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Smart Learning Games

Outdoor play

From Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool, Bayside, WI 

Family trees

  • Hike through the woods or around a park with your child to find baby trees (short, with thin trunks) and grandpa trees (tall, with fat trunks).
  • Find sizes in between for sisters, brothers, moms, dads, and grandmas.
  • Greet each new family member, and compare their sizes by giving them hugs around their trunks.

The hidden lessons: Transforming the trees into something that's the center of a toddler's or preschooler's world - family - helps them relate to nature. Wrapping their arms around trees helps them feel what small, medium, and big means.


Nature's treasure chest

  • When you're out: Have your child fill each compartment of an egg carton with two of the same object, like rocks, acorns, or leaves.
  • Back home: Look at, touch, smell, and talk about her finds.
  • Then dump them out and mix them up. Two- and 3-year-olds will have fun trying to re-match the pairs. Give your 4-year-old different ways to sort, such as hard vs. soft, rough vs. smooth, and living vs. nonliving.

The hidden lessons: Digging around outside gives kids a chance to explore and take small risks ("What will happen if I touch this ant?"); plus, matching and sorting are precursors of algebra and geometry.


Can you hear it?

  • Find a quiet spot outside where you can sit together. Close your eyes.
  • Use your fingers to count all the sounds that you hear in a minute.
  • Ask your toddler to tell you how many sounds he heard.
  • An older child can show you how deer and rabbits use their ears by cupping both of his hands in front of his ears to hear sounds behind him, or at the back of his ears to hear sounds in front.

The hidden lessons: Hones concentration skills and helps kids learn to pay attention.