4 Ways to Celebrate Autumn with Your Child & Reap the Benefits of the Outdoors

autumn

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” – e.e. Cummings

Fall is almost here with its whimsical, whirling leaves and wind. There’s no better time to make sure we, and our children, are getting enough outdoor fun. With screen time increasing for both kids and adults, it’s more important than ever to consciously make the time to play in nature.

There is no shortage of information about why our kids need the great outdoors. Vitamin D exposure, healthy eye development, opportunities for exercise, improved sleep quality and brain development, Mother Nature provides it all. Thanks to the nature of outdoor play, (the jackpot of early childhood development), kids can discover confidence, independence and resiliency.

Playing outside forces kids to be inventive. It requires them to make choices and choose adventures, take risks and adapt. They move their whole bodies, and use all of their senses when in nature; they can see, hear, smell and touch the world around them, and research tells us that multi-sensory experiences promote better learning. Outdoor play supports coordination, balance, and motor skills; it feeds a sense of wonder, forces our kids to ask questions, and it even reduces stress, which is important because stress is a huge barrier to brain development.

Below are four ways to take advantage of the outdoors to promote healthy brain development and early literacy.

1. Do something that helps out Mother Nature, such as make a bird feeder, plant a tree, or make a birdbath.

How to make a bird feederbirdfeeder

You will need:

  1. natural peanut butter
  2. suet (or lard)
  3. cornmeal
  4. pinecone
  5. wild birdseed
  6. cotton thread

Directions:

  1. Mix equal parts peanut butter (use the natural kind with only peanuts listed in the ingredients) and suet (or lard)
  2. Stir in enough cornmeal to make a thick paste
  3. Press this mixture into the pinecone
  4. Roll the pinecone in the wild birdseed mix
  5. String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard

2. Start an art project. For example:

  1. Collect and press fall leaves between wax paper, or do leaf rubbings (place a piece of paper over the leaf and lightly rub over it with a pencil or crayon)
  2. Collect rocks and paint them to look like animals
  3. Create a “stained glass” window with fall leaves. After picking your colourful leaves outside, press them to the sticky side of some transparent contact paper, and place on your window

3. Read a non-fiction book about birds. Try About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill, and see if you can find any of the birds outside.

Pair it with fiction books about birds or animals, like the Little Owl’s series by Divya Srinivasan, or any of the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. Extend your books even further by drawing and colouring your favourite birds together.

little-owls-nightpigeon-book              

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Learn a rhyme together that involves nature. Here’s one to start you off:

September Leaves

Leaves are floating softly down;
Some are red and some are brown.
The wind goes whooshing through the air;
When you look back there’s no leaves there.

 

Mother Nature provides for a rich learning experience, so get out there and seize the season—make those mud pies, and jump in those puddles!  

Frozen Fruits

Making a healthy snack together is fun! You can count pieces of fruit, time how long it takes to freeze, look at the shapes, and more!

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • 2 cups green seedless grapes
  • 2 cups purple seedless grapes
  • 2 bananas

What to do:

  1. Wash the grapes and cut them lengthwise.
  2. Cut the bananas into slices about 2cm thick.
  3. Put all the fruit on a baking tray and place it in the freezer for at least an hour until it is frozen.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Let your child help you wash the grapes, cut the fruit (using a child-safe knife) and lay the pieces on a baking tray.

Talk about the measurement, and count how many grapes fit into two cups. Count how many pieces of banana you cut. Enjoy a fresh frozen dessert or snack together when it’s ready!

WHY?

Recipes give an opportunity to use reading and numeracy (numbers) in a different way. Talking about measurements, counting, and making something together helps build vocabulary and skills in a way that your child feels very involved with.

The end result, no matter what you’ve made, helps make them want to do it again!

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Hot Day Relief and Writing – What Could Be Better?

Combining water on a hot day with an opportunity for writing can be great fun!

LET’S GO!

Use the hose and your bodies to create letters or words on a dry fence or wall.

DO IT TOGETHER!

On a nice hot day, get your hose out and have some fun! Find a dry spot on a fence or wall (the wall has to be one that gets darker when water hits it). Have your children and other family members line up in front of the dry area and strike a letter pose by making the shape with their body. You might need two people to make some letters!

Ask everyone to freeze and spray them with the hose, making sure to soak the dry area around their bodies. Once everyone’s nice and wet, have them step away and look at the dry areas left behind.

