Outdoor activities for homeschoolers

Guest post by Regina Wasson, Park Naturalist at Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center

Editor’s note: Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center offers a variety of wildlife and historical programs, including programs for homeschool families. The park is in Olathe along the K-7 Highway, just 5 miles from K-10. The nature center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

The outdoors is filled with educational opportunities, whether you want to teach math skills or biology. As a naturalist, I’m always drawn in by the flowers that are blooming and the tracks and signs left behind the animals at Ernie Miller Park. However, through your creativity you can use the park to teach a range of lessons.

Below I have listed activities you can do at the park. They have been divided into age groups. The park is a great opportunity to enrich your curriculum.

Top 10 outdoor activities for grades K-2

  1. Work on math skills by counting the number of different types of leaves found on the ground, then add and subtracting them based on leaf types or colors.
  2. Check our Little Cedar Creek’s water quality by using a macroinvertebrate chart to help identify animals and their tolerance to pollution. Do periodic tests for change in the water’s macroinvertebrates. Discuss factors of water quality, such as where does the water come from? Are homes nearby? Shopping centers? The EPA website has a great chart for you to use.
  3. Start a wildlife journal. Write down the animals you see and the flowers that bloom.
  4. Observe ants on a log. Using magnifying find their body segments and look for compound eyes. Use your observations to connect insect lifecycles.
  5. Explore the prairie and imagine what the settlers might have seen it. Kansas was a vast land with prairie as far as the eye could see. Over time, the prairie has changed to homes, agricultural fields and forests.
  6. Build a fort. We have areas that are perfect for building your childrens secret hideout.
  7. Meet a tree; blindfold a child and guide them to a tree. Let them feel the tree, then take off the blindfold and let them try to find their tree.
  8. Set a boundary using bandannas as markers, and allow your child to engage in self-exploration.
  9. Walk across a log. Work on your balance and use your muscles as you step down a fallen tree.
  10. Play camouflage (hide and seek) in the prairie and the woods.

Top 10 outdoor activities for grades 3-5

  1. Work on math skills by counting acorns in a 3-foot-by-3-foot square, then use that information to estimate the number of acorns in a larger area.
  2. Compare the alkalinity of the creek and your tap water or rainwater. Together you can discuss factors that make the tap water and creek basic. Test the creek at different times of the year, in different places, and track your results. Limestone is made of calcium carbonate and can contribute to the creek’s alkalinity. Many websites sell pH test kits for water quality testing. Aquarium test kits can give you similar results.
  3. Create an unnatural trail using recyclable items from home, and allow the children to count how many things they find. Collect all the items and discuss what they missed.
  4. Build a survival shelter. Use only natural materials for this project. Yarn and nylon string do not biodegrade.
  5. Try geocaching using a GPS or geocaching app on a smartphone. For more information: www.geocaching.com.
  6. Allow children to hike a portion of a trail alone, then have them reflect on their observations.
  7. Explore the old rock fence and discuss the pioneer settlements in this area.
  8. Write nature poetry. Improve your language skills by writing and reading your nature-inspired haikus.
  9. Search for nests, then try to make your own nest using raffia, craft feathers and mud or clay. Remember the park is a preserve and all things in the park at protected by law.
  10. Play camouflage (hide and seek) in the prairie and the woods.

And now for the 21st outdoor activity, which goes for all ages:

Take pictures! You’ll kill nothing but time and leave only your footprints behind.

Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center has 116 acres of natural landscape with ecological habitats like prairie, forest and stream. The park is home for a wide range of plants and animals, including coyotes, foxes and bobcats, as well as a great variety of birds. Its restored prairie provides nectar to native butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

This post was originally published in March 2015. It has been updated for timeliness and relevance.