Including children in gardening tasks, or simply going for a walk in a beautiful natural location helps to give them an appreciation of the natural environment, while learning important gardening skills. With so many distractions in the modern world, it’s not always easy to keep your kids’ attention. Many children want to play computer games, rather than explore the great outdoors. To help make gardens and the wider natural world more fun, we’ve put together a collection of nine ideas for nature puzzles and outdoor activities for kids.
This starts with one of our favourites, the treasure or scavenger hunt.
Creating a real-life treasure hunt or scavenger hunt is one way to encourage children away from the computer screen and is a fun activity for Birthdays, Christmas or Easter.
Clues for a treasure hunt can take a range of formats, for example:
- A hand-drawn map where X marks the spot.
- Directions you need to find by following a compass.
- Specific objects with the next clue inside.
- Home-made jigsaw pieces where the writing is ripped up into around eight different pieces.
- Codes and ciphers (particularly for older children)
- Riddles, like the ones shown below.
Here are three treasure hunt riddles to get you started:
Coiled like a snake, with a tongue of water
I’m likely to move when things get hotter.
What means went up and is also a flower?
I have a red head, but thorns on my tower.
Don’t move left, right or up. Simply go down.
When you find me, your hands might be brown.
Answers (written backwards): epipesoh, esor, dnuorg rednu
Discover a selection of 45 different clues and ideas for treasure hunts and scavenger hunts to inspire you.
Creating a dinosaur garden
Dinosaur toys tend to be more resistant to dirt and grime than many toys, making them an ideal item to bring outdoors. Simply change the scale and build an ancient jungle with pebbles and weeds for your child to play in.
A dinosaur garden is excellent for allowing your child to use their imagination and play outdoors.
Noughts and crosses
Noughts and crosses, or tic-tac-toe is easy to invent with different coloured stones, shells or any other small item. Simply mark a grid in soil or with twigs and create 3×3 spaces. Take turns placing your colour stone and whoever gets three-in-a-row first wins.
To make this more creative, paint the stones with images of beetles, spaceships, or whatever lights your child’s fancy.
For older kids, noughts and crosses is a bit too easy and tends to get frustrating.
Instead, Connect 4 is a great choice for a game that can be built by hand. Create a 7 wide x 6 tall grid. If you use twigs, you’ll need to press them into the ground, or tie them together with wire, so that they don’t move around constantly. You’ll also need two sets of 21 tokens in different colours. This might require a trip to the beach to collect pebbles for one player and shells for the other. Other options are different coloured Lego pieces, snapped off twigs, or painting pebbles so you have one blue set and one yellow set.
Build an arrow pointing to the ‘bottom’ of the game board, this shows you which way gravity is going. Then play Connect 4. The first player to place four pieces in a straight line wins the game.
You can also play Checkers (also known as Draughts) in a similar manner, or Chess if you’re feeling particularly creative.
Creating a magic potion
My boys used to love creating magic potions. Simply half full an empty bottle with water, then find magical ingredients to add. This can be anything from petals that have dropped off flowers, leaves, etc. Create a story of what the magic potion does – turns you invisible, teleports an amazing treasure to you, lets you talk with the plants, etc.
I recommend that you draw or paint a skull and cross bones on the bottle, to be sure that the family and friends know it’s just pretend and no-one accidentally drinks the magic potion.
You could also create a petal perfume, which unlike a magical potion, might be more practical in non-magical neighbourhoods.
Forest animals crossword
Write the 9 animals shown in the above crossword puzzle. Clues take the form of a drawing of the animal.
Plant word search
The above word search contains a total of 32 different plants! See if you can find them all.
When you’re hunting for the answers, words can be written in any direction, including diagonally.
When you say role-playing game, many people think of a treasure hunt in a dungeon, fighting dragons, or online games. There are plenty of other ways to play a role-playing game though without needing complex rules or a computer.
One version which is ideal for young children playing outdoors is more in the form of creative storytelling. Decide who is the games master and who the players are, then tell a story together. The games master decides what happens to all the animals, monsters, and non-playing characters and is basically in charge of the world. Each other player is responsible for just one character and decides what they do and say. If you tell a story together, you can focus more on dialogue and exploration, rather than combat. This way, you don’t need to worry about a bunch of statistics or need twenty-sided dice. For older children, they might prefer the structure that a game like Dungeons and Dragons provides.
Landscape artwork doesn’t need to be of a majestic mountain scene, or a beautiful forest, though if you’re fortunate enough to have a view of these landscapes from your garden, that’s fantastic. It can be as small scale as a single flower. See some ideas for drawing activities with kids that you can do in your own home or garden.
Children love to capture nature in paint, pencil or crayon and it helps them to observe the fine details while appreciating the beauty of nature.
Young children and teenagers alike will benefit from being in the great outdoors. Teaching them how to garden helps them learn an essential skill and many other creative skills can be taught in your own garden. An outdoor treasure hunt or scavenger hunt has the obvious advantage that while picking up intellectual skills, kids are also exercising and learning about healthy how to look after nature.
If you enjoyed these suggestions for garden activities with kids, we recommend checking out our list of ideas on activities for kids in nature, starting with a scavenger hunt.