A lesson plan for outdoor exploration for Ages 4-6

Learning through exploratory play and utilization of the five major senses is proven to have the greatest benefit in younger students. This program has been developed to get the students outside and utilizing their senses. The lessons learned during the program are aligned with Hamilton County Standards for Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade.

Materials needed:

  • Crayons
  • Cardboard rectangle (something hard for backing)
  • Scissors
  • Paper

Prep work for the activities:

Using scissors and paper, have the students draw and cut out shapes that they know. The student will use these shapes in an outdoor activity later in the program. Make sure that the student is familiar with what makes each shape unique. 

Using either scissors, a box cutter or a knife, cut out a rectangle of cardboard approximately 5” x 8”. Make sure that you choose cardboard that is smooth on one side for easier writing and coloring. You might want to cut out a couple of these for backing so that later on you can demonstrate the activity while the student has their own supplies. 

Cut some pieces of paper that will fit on and cover most of the cardboard surface that you prepared.

Using the colors of your choice, remove the paper wrapping from a couple of crayons for a nature art activity.

Activity I: Shapes in Nature

Using the shapes that your student cut out, go outside and use the shapes for a scavenger hunt. The student will take one shape at a time and look for something in nature that has the same shape.

Example: for a circle, the student might find a round rock.

Example: for a heart, the student might find a heart-shaped leaf.


Activity II: I Spy

I Spy is a wonderful game to play in nature that focuses on the student’s sense of sight. During a nature walk, the leader will notice shapes, colors, shelters, or anything else that stands out and will be easy for the students to identify. The leader will pick one item and say “I spy with my little eye something that is purple.” The student will then look for features in nature with the color purple and guess what the leader is looking for in an answer. Spring is a great time of year to focus on colors, which also fits into the educational standards. There are many plants that are blooming and leaves that are budding with bright and vibrant colors that students will be able to identify.

Activity III: A Fist Full of Sounds

This is a wonderful little activity to utilize the sense of hearing. Find a nice spot outside to sit down with your student. Begin the activity by asking them how many fingers that they have on one hand. Then ask the student to start with their right hand raised above their head with all of the fingers spread out. Tell them to close their eyes and not make any sounds for 20 seconds. During that time, have them pull down one of their fingers each time they hear a new sound. Once they hear 5 sounds, they will be making a fist. Discuss what they heard and what might be responsible for those noises in nature.

Activity IV: Leaf Rubbing

Walk around your yard or nearby park and have the student look for their favorite leaf. It is best for this activity if they will choose a leaf that is dead and already on the ground. 

Using the cardboard, piece of paper and crayon, the student will use the following steps to create their very own leaf rubbing.

  1. Feel both sides of the leaf for texture. 
  2. Place the leaf, with the rough side facing up, on top of the cardboard.
  3. Place the piece of paper on top of the leaf (at this point the leaf should be between the cardboard and the paper).
  4. Hold the paper down firmly so that the leaf and the paper won’t easily move.
  5. Use the peeled crayon and rub back and forth over the leaf using the broad side of the crayon.
  6. If done correctly, the leaf shape and veins will be transposed on the paper.

Activity V: Smells in Nature

Having freedom to explore during an outdoor program is essential in allowing students/children to feel ownership over what they are learning. During this activity, allow the student to explore without any interference from adults. Have them find and choose 5 different smells that they are interested in. Once they discover the smells, help them understand why those smells are important in nature. 

Example: Some flowers have scents that help them attract pollinators.

Example: Some animals use scents to help them attract other animals (mates).

A note about Taste:

We don’t suggest using the sense of taste in nature (especially right now!), but it is always fun to incorporate a picnic lunch as a part of the program. 

Just remember that time outside is not only healthy for the children involved in the programming, but also helps stimulate the type of learning that they will remember for a lifetime. 

did you use this lesson at home?

Please share your photos and thoughts from today’s lesson with us on our Facebook page or directly via email at [email protected]; we’d love to share them with our community. 

We also need your financial support more than ever. While our on-site field trips (and the revenue associated with them) have stopped, our work breeding the critically endangered American red wolf and caring for the many other non-releasable animals will not stop. We suggest a $5 donation if you found this lesson useful. 


Now more than ever, your continued support is critical to our work, which continues even in a global crisis. Help us weather the storm and continue caring for our animals, native plants and property.

Thanks to Corey Hagen, our Director of Education, for writing this up and providing photos from his at-home lesson!

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