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Outside activity ideas for early years

Monster mouth tunnel

Cut an arch shaped opening in each of a collection of large cardboard boxes (maybe 3 to 4 boxes). Draw around the opening to create a monster’s mouth - add other features to the box such as eyes or spikes. Tape the boxes together side by side.

Invite the child to take turns to roll a ball and try and get it inside the monsters mouth. You could keep score and also add more challenge by adding a number value to each monster mouth, or have more than one roll at a time so that scores need to be added together.

Wax rubbing

Use fine thin paper and crayons to rub over patterned surfaces, for example tree bark, paving slabs, bricks and talk about the patterns.

Masking tape shapes

On a large piece of black sugar paper, use masking tape to create a series of criss-cross lines, dividing the paper into smaller sections.

Invite the child to colour the sections in with different coloured chalks. When finished, peel off the masking tape to reveal the patterns. Talk about edges, lines, sides, corners, angles, small, large.

Dice actions

Either use commercially bought playing cards with images of children doing actions, for example jumping, running, hopping or cut out pictures of children doing actions and stick onto cards.

Place the cards face down. Turn a card over and invite the child to roll the dice and perform corresponding number of actions matched to the card. To increase the challenge use 2 dice so that children can calculate the score.

Dice shapes

If you have a dice that has shapes instead of dots (maybe from a board game) use that or stick some shapes onto a dice.

Roll the dice and challenge the child to find something in the environment that matches the shape. You could add more challenge by adding pictures of 3D shapes. Talk about the shape they have found. For example, 3 sides, all straight, or 3 corners.

Shape assault course

Create 2 sets of assault courses (children could help). Using large pieces of card, draw a different shape on each one. Choose 2 to begin with and display them, one each at the end of each assault course. Describe one of the shapes, for example straight edges, corners, 3 sides.

Children take it in turns to guess which shape is being described and then go through correct assault course. Play again by replacing the last guessed shape with another.

Add more challenge by adding 3D shapes. Support children to take turns to describe the shape for others to guess which one.

Car tracks

Use guttering to create ramps of different heights. Chalk numbers evenly spaced on the floor. Post cars down the ramps. Talk about which one has gone the furthest distance.

Story telling pebbles

Stones with pictures painted on them

Paste a variety of images onto a collection of large pebbles, for example a house, characters, vehicles, or a tree. Cover in a layer of PVA glue and allow to dry. Invite the children to select some pebbles each to use to tell a story.

If this is too challenging, invite the children to select the pebbles and then you make up the story, inviting their contribution when appropriate. Talk about what happened first, next, or last.

Pop the bubble wrap

Roll a dice (or use 2 dice to combine numbers for more challenge). Provide the child with an individual piece of bubble wrap to pop corresponding amount of bubbles. Who will pop all the bubbles first?

Bigger and smaller

Collect 6 everyday items from the environment and place on a tray. Number each item 1 to 6. Make some cards that say smaller than and bigger than, including symbols to help children understand the question, and place face down.

Invite the child to roll a dice and match the number they have thrown to the item on the tray. Turn over a card and challenge the child to find something in the environment that is bigger than or smaller than the item. Add more challenge by playing with 2 dice and having items numbered 2-12.

Bear in a bottle

Put differing numbers of compare bears (1 to 6) into clear empty plastic see through water bottles. Fill with interesting sensory material that can be shaken, for example coloured sand, rice pr lentils and secure the lid.

Invite the child to roll a dice and challenge them to find the bottle that has that number of bears, for example find the bottle with 3 bears. More challenge could be added by using 2 dice and having 2 to 12 bears hidden.

Water number target

Prop a tuff spot tray upright against a fence. Stick on some targets with numbers 1 to 6. Children take turns to roll a dice and then try to squirt the matching number target with plant watering spray bottles. 

To make it more challenging use the numbers 2 to 12 and children roll 2 dice and combine the number. This can also be done by using a shape dice and children squirt the corresponding shaped target.

Beat the clock game

Invite children to use tweezers to pick up small items from a tray and try and fill a cup (or similar container) before a timer runs out.

Pirate pound shop

Collect items to sell in your shop. It could be themed to match an interest of the children, such as pirates, but can be just a pound shop. Make £1 labels for the items.

Provide child with 10 x £1 plastic play coins to buy 10 items and count out correct amount of coins.

Add more challenge by asking them to buy less items and then count how many coins are left. More challenge could be added by having ‘offers’ so that some items are 2 for the price of one.

Postman on a bike

Add challenge to outdoor spaces used for bike riding.

