Simple Nature Activities For City Kids

Like most people in DC, our home doesn’t have much of a backyard; if we want to wander for hours in nature, we have to pile into the car and drive to Rock Creek Park or the National Arboretum. My childhood spent on acres of New England woods is a stark contrast to the urban living my children have only ever known. While a city childhood has numerous advantages, I’m constantly looking for ways for my kids to appreciate the natural world right by our home. Over the years, we’ve created a small but effective arsenal of simple nature activities and crafts to help foster the love of the outdoors in our kids. Here are a few of our favorites! 

Sun Art Prints 

This activity does require a little upfront investment, but it is completely worth it. This is my favorite activity – it feels like developing photo negatives (blast from the past!). You can use anything for these – from blades of grass to flower petals to sticks. Arrange the objects on the paper, place the plexiglass over it and leave in the sun for 5 minutes. Rinse with cold water and voila – the areas not exposed to sunlight will turn white, while the previously sun-bleached exposed paper turns a dark blue. There are several brands available (my go-to are these from Amazon) – just make sure to follow the specific instructions on your pack. 


I Spy With My Little Eye…

Kids love to search for things! Employ their built-in knack for observation with a nature scavenger hunt. These can take place at any location in DC, whether on the Mall, your own block, or Rock Creek Park. This is also a great way to incorporate color, shape, and number practice. Can you find a yellow leaf? Three bird feathers? Purple flowers? How many squirrels can you count? Write up a list before you leave home (older kiddos can write the list themselves) and have them check off each completed item. 

Let Nature Decorate Your Windows

I love nature sun catchers, and kids do, too! All you need is some contact paper (seriously such a wonder material for toddler and kid activities!), a paper plate, some ribbon or string, and some goodies collected from a nature walk. Anything works, from leaves to sticks to petals to acorns. I like this simple tutorial and for a more advanced take on it, make it into a lesson on symmetry.

Leaf Rubbings

If your kids are like mine, then they are constantly picking up (or plucking) leaves. Take some of those treasures home with you to create leaf rubbings. It’s an easy craft that children of all ages enjoy! Simply put the leaves face down (so that the veins are facing upward) and cover with a piece of drawing or tracing paper. For younger tots, consider securing the paper to the table with masking or painter’s tape. Rub a crayon over the surface of the leaf to reveal its shape. For more leaf-specific learning and activity ideas, check out one of our favorites – My Leaf Book by Monica Wellington


Painting Rocks

This seems just too easy and effortless, but it always brings a lot of joy to my girls! We will go on a walk and collect rocks of all sizes (although a smoother texture is better for painting). At home, we wash and dry the rocks and then simply paint them. There is something in the novelty of painting a surface other than paper that is just so appealing!

Next time you are walking around your neighborhood, see if you can engage in a simple activity with your child to notice the beauty of nature around you! 

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