Easy Outdoor Science Activities For Kids

What will you meet on a micro-hike?
What will you meet on a micro-hike?
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Have you ever wondered what goes on between blades of grass, or what you can find flowing along with the water in a stream? An easy outdoor science activity for kids can help you find the answers.

There's a whole world out there, waiting to be investigated and explored.

Follow the links below for easy outdoor science activities for kids:

What's in a River?

Sift a stream and discover what the current is carrying.

Exploration Activity

Put yourself in the place of a famous explorer and see the world in a fresh light.

What's in the Soil?

You'll be surprised at the things that sprout and crawl from the soil in this experiment.

Micro-hike

There's an amazing world under the soles of your feet -- just look a little closer!

Weather Bug Experiment

Find out how bugs feel about cold weather.

Rainbow Rock Collection

You can collect the colors of a rainbow -- right in your yard.

Rock-Rolling Experiment

It's a long way to the top if you want to roll a rock.

Noise Pollution Recording

That background noise may be louder than you think!

Experiment in Sound

See how sounds travels through different materials with this activity.

Wind Direction Watcher

Observe the direction of the wind as it blows along the clouds with a simple device.

Exercise in Imagination

Give your imagination a workout with these questions.

Keep reading to learn how you can discover what's in the water of a river.

For more fun outdoor activities and kids' crafts, check out:

What's in a River?

Find out what's in a river with a strainer.
Find out what's in a river with a strainer.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

You'll be amazed by all the things that travel down the watery highway of a creek! Make this gadget and see what you can catch.

What You'll Need:

  • Wire coat hanger or piece of strong wire
  • Screen or mesh
  • Duct tape

Step 1: Bend a wire coat hanger into a rough circle.

Step 2: Take a piece of old screen, and bend it around the coat hanger. (Be careful not to stick yourself with the screen. You may want to wear work gloves or gardening gloves while doing this.)

Step 3: Apply duct tape to hold the screen in place.

Step 4: Go to a creek or stream with an adult. Put your screen into the current and hold it there for a few minutes.

Step 5: Take out the screen and see what the current has carried onto it.

You might find seeds that will land on the creek's bank and grow into plants. Or, you might find water animals such as insects, minnows, or crayfish. (Put them back in the creek right away, so they stay alive.)

You might even find something somebody lost a long way upstream!

The next science activity will put you in the mindset of a famous explorer.

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Exploration Activity

Discover your own uncharted territory with this fun and educational exploration activity! You can be an explorer when you visit a river, stream, lake, pond, or tide pool.

What You'll Need:

  • Notebook
  • Pen or pencil

In 1804-1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first European-Americans to travel across what is now the western United States.

They kept journals full of notes and drawings to tell the rest of the world about all the strange, new things they saw: plants, animals, mountains, and much more.

How to do the Exploration Activity:

With an adult, visit a body of water near your home. Imagine that you are an explorer.

Look closely at the plants, animals, rocks, and other natural elements. Tell about them in a journal.

You can even make a map of the area for explorers who will follow in your footsteps. Don't forget that explorers may find all kinds of surprises. Meriwether Lewis met a grizzly bear one day, and had to jump into a river to escape!

Keep reading for a science experiment that shows what can grow in places you may not expect.

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What's in the Soil?

What's in the soil? There's more to it than dirt! The composition of soil isn't as simple as it seems. Discover what it contains with an experiment.

What You'll Need:

  • Pie pan
  • Garden soil
  • Water

Step 1: Fill a pie pan with soil collected from an outdoor garden. Bring the pie pan indoors, and place it where it gets sunlight.

Step 2: Keep the pie pan away from open windows, so nothing gets into the pan from outside. Water the soil to keep it moist.

Step 3: Observe the soil each day. Do you see any earthworms or tiny insects? Is anything sprouting or growing?

Step 4: When you're finished, put the soil and all its creatures back in the garden.

The next science activity will show you a way to go on a hike without even leaving the yard.

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Micro-hike

What will you meet on a micro-hike?
What will you meet on a micro-hike?
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Take a micro-hike into a tiny world and discover what lives there.

What You'll Need:

  • String
  • Safe scissors
  • Short stakes
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Paper and toothpicks (optional)

Step 1: Measure out about 20 to 30 feet of string. Tie each end to a short stake, such as a tent stake.

