Outdoor learning is more important than ever after the past two years. The pandemic has meant that many children are re-entering our schools with higher levels of sedentary behavior. Childhood obesity is still increasing at an alarming rate across the Western world. Getting outdoors and working together to learn through physical activity is a great antidote to this.
You can teach every skill imaginable outdoors if you use a bit of imagination and creativity, and the best part – the children will have so much more fun.
Be sure to check out our outdoor courses for parents or schools. Outdoors on a Budget will help you set up a great (but low-cost) outdoor activity area. Urban Forest Environments will let you create a natural environment for those without the actual wooded outdoors, trees, etc.!
Many children automatically feel more relaxed outdoors. If a child raises their voice indoors, it bounces off the four walls, and the sound becomes trapped. However, if they raise their voice outdoors, the sound is set free and doesn’t have the same intensity. It’s more relaxing and less stressful.
Team games are important for developing the skills of turn-taking and following instructions. Still, perhaps, more importantly, they help children to cope with disappointment when they don’t win – and for some, that is harder than others, but unless they have the chance to participate, they will never develop those skills.
Try the outstanding games below and start to have fun:
1. The floor is lava!
This is a fun game for any age, especially if you have been learning about volcanos recently.
It’s a good game to start with as there are few rules to follow, and it’s great for children who have much pent-up energy and need a way of releasing it.
The rules are easy.
Shout to the group:
The floor is hot
Hot molten rock.
One two three!
The floor becomes molten rock, and the children need to find a way to get off the ground. They could balance on rocks, climb a tree, perch on a chair – anything you have to hand to provide a sanctuary from standing on the ground.
When you shout:
The floor is cool
Cool as a pool,
Three, two, one!
They can return to the ground and start to run around again. The last person to leave the ground is out. And the last person standing wins.
2. Stuck in the mud
A large space is best for this activity as it encourages a lot of running around and uses a lot of energy.
- Ask the children to find a good space and stand still.
- Check the space by stretching out your arms as wide as possible to ensure you can’t reach anyone else.
- Ask all the children to pretend they are stuck in the mud by putting both arms out wide. Their legs should be rooted into the floor.
- When all the children are well spaced out with their arms out, choose two players to rescue them so that they can run around again.
- The only way they can be released from the mud is by a rescuer running underneath their arms.
- As soon as they are rescued, they can run around again and try to release other players.
- Meanwhile, another two players are tagging. If you get tagged, you are stuck again and have to hold out your arms.
- Keep playing until either everyone is stuck or everyone is released.
You may need to adjust the number of children who are tagging, depending on how many players you have to start.
This is a great game to develop following simple instructions and listening skills, and it is also a lot of fun.
There are four kinds of beans to remember for this game.
- Jumping beans: the children have to keep jumping with both feet together.
- Runner beans: the children have to run as fast as they can on the spot.
- Broad beans – the children have to make themselves into the widest shape they can, stretching out their arms and legs.
- Jelly beans – the children have to shake themselves and wobble all over.
Explain the four movements to the group and then shout the different beans randomly.
The last person to change their movement each time you call it out is out and has to sit down. The winner is the last child playing.
4. Sharks and yogurt
I don’t know where this game originated, but it’s been around for years. The children have so much fun playing with it, and it certainly stood the test of time.
- Place small mat markers or carpet tiles around the floor. They should be just large enough for one child to stand comfortably.
- Explain that the floor is made of yogurt, and sharks swim around in the custard.
- Make sure there is always one less mat than the number of children playing the game.
- Either play music or bang a drum to keep a steady rhythm as the children pretend to swim around in the yogurt.
- When the drum/music stops, the children must jump onto a mat to avoid the sharks in the custard.
- The child who doesn’t manage to get onto a mat is out and has to wait on the side.
- Keep playing until only two players are left and one mat to find the winner.
This is lots of fun, and you can adapt the dinosaur to another creature if you want to—for example, a grizzly bear or a monster.
- Find a large space and ask all the children to stand at one end of the space except the child chosen to be the dinosaur. The dinosaur should stand in the middle of the space.
- The children call out: Dinosaur, dinosaur, Can we cross your path?
