It can be challenging to plan outdoor activities in the spring because of the ever-changing weather. Here in Oregon, some days are cold and wet while the next may be sunny and warm. We wrapped up our Spring Break Camp a couple weeks ago and that weather pattern is exactly what we experienced. Whether wet or dry, however, we spent plenty of time outdoors. If you are also dealing with springtime weather uncertainty, or just looking for some new spring-themed nature activities, here are eight of our favorites.
1. Waterproof Animal Homes
This is a simple activity that kids of all ages - preschool on up - really enjoy. The only supplies you need are some plastic animals and a space with some natural items to construct little houses. I start this activity by leading a discussion about what animals do when it rains. After talking about where animals might find shelter from the rain we head outdoors. Each child, or or pair of children, gets an animal to build a little house for. Once they're satisfied with the waterproof quality of their house, we test it by creating a rain shower with a water bottle or small watering can. The animal is carefully extracted and inspected for water drops. Hopefully it stayed dry, but even if a few drops made it though the shelter probably provided at least a little protection from the water.
2. Color-matching Hike
Looking out at a natural area, most kids will say they only see green and brown but a rainbow of colors abound in the outdoors! You just have to look a little more closely. This activity uses paint chips from the hardware store to help kids hone their observation skills. Even in the dead of winter, there are more colors than just green and brown to be found, but this is especially fun in the spring as buds and blooms start to appear.
Give each child a paint chip and instruct them to try to find something along the trail that matches it. I've found that kids really enjoy doing this activity in pairs or small groups so they can work together and get a second opinion on their match. Younger kids can get an easy color while older students are often up for a challenge. Be sure to collect a few paint chips of colors you don't think anyone will find. You'd be surprised how closely kids will inspect what's around them! Even in the dead of winter we have been able to find bright red.
If the colorful item can be collected, it's fun to see things grouped together. Of course, not all things can, or should, be picked so be sure to set some ground rules before you begin.
3. Forest Bouquets
Once your eyes have been opened to the colors and patterns that are present in this season, capture some of the beauty by making a forest bouquet! Even in early spring there are beautiful buds, evergreen branches, and fallen sticks with bits of moss and lichen that can be gathered and arranged into a beautiful seasonal display. One of our Spring Break Camp students even cut large leaves like you would make a paper snowflake to add her creative touch to the bouquet.
4. Wild Edibles Tea Party
We used our forest bouquets to decorate our forest tea party! After spending time in the wet outdoors, there's nothing better than cozying up indoors with a warm beverage. We made tea using a blend of wild plants and garden herbs. Plants in the mint family like lemon balm and, of course, mint, start growing here even before other herbs wake up from their winter nap. Other herbs that are fun to include are rosemary as well as lavender, which you can often find growing early in the season.
Because we have a forest right outside the door, we included stinging nettle (handle carefully with gloves, or use some that has already been dried), cedar needles* and douglas fir tips.
First we all had a chance to smell the different herbs and plants and then we mixed our own blend. Sweetened with a little honey, it was a hit! We enjoyed it with a snack of popcorn.
*Consuming large quantities of cedar needles is not advised. As with all wild edibles, research them first and only ingest what you are comfortable with, and only when you are certain about its identification. In this case, cedar needles made up a very small percentage of our tea blend.
5. Flower Dissection
Spring is the season for flowers! There's no better time to learn about the parts of a flower. We dissected large lilies because they are a perfect flower - meaning each flower contains both make and female components - and they're large enough for kids to easily see each part. By dissecting a flower, students discovered where the pollen is made, what the petals and sepals are for, and even saw tiny immature seeds in the ovary.
I created a data sheet so that everyone could glue their flower parts down and take them home. Writing with pollen was also fun!
6. Seed Bombs
Spring is a great time for planting. We made seed bombs for campers to take home and they were very fun to make. Kids were most successful making them by creating a small bowl out clay. We then put a spoonful of wildflower mix into it and the kids closed up their clay around it. Some opted to not take them home, but planted them here the next day by smashing the dried clay with a rock to release the seeds. They can also simply be thrown outside into the dirt and the spring rain will eventually wash the clay away, leaving the seeds behind to grow. It's a fun way to plant something in a bare area!
7. Watercolor Painting
This one may be a little simple, but making some art that requires water is a great way to make the best of a rainy day. If we had done this a day earlier, we could have filled our water jars with rainwater, but as it turned out, our water themed camp day was the driest, sunniest one of the week! We enjoyed being outside in the springtime sun and painted pictures inspired by water and/or things we saw on our creek exploration earlier.
8. Just go outside for some unstructured fun!
You don't need any particular activity to get outside and enjoy all that this sometimes wet, sometimes sunny season has to offer! We allow for plenty of unstructured play and exploration during our youth programs here on the forest farm. Explore outside, get a little (or a lot!) dirty, and have fun.