Have fun with it. Once it’s dry again, challenge yourselves to write a simple word or someone’s name! Give your children a turn with the hose, so they can be the one “writing”.

WHY?

Aside from giving relief on a hot day, writing using different tools and methods will help your children learn to write. Whether it’s making the shape with their body, or outlining someone else’s shape with the hose, they will be able to see what the letters look like and how they are formed. If you try to write words, such as their names, they will start to understand that putting letters together makes something new and meaningful.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Painting Patterns

Have fun painting with different-shaped objects that don’t always create the pattern you think they should.

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Non-toxic, washable paint – different colours
  • Bowls or plates to hold paint
  • Washbasin (or deep cake pan)
  • Objects that roll or slide (golf ball, rock, marble, pencil, etc.)

What to do:

  1. Put the paper on the bottom of the washbasin.
  2. Put each paint colour into a bowl or on a plate.
  3. Choose an object (like a golf ball) and dip it into the paint.
  4. Place it on the paper in the bottom of the washbasin.
  5. Move the object around by tipping the basin in different directions.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Look around outside and in your house for objects that your child thinks have fun shapes or designs. Let them try each object one at a time in the washbasin. Talk about their painting and the patterns left by the paint.

Does the pattern match the shape of the object or the pattern you thought it would leave in the paint? Follow your child’s lead and experiment by putting more than one object in at a time, or different coloured paints on the same object.

WHY?

Numeracy isn’t just about numbers. Talking about colours, shapes, and patterns helps with your child’s numeracy development. Experimenting and having fun at the same time will help your child learn and remember these numeracy ideas even more.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Life Sized Alphabet

Can you and your child make the letters of the alphabet with your bodies? Try numbers and shapes too!

LET’S GO!

Use your whole body to make letters of the alphabet.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Go outside or find some space in your home and make the letters of the alphabet by posing with your child. Explore which letters they can make on their own and which ones they need you to be part of to make it work. Try it laying down or standing up.

Involve other members of your family or friends and add the challenge of singing the ABCs while making the letters with your body.

What to do:

  1. Put two people in each group.
  2. Go around and have each group make the next letter in the song with their bodies (first group does “A,” second group “B,” and so on).
  3. See how fast you can get going without making a mistake.

WHY?

This is another way to explore the shape of letters with your child. Connecting the letters with big body movements will help them remember what the letter looks like and can help them when they are trying to write letters.

 

Satisfying Smoothies

With your child, experiment with this snack to try to make it the yummiest!

LET’S GO!

What you need: 

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup yogurt (flavoured or plain)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries)
  • 4 ice cubes (if not using frozen berries)
  • Squeeze of honey (optional to sweeten)

What to do: 

  1. Put all the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Let your child help you measure, mix the ingredients, and push the buttons on the blender. Show them the recipe and talk about how you know how much you need of each ingredient.

Play with this recipe by adding your child’s favourite fruits, yogurt, or juice to create something different.

WHY? 

Cooking together gives you a chance to have some great conversations with your child. There will be new words, ideas, and fun along the way while you make something together.

By experimenting with the recipe, your child will learn how to start thinking differently, even critically, as they taste and decide how to improve their creation.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

 

Searching for Signs

Doing this scavenger hunt will give you a chance to talk with your child about the print they see every time you go outside!

LET’S GO!

Go for a scavenger hunt—walk and look for signs.

DO IT TOGETHER!

When you go for a walk with your child, decide together what to look for along the way. It might be stop signs or signs with a picture of a truck on them—whatever your child is interested in looking for.

When you find the signs, talk about what you see. You can extend the activity when you get home by drawing pictures of what you saw on your scavenger hunt.

WHY?

This game helps your child notice the signs around them and gives you a chance to talk about what they mean. It will help your child understand that signs and the writing on them have meaning—one of the first steps in becoming a reader.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

 

Learning About Bugs

For the bug lovers out there, this book has amazing pictures that will make your child want to explore and learn more!

LET’S GO!

Share an information or non-fiction book together, like Incredible Insects by playBac Publishing or Insects by Dr. George C. McGavin.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Sit with your child and let them flip through the book to see which insects capture their attention.

Read them the information about the ones they want to look at or ones that you have seen around where you live.

WHY?