- The dinosaur calls back: You may cross my path only if you are wearing…e.g., brown shoes, a red tie, and have black hair….
- The dinosaur can choose whatever criteria they like. If the child fits the description, they can cross safely to the other side, but the other children who don’t meet the dinosaur’s conditions must run across the space without being caught by the dinosaur.
- If caught, they must help the dinosaur on the next crossing by standing in the center and catching children as they try to run from one side of the space to the other.
- This keeps going until there is only one person left.
- The winner then becomes the dinosaur in the next game.
6. Follow my leader
This game is good for any age as it develops many physical and social skills like turn-taking and cooperation.
- Ask the children to make a line behind you and explain that they are to follow you and copy whatever you do.
- Start by walking around space and then introduce new movements like:
Walking like a chicken
It doesn’t matter what the movements are. The idea is to have fun and to be able to copy the movements of the person in front of you. When the children have the hang of it, you can choose a child to be the leader. You may prefer to split the children into two smaller lines depending on the numbers in your group. Give each leader a few minutes at the front of the line and then ask them to run to the back of the line, and the person in front becomes the new leader. Praise the children for thinking of unusual movements.
There are many other similar ideas on the website below:
7. Problem solvers
This is a game where you risk losing to another team if you don’t work together, so it encourages cooperation, listening to one another, and working as a team.
- Divide the children into teams. There should be four children in each group.
- Give each team two mats. (Mats can be pieces of cardboard or carpet tiles).
- Explain that each team has to cross the outdoor space (from A to B) without once touching the floor. Every team member has to get across safely to the other side.
- Only two people can stand on a mat at any one time.
- The winner is the team that works out how to get across the space first without anyone touching the ground.
Allow plenty of time for the teams to make mistakes, as this is all part of the point of this game. See if they can work it out without your help.
8. Height order
This is another good game for encouraging children to work together as a team. It’s a good game to play with different age groups, too, so that there is a variation in the children’s height.
Ask the children to solve the problem of putting themselves into a line in height order.
Set a timer and shout ready, steady go!
See if they can work out the tallest person to the shortest person before their time runs out.
10. Picture Detectives
This is another game to encourage cooperation and problem-solving skills. You need two teams for this game. I’d suggest no more than 4 children in each team.
- Prepare 2 large photocopied pictures A2 or A3 size.
- The pictures can be of anything, but it’s better if you can relate them to something you are working on, for example, dinosaurs, animals that live in the cold, or a picture from a favorite story.
- Ask each team to make a jigsaw of the picture by cutting it into about 8 pieces.
- Each team should swap their jigsaw with another team.
- The winning team is the team that can complete the missing picture first.
- You can adapt this game by using smaller pictures or by cutting the picture into smaller pieces if you want more of a challenge.
11. Color Command Statues
This is a variation on the party game Musical statues, and it encourages quick reactions and thinking skills.
- Prepare a set of cards that have different colored circles on them.
- Explain what each circle means.
Red – stop still and stand up straight like a soldier
Green – stop and make your arms into the branches of a tree.
Blue – Lie still on the floor
Yellow – stand on one leg
Black – keep moving.
- Play some music or keep a rhythm going, and when you hold up a card, the children have to react quickly and remember what the color means.
- The last person to react is out and has to wait on the side until the next game.
This is great for developing memory and concentration.
You can adapt it by only using two cards to start with, or you can add more colors with different commands. Remember to keep it playful.
12. The over-and-under game
For this game, you need two similar-sized teams to compete against one another.
- Each team should get into a line, one behind the other.
- Give the player at the front of the line a large ball.
- They have to pass it over their head to the player in the line behind them.
- That player must pass it through their legs to the player behind them.
- Continue passing over and under as fast as possible until the last player in the line gets the ball.
- They should run to the front of the queue and pass backward, over heads and under legs again.
- The two teams should race against each other until the player who started at the front of the queue is again at the front.
- That player should then race to put the ball into a bucket.
- The winning team is the team that has the ball in the net first and is all sitting down.
All the games above will provide opportunities for children to keep active, learn and improve skills and work together.
If you enjoyed those and would like some further outdoor games, try the ideas from the website below: