Outdoor Activities for Kids

Outdoor activities for kids encourage youngsters to explore the natural world. From making animal tracks to digging for fossils, kids can apply their scientific -- and creative -- minds to big questions in the backyard.

Here's a look at several outdoor activities for kids:


Animal Tracking

Make a plaster cast of animal footprints you find -- then take them home to study.

Hot Spots

Conduct an experiment to find out the differences between surface and air temperature.

Fossil Finds

Some fossils are ancient -- but others can be more modern. Find out about the fossils in your neighborhood.


Learn about aerodynamics by making a gyrocopter that you can fly outside.

Footprint I.D. Game

In this fun relay-race style game, you can learn if you can recognize your friends from their footprints.

All these ideas give you plenty of options for playing outside, so go to the next page to learn how to track animals.

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Make a mold from an animal track.
Make a mold from an animal track.

Can you tell which animal made which track? Here's a clever way to tell. Start by finding an animal track outside, and then make a record of it with this fun outdoor activity for kids.

What You'll Need:

  • Cardboard
  • Paper clips
  • Coffee can
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Mixing stick

Step One: Search outdoors for a paw print or animal track left imprinted in the dirt. Using four strips of cardboard, make a square collar around the track by inserting the cardboard into the dirt surrounding it.

Step Two: Fold and clip the edges of the strips together to secure the collar, if needed. Mix the plaster of Paris with water in a coffee can according to the directions, and pour the plaster into the collar.

Step Three: Let the plaster set for a half-hour. Then lift the plaster out, and set it on newspaper with the track side facing up. Dry overnight.

Step Four: Now you have a permanent record of the animal track. When you are done, throw out the coffee can; do not pour the remaining plaster of Paris into the sink!

Now that you have learned how to record animal prints, go to the next page to find out how to find hot spots on the ground.

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Where are the hot spots on a hot day? If you're like most kids, you've tried to walk barefoot on asphalt on a hot day -- and regretted it! What you got was a lesson on how some materials capture heat better than others. In this outdoor activity for kids, you'll find out how well other materials absorb heat.

What You'll Need:

  • Outdoor thermometer or soil thermometer
  • Notebook,
  • Pencil or pen
  • Miscellaneous materials

Step One: On a warm, sunny day, go outdoors with a thermometer. Any outdoor thermometer will do, but a soil thermometer (look at a garden center) is useful because it has a strong metal probe that you can stick into the dirt.

Step Two: Check the air temperature and write it down. Then find different kinds of materials that are in the sun: soil, grass, bark dust, asphalt, metal, water.

Step Three: Hold the bulb end of the thermometer against each material, wait a few minutes, and write down the temperature.

Step Four: Which materials absorbed heat the most? How many were warmer than air? How many were cooler? Which would you rather walk on if you were barefoot?

Now that you know how to tell how hot different materials are, go to the next page to find out to look for fossils on the sidewalk.

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Fossils finds are sometimes waiting in your own back yard. Use this outdoor activity for kids to find fossils where you live, and to learn more from them.

What You'll Need:

  • Sidewalks
  • Paper
  • Crayons

Step One: We think of fossils as ancient reminders captured in stone. But modern fossils are everywhere, and are as close as the sidewalks under your feet. The next time you take a walk, keep your eyes on the cement to make a few modern-day fossil finds.

Step Two: The "fossil" could be an imprint from a shoe, the pecking of a persistent bird, or a chip made by some unseen tool.

Step Three: For extra fun, bring along paper and a crayon to make rubbings of what you discover. Just lay the paper over the "fossil" and rub a crayon across the spot to make an exact "copy" of the image on your page.

Now that you have looked for fossils, go to the next page to find out how to make your own flying copter.

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Gyrocopters spin around when they fly and can be fascinating to watch. Learn how to make a gyrocopter with this fun outdoor activity for kids. You can even hold races with your friends.

What You'll Need:

  • Paper
  • Ruler
  • Scissors or pinking shears
  • Paper clip

Step One: A "gyre" is a circular motion; a gyrocopter spins around when it flies. To explore gyre motion, make your own gyrocopter.

Step Two: Cut out a 6-1/2 X 1-1/2-inch strip of paper. (Note: Using pinking shears will make the gyrocopter fly better, but ordinary scissors will work well too.)

Step Three: Starting at the top, cut a 3-inch slit down the middle of the strip to create a pair of wings. Fold the wings in opposite directions. Attach a paper clip to the bottom of the strip for weight.

Step Four: Drop the finished gyrocopter from an elevated spot, and watch it spin to the ground.

Step Five: Now try experimenting. Make larger and smaller gyrocopters to see if size makes a difference when they fly. Think up other experiments you can try -- make the wings longer, add two paper clips to the bottom.

Have gyrocopter races with friends who have made their own 'copters!

Gyrocopters spin in the air, but you'll be spinning while you play the Footprint I.D. game. Learn more on the next page.

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Footprint I.D. is a fun game that allows you to see if footprints really are different -- just like fingerprints. This outdoor activity for kids may not hold up in court, but the team that puts its best foot forward certainly wins this game.

What You'll Need:

  • Bare feet
  • Washable tempera paint
  • Poster board
  • Markers

Step One: Divide into two teams. Each person from each team must run to the team poster board, dip a bare foot in tempera paint, make a good, clean footprint, and label the print with a signature before racing back to the line.

Step Two: The team that completes the task first wins. But be careful when you run back to the line with paint on your foot. It can be a slippery! For extra fun, see if you can ID your friends' feet without checking out the names.

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Hot Spots by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls.Fossil Finds by Maria Birmingham, Karen E. Bledsoe, Kelly Milner Halls