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5 Nature Based Play Ideas for Toddlers & Preschoolers

by Rachael Culbert
June 28, 2021

 Rachael of Tiddler’s Toolbox shares five nature based play ideas for young children. Create small worlds, nature ice blocks, play with mud cupcakes, or use natural materials for sorting, counting and matching activities.

5 Nature Based Play Ideas for Kids

Updated June 2021

I hope you enjoyed my first post containing 5 Nature Art Ideas for Toddlers.

Today, I’ll share five of my favorite ways to use nature within play and hopefully inspire you to use the great outdoors a little more.

As a reminder, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You DO NOT have to purchase any fancy rocks, bark, flowers etc to include nature in your play.  I honestly have a larger stash of natural resources than purchased resources for my little ones.  Get them involved and go on a nature hunt together. I promise you, they will love it.
  • You don’t always have to plan your activity, but can use your environment for inspiration.  Fallen petals or even an old bouquet can provide so many learning experiences. Weeds are also one of my firm favorites. It’s amazing how many ideas I have for dandelion petals and leaves!
Nature based play for toddlers pinterest

5 Nature Based Play Ideas

Create small worlds with dinosaurs and natural materials for nature based play

1. Small World Nature Based Play

This is one of my all-time favorite activities to set up, probably because I can share my own creativity.

In this particular set up, I used avocado shells to act as dinosaur eggs.  I absolutely hate wasting anything and generally will find some other use for it.

The rocks, stones, and bark have been collected on previous nature walks. I store them for later as a resource and the grass cuttings and fern leaves are freshly cut from my garden.

One thing that I like to try and include in my small world setups, is different heights, colors, and textures. This is something nature is pretty incredible at providing for us.

If you don’t have a dinosaur-loving little one, not to worry, add in some small fairy characters, or mini diggers or let your little ones Peppa Pig characters go on an adventure.

It’s easy to tailor small world setups to your little one’s interests and watch their imagination run wild.

Make beautiful nature ice blocks for nature based play ideas for young children

2. Nature Ice Blocks

Anything to do with ice and my three little ones are there.  Add in a few petals or leaves and it creates a whole new level of excitement.

I did prep this the night before, but honestly, it only took minutes. I used containers and food packaging to act as an ice-cube tray that would create different shaped blocks.

Your little ones can use the nature ice blocks as a sensory experience. Or take it one step further and try to melt the ice to retrieve the petals and leaves.

Fill and scoop mud cupcakes for a fun nature based play idea for toddlers and preschoolers

3. Mud cupcakes

Scooping, transferring and pouring are all skills that children will learn throughout their childhood journey. These become life skills that they will continue to use as they grow.  

We are providing experiences for children to develop in this area by allowing our little ones to freely experiment with different materials. Mud cupcakes are a fantastic example of how we can do this.

My youngest adored this activity and used her hands, the spoon and the actual cupcake holders to transfer the soil. In the midst of all of the fun, she was discovering quantity and started to sprinkle the soil into the cupcake until it was full.  

Leaf sorting activity for nature based play with kids

4. Nature Based Play with Matching Sticks 

This is a new idea of ours that I just started to use with my children.  I wasn’t a big fan of asking my little ones to look at an image and match it to a real-life object. I feel children need to use more than one of their senses to adequately achieve this.  

My little ones used an actual leaf and were able to feel and smell the leaf and look at the exact shape, size and color in order to locate it in our garden.

This would also work great on a nature walk. Plan in advance to collect the leave to allow the glue (PVA) time to dry.

Leaf sort and matching game

5. Sorting & Organizing for Nature Based Play 

We honestly don’t need to buy expensive resources for our little ones to access an amazing educational experience.  

My little boy was in his element when I showed him our sticky squares taped to the window. On the other side of the room was a basket of leaves.

His task was to look at the leaves, and organize them into four groups. Once he placed one of each leaf in a section of the sticky window, he then had to sort the remaining leaves accordingly.

By placing the leaves across the room, he became active during the activity. A great way to sneak in a little extra exercise.

This activity could be adapted to suit your little one’s ability. For the younger ones, maybe choose only two sections and for the older ones you could choose to increase the difficulty of the variety of leaves used.

mud cupcakes and matching leaves

I hope that I provided you with some simple, easy and relatively cheap (if not free) nature based play ideas to try with your children.

I am continually coming up with new ways to use nature within our play and learning activities, so be sure to follow along with us on Instagram

Nature Based Play Ideas for Kids

Pin It For Later

Nature Based Play pinterest

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