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Curious
The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.

5 Backyard Brain Boosters

Outdoor fun that encourages preschoolers to observe, think, touch, and wonder

Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
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Curious
The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.
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Creative
The paint brush icon represents creativity. For content about raising a creative child, look for this icon.
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Caring
The holding hands icon represents caring. For content about raising a caring child, look for this icon.
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Confident
The thumbs up icon represents confidence. For content about raising a confident child, look for this icon.
Outside, every tree, rock, breeze, and bug offers a new and exciting lesson. Your aspiring artist, dancer, reader, athlete, puzzle solver, mathematician, or great adventure seeker will love each and every one of these ideas.
Backyard Brain Boosters
1. Build from the Ground Up

Forget swords and wands. Twigs and broken branches are the basic tools for creativity and engineering. Help your child turn a pile of twigs into a tower—or some other awesome structure. Teach him how to observe and draw conclusions. Ask him what works best: A vertical alignment? Layers? A tepee?

What Kids Learn

Like LEGOs, blocks, and other building toys, building with sticks promotes planning and trial and error. Encourage your child to experiment and help him discover how objects bear weight or resist breaking.

Kick It Up a Notch

Gather strings, rubber bands, buttons, and odds and ends, along with glue or fasteners, to make a bow and arrow, animal sculptures, bridges, airplanes, or anything else your child can imagine.

2. Watch the Weather

Do whatever it takes (try a snack!) to get your child to stay put and focus on the sky for 10 minutes. Inspire observation: What does she notice about the clouds? Are they fluffy and white? Stretched out and dark? In which direction are they blowing? See if your child can make connections between the clouds and the day’s weather. Point out, for example, that when clouds block the sun, it will be cooler than it was when the sky was clear.

What Kids Learn

Children learn how weather works and that there’s a cause-and-effect factor at play here. Today is cooler because of the gray cloud ceiling; it isn’t just a random happening.

Kick It Up a Notch

Watch a cloud transform itself. Help your child describe what she sees: a tall giraffe, a snake, a smiley face, or a marshmallow? This activity helps kids focus and encourages them to find words to explain what they’re seeing.

3. Play Tree Patrol

How closely have you examined the trees in your neighborhood or in your own yard? Launch a scouting expedition. Collect leaves from each tree you see and then compare them. Are the edges spikey or rounded? Are the leaves waxy or fuzzy, dark green or a bit yellow? Get up close and inspect the bark together or hug some trees to get a feel for how they vary in thickness.

What Kids Learn

This activity gives kids an introduction to evidence gathering and research. Once a child knows a neighbor’s tree is different from his own, he can begin to explain why—the leaves are not the same, one has smoother bark, the other tree is thinner.

Kick It Up a Notch

Point out and look for differences in trees from town to town, county to county, or state to state. Ask your child to describe them. Ask how the ones he sees differ from those at home.

4. Enjoy the Sunset

Disrupting a bedtime routine can be tricky, but giving your child a chance to observe a sunset is well worth the extra effort. The sky is pink, then gold, and then black. The clouds turn gray. And as if that isn’t wondrous enough, the sounds of nature and the animals around you change in an instant.

What Kids Learn

Your child may ask a lot of questions—for instance, about the sky’s colors or where the birds go. That’s the most important part of this lesson. At this age, it’s not necessary to explain the science behind the sunset or nocturnal versus daytime animal habits. Just stirring her curiosity is a big step toward building sharper thinking and reasoning skills.

Kick It Up a Notch

From a kid’s POV, being allowed to explore the yard in the dark is absolutely awesome. Just think: summer fireflies, stars in the autumn sky, the reflection of snow in moonlight, and changes in a garden on a spring evening.

5. Find Art in Nature

Add a creative touch to backyard play and encourage your child to sketch a bird, press flowers, create leaf rubbings, or fashion a sachet filled with colors and textures from the world outside his window—easy ways to recreate nature’s beauty.

What Kids Learn

When a child uses pinecones, flower buds, sticks, or other natural materials for crafts and art projects, he becomes more aware of how the objects feel, look, and even how they function in nature. The seeds spill out, stickiness stays on his hands, and scents permeate the room. As kids become intimately familiar with objects, they can spot similarities and differences as they pay attention to details.

Kick It Up a Notch

Even the sun has artistic power. Spread out a solid colored cloth in a sunny spot. Then lay leaves on top, or have your child create a pattern with sticks and rocks. Don’t disturb the materials for the day—or if you get a few sunny days in a row, leave it still for a longer period. With enough sun power, the cloth color will fade around your child’s leaves or pattern, creating a permanent impression, or you can buy special sun-print paper to make sun impressions that last.

How many times a week does your child participate in structured after-school activities—at school or elsewhere?

Parents Talk Back
How many times a week does your child participate in structured after-school activities—at school or elsewhere?
Once or twice a week.
36% (25 votes)
Three or four times a week.
21% (15 votes)
My child has activities every day, Monday through Friday.
16% (11 votes)
My child doesn’t participate in activities right now.
27% (19 votes)
Total votes: 70