Step 2: Take your string and stakes outdoors and stretch the string across an area with some variation. You might run it across part of a lawn, under an arching shrub, and alongside a flower bed.

Step 3: Secure the line with more stakes if necessary. Keep in mind that the string doesn't have to be straight; it can run along the base of a fence or beside a pond or stream.

Step 4: Start at one end of the string on your hands and knees. Make sure that you and every person who will be "hiking" with you has a magnifying glass. Use your magnifying glasses to examine everything under the string.

Step 5: Look for different kinds of plants, including moss between the grass blades or under a shrub. Look for fungi of different forms. Find animals such as insects, spiders, and worms.

Step 6: Move slowly down the string, searching for every living thing you can find. You might end up taking a whole hour to hike! You never know what interesting things you'll find.

Step 7: When you're done, write down what you've seen or compare your observations with those of others who hiked with you. What interesting things did they see that you missed?

Step 8: After discussing your discoveries, use paper and toothpicks to make tiny signs to mark the most interesting ones. Then invite others to take your hike!

The next experiment will show you that people aren't the only ones who get chilly in the winter.

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Weather Bug Experiment

Does the weather bug a bug?
Does the weather bug a bug?
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The weather bug experiment answers a nagging question: Where do bugs go when it's cold? Summer is definitely the season of the buzzing, bothersome fly. Hordes of them seem to invade your house and your yard as soon as the weather turns warm. But why do they seem to vanish when the cool, short days return?

It's because cold weather bothers some insects. This activity will show you how much.

What You'll Need:

  • Clean jar with a lid full of air holes
  • Pancake syrup
  • One captured fly
  • Refrigerator

Step 1: Capture an ordinary housefly in a clear plastic or glass jar. (You can use a bit of pancake syrup to lure your fly into the jar.) Be sure the jar has air holes so your experiment subject won't suffer as you hold it captive.

Step 2: Observe the fly. Do you see how fast and active the fly is even while inside the jar?

Step 3: Place the jar inside your fridge for half an hour.

Step 4: Retrieve the jar and watch the fly now. Has the temporary chill slowed it down? Remember to release the fly outside once your experiment is complete.

Keep reading for a science activity that puts a rocky rainbow at your fingertips.

For more fun outdoor activities and kids' crafts, check out:

Rainbow Rock Collection

The rainbow rock collection activity will dramatically increase the number of colors you can find in your own back yard. Collect some rocks and make a colorful rainbow!

What You'll Need:

  • Bag or plastic jar for collection
  • Glue or duct tape
  • Poster board

Nature has created hundreds of differently colored rocks. Many of them can be found in your own yard.

When you're feeling ready to explore, see how many different tones you can discover and collect in a single day's geological expedition.

If you want, you can mount the stones on a piece of poster board.

Just for fun, take your poster to a nearby natural history museum or geology professor. Ask why your rock specimens are the color they are. You might be fascinated to discover what chemicals work to give a rock its hue.

Now that you've looked at the different colors of rocks, you can investigate their different shapes with the next activity.

For more fun outdoor activities and kids' crafts, check out:

Rock-Rolling Experiment

This rock-rolling experiment totally rocks! Find out if rocks roll faster depending on their shapes.

What You'll Need:

  • Differently shaped rocks
  • Hillside
  • Watch with second hand
  • Pen and paper

Step 1: Pick six differently-shaped rocks of about the same size and weight. One might be rounded, one might be flat on one side, and one might be almost square or totally flat.

Step 2: One by one, release these rocks at the top of a steep hill and time how long each takes to roll to the bottom. Try to predict which rocks you think will move the fastest before letting them go.

Step 3: Compare your times and see how close your predictions came to being correct.

When you go outside you may be hearing more than you bargained for. Keep reading to find out how you can tell.

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Noise Pollution Recording

In the noise pollution recording experiment, kids will learn that noise is one type of pollution that is often overlooked. Use this simple activity to focus on the noise around you -- and maybe cut out some pollution, too.

What You'll Need:

  • Tape recorder (optional)

Step 1: Walk around your neighborhood and listen for as many sounds as possible: cars, trucks, birds, dogs, lawn mowers, and all other noises.

