TOP Outdoor Games and Activities for Young Environmentalists

I was raised a really outdoorsy kid. My dog and I disappeared into the orchards and fields around my home for hours at a time. This is a list of games for kids like me; kids who want to explore and understand the world around them!
  1. 1 Square Foot
    This is a wonderful game that changes every time you play! This can be played in so many ways: competitively, in groups or by yourself. While a magnifying glass, corner stakes and string are helpful and fun, they are not necessary equipment. This game is by far best in spring, summer or fall in many areas but in areas without snowy winters, this game can be played year-round.

    First, each player picks a square foot area of their outdoor environment that they believe will have the most interesting things to look at. This can be anywhere from a square foot of the backyard or a square foot on the edge of a stream or lake. Each area is going to have different micro-environments and therefor, different things to look at. *Helpful hint: areas with regular access to a water source often have the most life and therefore, the most interesting viewing opportunities.
    Next, each person needs to mark out their perimeter. There are more ways than one to do this, but our favorite is using 4 posts and a string. Start by make corners for your “1 Square Foot” perimeter, push you can use pencils, twigs, popsicle sticks or camping stakes into the dirt, 1 foot apart in the shape of a square. Now, run a string around the edge to clearly mark the perimeter and tie it. You can also lay down sticks or rocks to outline your perimeter, so long as it’s clear to you.

    (If you have a magnifying glass and/or journal, this is an excellent time to use them!)
    Get down on the ground and look closely at your square foot of land.
    How many living things can you find?
    What is the micro-terrain like?
    Are there signs of water such as erosion?
    Can you identify links in a food chain?
    Can you see any insects or other critters and/or parts of a critter’s life cycle?
    How many different kinds of living things can you identify?

    Remember, every environment has unique characteristics and moving just a few feet to the left or the right can change the game completely!

  2. The Longest Chain
    This is a challenging game for kids but strong science skills will make your little explorer a champion! For this game, kids will need to go out and identify plants and animals from their environment that form a food chain. The person able to identify the longest chain wins. This sounds simple, but with the addition of a magnifying glass and a little curiosity, this game can be very involved.

  3. Food Chain Tag
    Fox – Field Mouse – Wheat
    Split kids as evenly as possible into 3 separate groups. One group will be the apex predators, one will be the pray and the last group will be the plants. Much like rock-scissors-paper, the food chain is circular with the fox eating the mice, the mice eating the wheat and the wheat getting its inevitable nutrition from the fox.
    In this version of Tag, the foxes can only tag the mice, the mice can only tag the wheat and the wheat can only tag the fox.

  4. Scavenger Hunt
    Give kids a list of items (must be a list that fits their environment) and set them free to explore! Whether at a park, your own yard or even in an apartment, you can always find something to connect you with nature through a scavenger hunt. 
    -3 different types of leaves
    -evidence of insect or animal life
    -3 phases of a lifecycle (seed, living grass, dead grass), etc.

  5. Sensory Awareness Scavenger Hunt
    This is much like a regular scavenger hunt except that you can list things using the 5 senses. This can really encourage kids to open their ears, their eyes and their minds to whats around them. 
  • Listen for (Hear)
  • Look for (See)
  • Smell for
  • Feel
  • Taste

      This can sometimes be done without even leaving your seat!

  1. Trash Tracker
    This game can be played in teams, person to person or against yourself! Start with two equal containers like bags (preferably recycled). Each team/person collects as much garbage as possible to see who gets the most in a 15 minute period. This is a great idea for when you first arrive at a campground, picnic site or friends house! 

  2. Walkabout for Awareness
    Nature has so much to say and so much to teach but we so rarely get quiet enough to hear her. While initially the idea of spending 30 minutes or an hour in silence with nature might not sound like a party, if we can be still for just a few minutes there are great rewards for our patience. Nature can be shy and seeing her wonders can require us to move a little slower and talk a little softer.
    Ask your little explorer to sit in a natural setting; perhaps a wooded area in a nearby park, a beach or a river for 30 minutes with the purpose of sitting, listening and watching nature play around them!

  3. Natures Art Exhibit
    Be the Michelangelo of mud! The Leonardo of leaves! Use natural media like mud, sticks, stones and leaves to create artwork! Encourage them to look for as many leaves of as many colors as possible and make a rainbow or make a spiderweb pattern out of twigs. Perhaps you can make a vase out of clay or a mandala out of sand. The possibilities are endless! If you’re doing this activity as a group, have an exhibit at the end!

  4. Natures Band Camp
    What instruments can you make in nature? Reeds and grasses can sometimes be used as whistles. Hollow logs and sticks can make good drums. Invite your little explorer to partner with nature and see what kind of music they can make. This activity works solo but it works even better with a group! Get a whole band going!

  5. Backyard Camp Out
    This is an age-old weekend activity, beloved for generations! Sometimes camping away from home can be a lot of work and it can be nice to have all the luxuries of home right at your fingertips... but NATURE!?! Backyards are great places to have safe, fun and convenient camp-outs. It's WAY less work and can still give your child the feeling of getting out and getting into nature. 

  6. Sensory “who can guess it” game
    This game works best with at least 2 people but is the best with several.
    Each player takes a turn finding an item and putting it in a pillowcase or bag (your Unplugged Explorer Bag is PERFECT for this game). The other players take turns reaching into the bag to guess what kind of item was placed inside. With advanced players, being able to identify the species of leaf or type of twig can make this much more challenging. 

    Boy kneeling and inspecting a bug container with a magnifying glass on the lid.