Nature Language Learning

You heard it on NPR (maybe just me- ha!) and you’ve read about it over and over again; time outside for kids is good. I was introduced to an all outdoors preschool about a year ago where I saw one of its students for social skills and language therapy. It was an inspiring experience to say the least. Aside from minimal “tools” (shovels, wagon, wheelbarrow) and a few swings, there were no traditional toys. And everything happened outside; rain or shine. On top of being exposed to this model, I happen to have a couple of amazing friends who make it a habit to not just “allow” their kids to get dirty but encourage it. One of these friends has a rule that if it is above zero degrees, then there will be outside time. Now I don’t know that I am that hardcore, but it pushes me to not use the excuse of “but it’s too cold” or “it’s too rainy.” Here is the thing- kids RARELY get cold.

And of course, there is language learning to be done. Lots of opportunities to work on descriptors while playing. You could work on the concepts “wet” and “dry” by looking at pictures but isn’t it more fun to feel things in nature and experience a wet leaf or dry dirt. I find that learning in this sensory experience increases engagement (you know I am all about that) which makes kids pick up new words more quickly.

I would suggest you start by incorporating outdoor play (even for just 15 minutes) with no agenda at all. Let kids show you what interests them. Notice what they notice and narrate what they notice. If you are looking for more structured play ideas outside here are some ideas:

– Old muffin tin, parmesan shaker, spoons and small bowls make for fun pretend cooking play. Kids adore playing in the dirt. I played with a child who made pretend muffins and shook “cinnamon” (dirt) on top. He was very proud! I would suggest hitting the thrift store for these items.

– Wagon play. A wagon is fun for hauling sticks, leaves and other treasures around. Also, kids are tempted to ask for a ride. I like to work on “push/pull,” “stop/go,” “that way,” and “fast/slow.”

– Nature hunt. Make a list together of things found in nature (draw quick pictures for kids that aren’t yet reading). Then go searching for these items and either collect or snap a picture. Examples of things on your list could be a stick with a “v” shape, a brown leaf, a spotted rock, something shiny, etc. Here is one you could use if you prefer to print something out.

– Puddle jump! Invest in a rain suit and let them go for it. I had a family suggest buying a rain suit several sizes too big. It will last for years. I personally have this one.


I would love to hear about any adventures you have done outside! Happy exploring!


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