Step 2: Think about how many of these sounds you normally notice. How many do you usually ignore? You may be so used to the noises that you don't notice them anymore.

Step 3: If you have a tape recorder, take it with you as you listen. Record as many sounds as you can find.

Step 4: Make recordings of any sounds that you consider noise pollution. Is your neighborhood too loud?

Step 5: Think about the types of noises that bothered you the most. Then decide what you can do about them. The best place to start is at home, with the noises that your own household produces.

Some communities have banned leaf blowers because they are too noisy and cause pollution. If you have a leaf blower, consider using a broom to clean your sidewalks and a rake to collect leaves from your yard. It takes about the same time and doesn't take that much effort.

Gas-powered lawn mowers are also very noisy. Some people use push mowers instead -- and get their exercise while they mow!

Talk to your neighbors about ways you are reducing noise pollution. Maybe they'll follow your example.

Keep reading for a science experiment that will give you more insight on how sound travels.

For more fun outdoor activities and kids' crafts, check out:

Experiment in Sound

Try this experiment in sound, and find out if sound travels better through some materials than others.

What You'll Need:

  • A partner

If you've ever watched old westerns, you may have seen a character put one ear to the ground and announce that the cavalry was coming, or listen to the rail of a train track and know that a train was on its way. Does this really work?

To find out, go to a playground with a partner on a warm day.

Step 1: Have your partner go to the other side of the playground, then run back. Raise your hand as soon as you can hear the sound of your partner's running feet.

Step 2: Have your partner run across the playground again, but this time put your ear to the ground. See if you can hear your partner's feet sooner.

Here's another variation on the experiment:

Step 1: When it's not too hot or too cold, find a long, metal object such as a chain-link fence post (watch out for loose metal). Stand at one end and have your partner tap the post.

Step 2: Put your ear to the rail and have your partner tap again. Does it sound different? Does it seem louder?

You can also try the same experiment with the materials around you. Does sound travel better through some materials than others? Do some materials muffle sound?

Sound waves are waves of energy that move the molecules of the substance they travel through. Air molecules are much farther apart than the molecules of solid metal.

Consider the density of the material (that is, how close together the molecules are) as you try to figure out why sound would move through metal better than through air.

Keep reading to learn how to make a device that lets you follow the clouds and see where the wind's blowing.

For more fun outdoor activities and kids' crafts, check out:

Wind Direction Watcher

Build this wind direction watcher and you'll be able to see the wind blow!

What You'll Need:

  • Piece of cardboard
  • Marker
  • Tape
  • Small mirror
  • Compass

Swoooosh! There goes the wind ... and now you can see it!

Step 1: Mark out north, south, east, and west on the outside edge of a piece of cardboard. Include other directions, like northeast, if you like.

Step 2: Tape a small mirror to the cardboard so that the compass directions form a circle around the mirror. Now you're ready to chase the wind!

Step 3: Place your cloud chaser on the ground so it faces north. You can do this by matching north on your cloud chaser with north on your compass.

Step 4: Lie next to your cloud chaser and watch the reflection of the clouds in the mirror. Once you see which way the clouds are moving, you'll know that's the same direction that the wind is blowing.The next activity is sure to give your imagination a workout.

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Exercise in Imagination

This exercise in imagination lets your mind fly high.

What You'll Need:

  • Imagination
  • A grassy space with a view of the sky
  • Friends (optional)

Have you ever dreamed you could fly? Here's your chance to dream with your eyes wide open.

On a clear day when you can look deep into the sky, lay back in your yard or in a nearby park and let your imagination soar. Then, think about questions like these:

  • Where would you fly if you could?
  • How high would you go, if the limits were all in your mind?
  • What would it look like and feel like up in the air?
  • Who would you want to fly with you, if it could be anyone in the world?

Try this fun fantasy on your own or get a group of friends together and share your stories.

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ABOUT THE ACTIVITY DESIGNERS

The following activities were designed by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, and Kelly Milner Halls:

Micro-hike

Weather Bug Experiment

Rainbow Rock Collection

Rock-Rolling Experiment

Noise Pollution Recording

Experiment in Sound

Wind Direction Watcher

Exercise in Imagination