#1 Find Your Special Spot! Sequester at home with CREA

One of the things we can do while sequestering at home is GET OUTSIDE. Fresh air is good for the mind, body, and soul, and nature provides places to explore without having to worry as much about germs. Hopefully, you are within walking or driving distance of a natural place where you can relax and have fun while practicing social distancing.

CREA will be offering a steady stream of (mostly) outdoor activities to do with your children in the coming weeks. They are designed to be fun and educational. What better way to tap our Educators’ expertise during this time? Here’s our first suggestion of activities designed for preschoolers and early elementary  children.

Find your special spot!

Since you’ll be home for awhile, it’s a great time to find a special spot outdoors – a place to re-visit often, explore in depth, and have some memorable adventures together. Spring is the perfect time for this, because every day brings subtle changes to the landscape. Your child can be the sleuth who notices and investigates each change.

When choosing a spot (which should be convenient to get to), here are some features to look for in the area:

  • A good sitting spot (A big rock? A log? A big tree to lean against?)
  • Bushes or short trees nearby (good places/habitat for animals)
  • A good hiding spot for you – so you might be able to see animals

Let your child take the lead in finding a special spot that has these features and feels good to them — it might take a few outings to find a spot they like — that’s great! Then put some effort into establishing this spot as their special place.  You want them to be invested in and curious about this place. Encourage them to come up with a name for it.

Once you’ve established your child’s special spot, here are some activities to do in it. These are designed for preschool thru early elementary age children, but some can be tailored to older elementary children.

As you explore your special spot, allow plenty of time for simple observation, exploration, and questions. Don’t be put off by not being able to answer some of your child’s questions about what you’re observing. The two of you are scientists and sleuths, looking for answers. There’s nothing more exciting than a good mystery!

Finally, while some of these activities may seem simple, they all play a role in your child’s physical and intellectual development – everything from vision, physics (jumping), gross and fine motor skills, sensory development, curiosity, imagination, and more. Use this time to follow your child’s interests, let go of any expectations about your visit, be tolerant of messy play, provide enough TIME, and HAVE FUN:

  1. Play hide & seek in the special spot! This helps your child discover all the nooks and crannies and fun hiding spaces! Get them thinking about how animals use these places to hide and camouflage themselves.
  2. Ask your child to find a good place to spy on animals from their special spot!  Do they see clues that an animal has ben in the area?  Look for animal holes in the ground, animal scat (the ‘technical’ term for animal poop), animal trails, empty acorns, etc. Find a good hiding spot (behind a bush) and sit silently for at least 2 minutes.  Look up high, down low, and all around you, even behind you. You are likely to see or hear some animals, birds, insects, etc.  You can bring some birdseed, or collect acorns, and leave them someplace where you think an animal might come to eat it.  Check back the next day to see if the food is gone.
  3. Make a hideout in your special spot.  Use fallen sticks and branches.  You can lean them up against a big tree trunk or branch.  Make it big enough to hide in!  You can cover your hideout with smaller sticks or pine needles at the end to camouflage your hideout even more.  This will be a good spot to hide and spy on animals… or have a picnic and read a book.
  4. “Stump Jumps”!  This is a simple way to make outdoor time fun for little ones while they get exercise and develop gross motor skills. if you’re lucky enough to have some old tree stumps in your special spot, have young kids try doing “stump jumps” off the stump and into your arms.  Or hold onto their hands as they jump to the ground. Let them use their imagination – could the stump be a chair, or a throne?
  5. Make a “nest”.  Look up in the trees near your special spot— do you see any squirrel nests (messy piles of leaves in crotch of tree branches) or bird nests?  Help your child use available materials to make a nest to sit in.  Or for older kids, try to make a real bird nest (using leaves, grass, twigs) on a branch. Is the nest strong enough to withstand the wind? Time will tell!
  6. Make binoculars!  Tape together 2 toilet paper tubes, and attach yarn to make a neck-strap.  Your child can decorate the tubes if they want. The binocs are fun to make, and it’s a fun skill to try and see things through these “binoculars”.  You (caregiver) stand on the far side of your special spot.  Have the kids use their binoculars to see you!  Play “I Spy” with each other to see what you can see using your binoculars – both far away and close up.  Binoculars really help kids focus on specific things — even if it’s just seeing the moss on a rotting log 2 feet in front of them. These ‘binocs’ also help prepare children for real binoculars, which take a little practice to use. 
  7. Photograph or sketch the arrival of spring —  The natural world will change a LOT in the coming weeks!  Find a small area of your special spot to observe as it changes.  You can take pictures or draw sketches to track these changes.  Record your observations every time you visit your special spot.  Tie a piece of yarn around things you want to keep track of, such as dead plant stems, buds on the tips of different tree branches. Ask your child to predict what the buds will turn into. Red maple buds are already beginning to change. Observing them from day to day can reveal tiny miracles of plant growth in spring.

Final tip: Invest in a magnifying glass or hand lens for looking at buds, moss, bugs, flowers, grass, pretty much anything, up close. The microscopic world is fascinating and this tool will make investigation of your special spot even more engaging!

Many of these activities can also be done independently at different places. The point of doing them in one special place is to make a strong connection to a specific place and to learn by observing change over time. 

Check back for more ideas on how to make outdoor time fun while building curious minds and strong bodies!

— The CREA team