Beyond Prairie Play – Wonder and Grow


Beyond Prairie Play – Wonder and Grow

April 15, 2012

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Here are some fun ideas and activities to spark interest and play at home, either before coming to the museum or after your visit.

Outdoor play holds significant benefits for children. Research studies indicate that children with opportunities for nature play showed significantly greater powers of concentration and were more resilient against stress and adversity. On tests of motor fitness, children with experiences in nature play showed greater gains over the course of the school year, especially in balance and agility.

Studies also found that children with ADD and ADHD exhibited fewer symptoms after they played outdoors. Childhood play in nature is commonly associated with recycling, buying green products, and is the choice of natural areas for recreation in adulthood.

The activities on this page can extend your family’s outdoor experiences.

Nature Play

Being outside, climbing around logs and boulders, making mud pies, and building forts are great outdoor activities. Here are a few ideas to try in your own backyard or nearby park.

Build a fort together.
Build it in your backyard using outdoor furniture and blankets.

Go puddle jumping.
After it rains, find a mud puddle to play in together.

Create designs out of natural materials, like sticks and peddles.
Use Andy Goldsworthy’s books, Wood or Stone for inspiration.

Read poetry outside together.
Try Robert Frost’s Seasons.

Go bird watching in your favorite nearby park.
There are many different types of birds at McCrory Gardens. Bring along a bird watching field guide, like Backyard Birds, by Jonathon Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting or Backyard Bird Watching for Kids, by George Harrison.

Make a plan to attract birds to your backyard.
Consider including bird feeders and bird houses in your plan. The book, Backyard Bird Watching for Kids, by George Harrison has excellent instructions and visual plans for both.

Examine the insects and ants in your back yard.
Do a “belly walk” together by placing a circle of string on the lawn and examining what is inside the circle of string. The book, Your Backyard with Step-by-Step Projects for the Young Scientist, In: Discovering Nature Series, by Sally Hewitt.

Go on an adventure.
Identify the different types of trees in your neighborhood. Bring along a field guide for trees to help you in the identification process. Trees, Leaves, and Bark, In: Young Naturalist Field Guides Series, by Diane L. Burns & Linda Garrow would be a great book to assist you.

Pick apples together.
In the fall, visit an apple orchard and pick apples together.

Collect and dry flower seeds and pods.
In the spring, the seeds could be planted in a garden.

Compare the different seed and pods that you find.
Notice how they are the same and how they are different.

Take photos once a month of one tree throughout all of the seasons.
Discuss the changes together as you compare the photos.

Begin a compost leaf pile in your yard.
If you turn it over about once every two months, it will decay faster. When turning it, talk about the changes in the leaves that you see.

Go stargazing.
Watch the moon over a period of a month. Each night, go out together and notice the changes in it. Perhaps, draw the moon each night and write the date on it – so you can compare the different drawings over a period of time.

Plant milkweed seeds in a corner of your yard.
When they grow, they will attract monarch butterflies and later become food for monarch caterpillars.

In the fall, plant your favorite flowering bulbs in your yard.
In the spring, watch for their growth.

Ask questions about nature together and then find out the answers.
The book, Play and Find Out About Nature: Easy Experiments for Young Children, by Janice VanCleave can help support your inquiry.


Playing in and experimenting with water movement in a stream can supply hours of fascination. Here are a few more activities to extend the time outdoors.

Find sticks that would make good ‘boats’ and float them down a nearby stream.
Often a stream in a farm field or state park works best so that you can follow the path of the sticks as they float.

Find a small stream and wade in it.
Observe the small aquatic animals you find.

Go hiking along a stream and note how the water has carved a path into the land.
The book, Rivers, Ponds, and Lakes by Nick Baker can list other activities to do around bodies of water.

Dam up water in a stream with stones.
Watch how it changes the course of the stream.

Look for downed logs in nature.
Move them slightly to see what is under them. Talk about the different types of insects and creatures you find.

On the Prairie

The prairie and open spaces in South Dakota hold many surprises. Go out and explore them with your family.

Visit nearby prairies or natural grasslands.
Try the Hole in the Wall Prairie area near Lake Benton, Minnesota.

Hunt for wildflowers with your child.
Bring along a plant and flower guide, like Wildflowers, Blooms, and Blossoms, In: Young Naturalist Field Guides, by Diane Burns & Linda Garrow, to assist you in identifying what you find.

In the spring, watch for birds flying with dry grasses in their beaks.
Look around you to see if you can spot where they are building their nests.

Visit nearby prairie lakes to look for wildlife around the water.
In the spring, look for baby ducks or baby geese. Visit them often to watch their growth.

Search for dandelions in a field or park that have turned into white puffballs.
Pick a few and blow. Watch the seeds take flight.

Plant a garden together and tend it throughout the summer months.
Harvest the flowers and vegetables when ready. The book, Garden Crafts for Kids: 50 Great Reasons to Get Your Hands Dirty, by Diane Rhoades can give you additional ideas about gardening and harvesting the goods of your labor.

Visit a nearby archeological or paleontology dig to see firsthand where fossils and artifacts are found.
The South Dakota – Explore Life website lists digs across the state.

Explore our outdoor exhibits!