If your child is an insect lover, these books are great to share with them. The pictures let your child get up close to insects and give good information about each one. 

Your child will want to know how you know so much about the insects, and you can point out the words you are reading.

They may start pointing at words and asking about them. Their interest in insects will keep them engaged with the book and help them become readers!

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

 

What Time is it Mr. Wolf?

Mr. Wolf introduces the idea of time and counting in this fun game!

LET’S GO!

What to do:

  1. Decide which player is going to be the wolf.
  2. All the other players line up in front of the wolf (have lots of space between the wolf and other players).
  3. The wolf turns around so his back is to the other players, and all the players ask together “What time is it Mr. Wolf?”
  4. The wolf picks a time and the players have to take that many steps (e.g. 2:00 is 2 steps).
  5. This repeats until the wolf thinks (without looking) that the players are close enough to catch, and yells “lunchtime!”
  6. The wolf chases the other players and tries to touch as many as he can. One of the players caught becomes the wolf for the next round.

DO IT TOGETHER

Before the game, tell your children that when the wolf says the time, it’s like reading it on a clock. 

To start, you should be the wolf so your children see how the game is played.

When you are calling times, say how many steps that means until everyone understands. When it’s “lunchtime,” turn the catching into some tickling fun.

WHY?

This game helps introduce children to the idea of time.

They won’t understand it all, but it’s good for them to hear the words used to tell time.

Counting and time are both important numeracy skills needed in life.

To get over 120 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Meaningful Mess

Spring. Get ready for puddles, mud, and messes! Thinking of a nice, clean house getting covered in puddles and grit, and having to start cleaning all over again, sends shivers down my spine. And what about the extra time it will take to bathe the kids and clean their clothes and shoes, with all the other errands we need to run. Just remember, it really is worth it!

As adults, we often forget the joys of playing in dirt and mud or just getting messy, of throwing away paint brushes and getting our hands dirty instead, of changing out of our good shoes and clothes and exploring without the concern of staying clean. We forget that the learning that happens during this kind of play outweighs the need to keep things tidy and orderly.

Children are messy by nature. It is critical to children’s development to be allowed to explore and interact with their world. Sometimes this means that we, as parents, need to take a deep breath and say “sure, you can play in the mud!” By allowing our children to get messy, we are fostering growth in all areas of their development. Messy play encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Physical development: hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Emotional and social development: self-confidence and self-esteem, respect for themselves and others; can be an outlet for feelings, experiences, and thoughts
  • Intellectual development: problem solving, concentration, planning, grouping, matching, prediction, observation, and evaluation

Spring is the perfect time to allow our children to be messy while exploring the outside world. The weather is warming up, snow is gone, and all sorts of new life is happening. Being messy doesn’t mean allowing our children to run wild though. It is important that they are still dressed appropriately for outside weather, and monitored and guided through safe play. Here is a list of activities to do outside the house:

  • Playing in puddles: allow your children to explore puddles in the spring. See how high they can make the water splash as they jump in it. Can they make a boat that floats or float other objects in the puddle?
  • Mud pies: exploring mud is a great way to get creativity going. What can we create with the mud (castles, pies, pretend food)? What objects can we add to the mud (i.e. rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.)? What happens if we add more water? If we add more dirt?
  • Sidewalk chalk paint: take your cornstarch and water mixture outside! Add a few drops of food colouring and you have sidewalk chalk; the best part is no paint in the house!

Messy play isn’t only for outside, and can be done any time of year inside. Below is a list of fun, educational, and most importantly, messy activities to do inside with your children:

  • Shaving cream dough: try hand mixing equal parts of shaving cream and cornstarch together to make dough. Keep mixing, as it can take a while for the cornstarch to mix with the shaving cream
  • Cornstarch and water: see what happens when you mix cornstarch and water. This activity is a great way to explore ratios (how much of each ingredient to mix) and textures, and learn problem solving skills
  • Finger painting: learn all about colours and how to mix and match new ones, develop fine motor skills, language, and thinking skills

Remember that it is important for you to be messy too. Don’t forget to join in the fun and get your hands dirty! We, as adults, might be surprised by how much we can still learn from messy play, and there is nothing better than creating memories with your children.  They will remember the fun you all had long after you forget how messy everything was. If you would like to learn more about your children’s early learning and how to support literacy development, you might enjoy one of our family literacy programs. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information.