Here are five of my favorite backyard science activities that my kids love.
Scavenger hunts are great way to spend time outside and connect with nature. Work on observation skills while having fun together as a family.
There are loads of pre-made scavenger hunts on the Internet. Do a quick search, and you’ll probably find one that will work for your backyard. Sometimes I find the scavenger hunt items too specific, we end up not finding everything.
To help with this, I like to create my own scavenger hunt by making a list of items to find in my backyard that I know are there. Search for nature items like plants, insects, birds, rocks, or dirt. Go on a color scavenger hunt. How many different colors can you find in your backyard? Or hunt for various shapes. Can you find a heart-shaped leaf?
Making nature potions is a definite favorite for all three of my kids. We often use our water table for this. They love pouring and mixing water with flowers and leaves.
Recycled sprinkles containers make great potion bottles. Plastic spice jars or even peanut butter or mayo jars work well, too.
I remind my kids that they need to ask permission before using any flowers or leaves from our garden plants. Dandelions, clover, and grass are always fair game. Stick with flowers and plants that you know are safe for kids to touch. The edible varieties are the safest options.
Paint with Water
All you need for this activity is a cup of water and a paintbrush. I hand over the paintbrush and water to my kids outside and tell them to have fun painting. The first time we did this, they looked at me and asked, “Paint what? Anything?” I gave them some suggestions – their toys, the tree, the patio – and off they went.
At some point, my daughter had painted a large circle on the patio. Half of the circle was in the sun, and the other half was in the shade. I asked them what they thought was going to happen to the water. They said the water would dry up. I asked which side (sun or shade) would dry first. As they continued to play, we waited to see what would happen.
Use Science Tools
What science tools do you have – a magnifying glass, tweezers, a ruler or tape measure, a balance or scale, or measuring cups? Choose one or more of these to take out to the backyard.
Use the magnifying glass to look for crawling insects. Or examine a leaf. My kids like to walk around the yard with a magnifying glass just exploring.
Tweezers can be used to pull apart a flower and look at its different parts. I prefer large plastic tweezers to metal ones.
Give your child a ruler and let her practice measuring things. How long is the table? How tall is the flower? Which is longer?
Roll out a tape measure on the grass (I like the long, flexible cloth kind.) Challenge your kids to a jumping contest. How far can they jump? Try different kinds of jumps and see who goes the farthest.
If you have a balance or scale that you are okay with taking outside, allow your kids to weigh different nature objects. Which weighs more – a pine cone or a rock? How many flowers weigh the same as a leaf?
Adding measuring cups to water play is another way to incorporate some science learning.
Explore at Night
Exploring the backyard at night can be a completely different experience than during the day. Look up at the sky. Can you spot the moon? What stars and planets can you see?
Listen to the sounds of the night. Do you hear frogs and katydids? Are there any owls hooting nearby?
In the summer, our favorite nighttime activity is searching for lightning beetles, also called lightning bugs or fireflies. They like humid, moist areas that are left undisturbed (unmowed and no pesticides). They also need darkness so they can see each others’ flashes.
What is your favorite backyard activity?