Tape a container to each bike and put some plastic numbers inside. Map out a circuit for the postman to follow with mail drops along the route. Use more containers (the houses) for the postman to post the mail to. The houses should be numbered 1 to 5 so that the postman delivers the right number to the right house.

Add more challenge by adding numbers up to 10, or putting the ‘houses’ out of order so that the postman has to continue around the circuit a number of times so that the numbers can be delivered in order.

We’re going on a pattern hunt

To the rhythm of 'we are going on a bear hunt', chant ‘we are going on a shape hunt, we’re not scared. We are going to find a shape that is …’. Then the adult describes the shape and the children find the same shape in the environment. Add more challenge by inviting the children to describe the shape. You could use some prompts to help with this.

Story telling tin

In a small tin or container add a small number of interesting resources (for example, a jewel, bangle or small world characters). Invite the children to help you tell their story - decide who the story is about, how many characters, what will happen first, next, or last.

Water squirt name

Write the children’s names in chalk on a wall or other similar surfaces in the environment. Challenge them to find their name and then use a water squirter to make it disappear.

Talk about where they found their name, for example. under, on top of, or behind. Add more challenge by writing letters and holding an item up that starts with one of the letters. Say its name (focusing on initial sound) and ask the children to squirt the letter that makes that sound.

Letter and word making treasure hunt

Using 2 large pebbles for each word, write the initial letter of a CVC word on one pebble and the remaining 2 letters on another pebble. Make sure that the same colour is used for each word and a different colour chosen for each other word. For example, 'pig' could be written in red, with 'p' on one pebble and 'ig' on a second pebble.

Make a collection of words and have corresponding items to match the words.

Display the items with the pebble with the last 2 letters, that is, a plastic small world pig and a pebble with 'ig' written on it. Tell the children that the letters have been hidden and challenge them to find the right letter that makes the initial sound for each item.

This could be extended to rhyming words, finding the last sound, finding all the sounds. Talk about where they found the letter.

Journey stick

Child playing with sticks

Invite children to find a stout stick. Attach a long string to the end and ask the children to attach items that they find on their journey to the string. Talk about where they went first, what they found first, next, last, which is the biggest or smallest item, how many items or why they chose the items and so on.

Bug house

Use empty plastic water bottles. Cut off the top to make a wider opening or plastic plant pots.

Invite the child to fill their container with a collection of sticks, tightly rolled up newspaper and so on to make a bug house. Have fun using magnifying glasses and books to discover the wildlife that make the bug house their home. How many different bugs can they find?

Cheerio bird food rings

Invite the child to thread cheerio cereal onto pipe cleaners or string. Tie ends together and hang up. How many different birds come to eat the food?

Shadow drawing

On a sunny day, place a piece of white paper on the floor and position a small toy, such as a dinosaur, on the paper at an angle to create a shadow on the paper. Invite child to capture the shadow by drawing around it. Talk about the shape it makes. Is the shadow bigger or smaller than the toy?

Season colour hunt

On a postcard, paint, chalk or felt tip 4 blocks of colour that typically represent the season (one for each child taking part).

Challenge the child to find natural things that match each colour. How many things did they find? Talk about changes to nature in the season.

Pumpkin tap

Place a large pumpkin on a table. Make sure that it sits steady. Roll a dice and invite child to hammer that amount of large golf tees into the pumpkin. Add more challenge by rolling 2 dice to calculate number.

Leaf threading

Make a large collection of leaves and punch a hole in each one. Invite child to roll a dice and thread that amount of leaves onto a stick.

Estimate how many leaves will they need to fill their stick. Which leaf is the biggest? How many leaves have they used? How many more do they think that they will need to fill their stick? Add more challenge by using 2 dice to calculate number.

Salad spinner art

Cut paper to size and put in the bottom of a salad spinner. Invite child to add a few drops of runny different coloured poster paint. Set a stop clock to a minute and challenge the child to turn the salad spinner vigorously for this amount of time. Count down from 20 seconds. Explore the patterns.

Natural art

Provide each child with a small container and invite to fill it with some natural materials. For example, moss, seeds, seed pods, fir cones, small pieces of wood, shells, feathers, pumpkin seeds, conkers, sycamore keys, or leaves.

Provide individual trays for the children to use for their art filled with mud and then topped with sand and some implements to mark marks with, such as sticks. The children can make patterns in the sand or use the materials to create art in the sand.

Provide provocations, for example, display image of patterns on the sand at the beach, shell patterns, wood bark and so on and talk about them.