How to Take Learning Outside with Your Child

By Allison Amy Wedell

How to Take Learning Outside with Your ChildI’m not sure when it was that I realized, with a bit of a jolt, that I’m raising a city girl, but there it is. She feels just as at home on public transportation as she does in a car. She navigates the downtown area of our city with ease. And if given the choice, she’d probably rather spend the day indoors on a screen than outside doing . . . well, anything.

That last point means I have to find creative ways to get my kiddo off her screen and out the door, especially when the weather is nice. And if she learns a little bit in the process? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake. Here are a few subject areas I try to incorporate into our outdoor adventures.

I’m lucky to have a house with several garden areas, one of which I have let my daughter take over to do with whatever she wants. She has learned that if plants are to grow well, they need enough room. Together, we calculate the area of her garden, then look up the amount of space each plant needs and make sure we plant them far enough apart. Soon I’ll extend this learning to three dimensions and have her help me calculate how many cubic meters of mulch we’ll need to keep her plants healthy.

If you don’t have a yard or garden, you can make similar calculations for window boxes on a balcony or even for indoor pots of herbs, flowers, or other plants.

Astronomy, Myth, and Legend
My daughter happens to be fascinated with outer space right now, and I happen to know an astronomer, so I asked him to recommend a couple of websites we could use to go out and observe the stars (because we’re in the city, sometimes our view of the stars is limited, but we can always drive to a park or, if we’re feeling ambitious, out to the city limits). Sky and Telescope has a weekly “Sky at a Glance” column that tells you what constellations, planets, and other goodies you can expect to see in the sky. Similarly, StarDate’s “In the Sky This Month” outlines the astronomical sights and events happening for the next few weeks.

Since many constellations and asterisms are based on myths and legends from many cultures, I like to look up their origins so we can learn the story of, say, the Seven Sisters or the Big Dipper.

Mindfulness/Observational Skills
Last summer, my mom came for a couple weeks to be my childcare (because summer camps get expensive). I didn’t want my mom and daughter to be bored out of their skulls while I was at work during the day, so I made them a photo scavenger hunt. It consisted of a list of about 40 items they had to find and take a picture of with my mom’s cell phone, and all of them could be found by taking a walk around our neighborhood: a shrub with yellow flowers, a house with white shutters, a cat sitting in a window, a red mailbox.

The rule was that they had to find at least five per day; if they got the day’s allotment, I had a goody ready for them: some sidewalk chalk, a bottle of bubbles. My mom said it helped my daughter pay attention during their walks (instead of just plowing mindlessly forward) and observe the world around her—always good skills to practice!

Social Skills
My daughter loves dogs, but we don’t have one (our cat is sweet to people, but dogs are another story altogether). So when we’re out anywhere and encounter a person walking a dog, my daughter always wants to pet it. When she was little, I would ask the owner if we could pet the dog, but then it occurred to me that this would be a good opportunity for my daughter to practice her assertiveness skills.

I coached her in standing up straight, looking at the person, and politely and clearly saying, “May I please pet your dog?” The answer is almost always a resounding “Yes!”

There’s a lot for my kiddo to learn out there in that great big world, and it’s fun to be by her side, watching and helping. This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list of the things we try to learn together when we’re outdoors, but hopefully it will give you some ideas for turning your own yard and neighborhood into one big, fun classroom.

Allison Amy WedellAllison Amy Wedell is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social and emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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