and following directions, suggests Palmer. Have the children stand in a circle and pick one child to begin counting around the circle. When she reaches number 11, she says "buzz" to that child, then "off" to child number 12. The child who receives "off" sits down. The next child in the circle begins counting with number one starting the next round of counting. The game continues until there is only one child remaining.

Tackle Cognitive Skills

  • Find Pairs
    Use every opportunity to play games outdoors that will teach skills with nature as the theme. According to Dr. Gross, when your child collects leaves, shells, rocks and other nature finds, she needs to use cognitive skills, planning and execution, which helps her mature and learn. This scavenger hunt game engages your preschooler in finding pairs in nature. Lay five objects from nature on a picnic table or deck. Have your child find the same object as she walks around the yard that matches the ones on the table. Identify the nature finds and their likes and differences. Continue playing with new items as long as there is interest.

Whenever you go outdoors, be sure to use it as a learning opportunity -- count the buds appearing on your favorite tree, classify the birds that you see and hear, measure the stalks of daffodils and tulips and find patterns in ferns and spider webs. "Outdoor games can lead to a healthier and happier preschooler both mentally and physically," says Dr. Gross. In other words, enjoy learning games outdoors -- it's as easy as 1,2,3.

For more outdoor games, check out 12 Outdoor Activities for Kids.

Tania K. Cowling is an author and freelance writer with a background in early childhood education and parenting.

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