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Coaxing children into the backyards is child’s play, but you may have to work at it to use outdoor playtime as an opportunity to teach them about their environment. We’ve gathered a handful of DIY projects to get a little dirty, have some fun, and open the back door to learning.


Plant a Garden

Getting kids to play in the dirt won’t be a challenge. Getting them cleaned up? That’s a task you can tackle later.

Installing a few planters or reimagining your garden beds will create beauty and opportunity. Older kids can help you design and build your own planters, and younger kids can get involved as soon as the dirt is ready. You’ll be amazed at how willing they will be to eat their veggies if they’ve grown them themselves.

DIY gardens are a great way to invite butterflies and other pollinators to your yard. Butterfly gardens are an essential part of protecting our ecosystems, and also give kids a chance to watch some of nature’s magic.

Herbs and fruits are another great option for the backyard, especially if you’ve chosen raised planters. In addition to caring for plants, a handful of fresh basil or strawberries gives you the chance to bring the learning into the kitchen.

Preserve Something Pretty

With the kids outside, start some conversations about different types of plants, their textures, colors, and attributes. With a few favorite choices in mind, encourage various motor skills by creating something beautiful.

It’s easy to make rubbings of intricate leaves with just some printer paper and a few crayons. For something more involved, help kids place petals on paper and sandwich them between heavy books.

With the petals and leaves dried, create bookmarks or greeting cards. This gives you the opportunity to work on other skills such as reading and writing.

Steps and Stones

An old pizza box, a small bag of quick-set concrete mix, and some nice weather are all you need to create custom stepping stones. Decorate your stones with recycled materials such as glass pieces, leftover plastic, or even rocks and shells.

In addition to being outside, you’ll get the therapeutic benefit of learning something new. Stepping stones are a fun, memorable way to incorporate math and science into your summer days.

Befriend the Birds

Building bird feeders and birdbaths are an inexpensive and hands-on way to get kids involved with the local environment. If you want to invite birds for a shower, be sure to dump the water periodically. Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.     

You can make simple feeders with household items and some quality birdseed. We just caution you to learn a little about the local birding environment to ensure your efforts are in line with what the birds need.

Scavenge the Scenery

A simple activity for any outdoor space – backyard or backwoods – is a scavenger hunt. Depending on your child’s age, send them to find something purple, something living, or something deciduous.

Take a moment to create a checklist and give the kids a basket for their findings or a phone to take photos. For some friendly competition, up the stakes with a prize for the winner.

To take the learning even further, download an app such as LeafSnap, which allows you to quickly identify and learn about unknown flora and fauna.

Many of the activities you already do outside naturally incorporate learning about the environment along with other skills. The trick is not to tell the kids! Once you call it “learning,” you’ve lost them – disguise everything as playing in the dirt, and you’ve got a captive audience.


Alison Hoover is a teacher and an avid reader with a passion for books and learning. She writes for several national publications, offering tips on keeping kids busy and off their screens.