We love parks. We love exploring the outdoors. We love that Northern Nevada has so many park options and that they all have different offerings! With the variety of terrain, wildlife, landscape, and playgrounds at these parks, comes so many opportunities to support park learning experiences.
We know that while children are “just playing”, they are constantly testing out theories, making connections and extending their learning through new experiences. It goes without saying, that a child will create their own type of play when out and about.
Learning Opportunities at Parks
The ideas offered below simply add a little bit of focus and fun for both caregiver and child(ren), should you be up for it! While there are some obvious social and physical learning opportunities at parks, there’s a handful of other, not-so-obvious ones that can come from park experiences.
Supporting children’s relationship with nature and their awareness in treating the earth with care.
Pre-literacy skills can be tapped into while making connections between objects and it’s written form (even if they do not read yet).
Mathematical practice can be seen through counting objects, noticing similar colored flowers, etc.
Imagination is ignited and Creative Thinking skills are honed in while challenged with an open-ended question.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving are practiced when given the opportunity to create solutions or responses to challenges.
Creating Park Challenges and Adventures
What is the challenge? A simple but open-ended question that can support a child’s focus or interest in something! Sometimes a more focused, less open-ended question can be appropriate for you and your child too! (I’ll offer an example or two of each below).
Can you create something beautiful using natural, found materials? Or if you found a lot of a certain material, you could suggest a more focused, “What can you create using only the pinecones?” “How high can you stack these stones?”
After collecting sticks, pinecones, stones, petals, etc. let your children create a composition with those natural materials. If you’ve got a camera or cell phone on you, take a few photographs of this temporary art. Leaving it out may inspire other park-goers to create their own!
How many daffodils can we find today? Let’s go on a Daffodil hunt!
If your child has become very interested in counting or noticing particular objects out and about, a focused question like this could lead to some memorable experiences.
Add a clipboard, paper, and a pencil for this activity!
Nature Color Hunt (prep work required) “What colors can you find in the park?”
Grab an empty egg carton (or a sheet of paper) and crayons/markers etc. Have them color in each egg section a different color (or create a colorful shape on paper). As you go on a nature walk, they have the chance to really look around them and find natural materials that match the colors in their carton (or paper).
Put masking tape around your child’s wrist(s), with the sticky side facing out. As they go on a walk or play in the playground, they can add natural materials they find to create their bracelets (petals, feathers, pine needles, etc).
A variation of this could bring a sheet of contact paper, to allow them to stick natural materials on them.
Leaving Traces of Wonder
This is one I have done with my past students but not with my own children. I think ages 4-5 are great ones to try this out. Using sticks and other materials, you can challenge them to create little “homes” or dwellings for “fairies” or whatever sparks their interest. These are so sweet to come across when you enter a park, let alone seeing a child’s face light up; definitely sparks your imagination!
Park Passport: How many parks can we discover? If you could name this park, what would it be called?
Grab a journal and a pen! (& camera, if available) This might be of interest in 3+-year-olds, who are excited to go to new parks and reflect on their experiences of them. I remember, as a child, I rarely used the actual name of the park, but created nicknames for them that related more deeply to the playspace. What would your child name a particular park? What would they name it? What did they love about it and what did they wish was different?
Preparing for the Trip
Simply preparing for a trip to the park can be a lot of fun with a toddler or young child! Slowing down the steps of figuring out what we need and want to bring to the park is a great way to practice planning and self-help skills.
If the hope is to examine flowers or pay attention to the types of insects on the playground, supporting children in packing the proper “tools” for that activity will support their focus on the desired activity.
We have so many amazing parks and adjoining visitor centers in our area. When we
first moved here, one of my missions was to discover all the parks we had around us and see what programs they offered. Here are a few that we really loved:
While this park is well known for Reno Balloon Races and a lot of other events, there are some really sweet, smaller events geared for young children and families throughout the year. The Lil’ Sprouts program (free/donations) was an excellent example of a volunteer-led monthly get-together that supported children’s connections with nature. Please check the website for the most current class offerings.
This group meets one Saturday a month at different park locations. The volunteers bring tools (binoculars etc.) and other materials that support children’s learning in each specific park tour. I enjoyed learning about the area, while my child was engaged in the program.
If your child loves birds, owls and other birds of prey, this visitor’s center is a MUST. They have so many different taxidermied birds inside the building, along with information on wildlife in the area. There is a really cool, short nature trail that is perfect for small feet that stays close to the center too. A perfect place for a nature challenge! They also have a toddler program on Thursdays, but I’d recommend checking in on their website for the most updated information.
I’d love to know how your next trip to the park goes!
Angie Waltz is an Early Childhood Educator with over 10 years experience in Reggio-inspired, play-based classrooms. Her undergraduate degree is in Child Development and she holds a Masters in Human Development. Angie is enthusiastic about sharing ideas, activities and materials that support a play-based, child-led learning approach. She also loves helping families create developmentally appropriate, thoughtful, rich learning spaces for their children. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook @mamasgonnamake or her website, mamasgonnamake.com for fresh ideas and inspirations to support children’s learning!