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Educational play activities for kids inspired by nature

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Educational play activities for kids inspired by nature

During the summer months and lock down, I spend a lot of time at home with my two young boys. Being a high school art and photography teacher, I like to get creative with play ideas for them and spend lots of time studying nature and enjoying our garden.

Nature is abundant with play inspiration and you are only really limited by your imagination. Rice sensory play is a great way to keep little hands and minds busy whilst opening up their world to the world around them.

Rice Tales

I always start with a concept for my rice sensory tray playtime, this can be anything from insects to flowers! I identify the colours I will need for my theme and colour the rice according using this general recipe:

I mix all the ingredients in a zip lock bag until the rice is fully coated. The vinegar should coat the rice but not be puddling at the bottom. I check the colour and add more food colouring or mix colours until I reach the desired colour. This often requires a generous squeeze. I have found Gel food colouring creates the best colors, but any type will do. Pour your rice onto a baking tray and air dry. I store all my rice in jars or baggies, so this prep may be done ahead of time.

Rice creation

To begin, I often sketch out the image that I would like to create on paper first. I also recommend finding visual examples to work from for your rice artworks.

Tip: Stuck for ideas? Work your way through the alphabet or your childrens' books, great for brainstorming ideas and simple images for your rice art.

You'll need a tray to contain the rice. Select a tray that has a large flat bottom and short sides. I pour the rice into main sections first and then layer colours to add detail. The edges require the most care and patience. For a nice finishing touch, I outline areas of the drawing with black or white beans. This makes your design really pop! You can also elaborate with flowers or other sensory materials such as dried chickpeas or pasta.

Tip: Don't forget to take a photo of your artwork before you let your little one play with it!

Let the rice play begin

To encourage play, consider setting out a variety of scoops, spoons and containers. My two-year-old LOVES playing with these rice trays, scooping, pouring and mixing. Make sure to monitor younger children who may still try to explore with their mouths for any chocking hazards.

Be ready for a little mess, that's the best kind of play! Not everything will stay in the tray but try to have a defined play area like a blanket or even the kitchen floor and set some ground rules. Remember that a vacuum or a broom works magic so don’t panic. Start with a limited time for play, like 10 to 15 minutes and extend that time as your child gets more used to sensory play.

More Nature Inspired Educational Activities to try at Home

Animal Anatomy

Learning about the different parts of each animal

Water 'soup' play

Discovering different plants and flowers in a fun 'soup'

Animal Puzzles and Games

Matching the animal tracks or memory games using cards

I hope this inspires your interactive and creative play with your children, enjoy!

Alyssa Stokes is a teacher, nature stylist and flatlay artist from Maryland. For more flatlay and nature play ideas check out Alyssa’s Instagram @playful.petals and the gallery #exploringnaturewithchildren has lots more nature play inspiration. Alyssa is also a founding member of our Slack community, join her and get inspired.

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