Gifts for Outdoorsy Kids for Learning
When we play outside we are having fun and learning at the same time! Play is serious business and learning in nature offers many benefits for kids’ emotional, behavioral, physical and academic well-being.
Learning outside can happen naturally, however there are some toys, tools, books, and kits that turn any trip outside into an educational adventure.
I’ve put lots of these items to the test over the years as a public school teacher, informal science educator, and most recently, Mom.
These items are versatile, kid-friendly, and can help you learn outside or bring the outdoors inside. I’ve even included some of the books and guides that have helped me teach and guide my students and kids.
This outdoor education guide has been compiled for kids and their adults so the fun goes on forever and the learning never ends!
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Hands-On Learning: Physical Science
Explore force and motion, measurement, variables, and have a ton of fun with these rockets. They can be set up quickly and easily and require only kid-power to launch them up to 200 feet in the air. We like to tape washers to the sides of the rockets and investigate variables when talking about testable questions, like “How does the mass of a rocket affect the amount of time (or distance) it flies?”
This is our most favorite toy, ever, to take on camping trips or adventures to the park. I think the adults usually like this glider more than the kids. The plane disassembles into parts that can be stored in a plastic tub for easy transport so it doesn’t get broken. This provides an easy way to investigate variables and investigations with force and motion, too!
Learn about light and chemical reactions while you create wonderful souvenirs of outdoor adventures with SunPrint Paper while following the Leave No Trace principles. Each time we go camping for Mother’s Day we always make something for the Moms in the group by using natural objects to create an image. Just make sure you work quickly when taking the paper out on a sunny day, because the imprint happens fast! Instructions are easy to follow, however little kids will need some adult assistance.
Kids can build this lantern inside and then use it outside! Although, you might want to have a backup source of light if you need to see in the dark. It’s all about the engineering process when putting this together and less about the ability to light up your campsite. This lantern uses mechanical energy and converts it to electrical energy to produce light energy and is a great introduction or review of the uses and transformations of energy. While the lantern is recommended for 8 years and up, I’ve used it with younger students and offered more assistance as needed.
Have you ever tried to find a flashlight that’s been turned off and then dropped into a puddle of water on a trail in the dark by a 2-year old when they were distracted by a sound in the distance? Just me? This light solved our problem of repeated splashes and drops because of the carabiner clip! We just tied some rope to our pack and clipped the light so we had easy access when we or our little one needed a light! You can also use it to find spiders at night!
One year I became the most weird and favorite teacher when I used this black light to identify scorpions on an overnight field trip. This compact light illuminates the night and makes creepy crawly critters come to life with the help of 3 AA batteries.
My Dad always showed me how to tie a knot any time he had to secure items at home, in our truck, or outside. This practice kit comes with two nylon ropes, 2 carabiners, and a 6-page waterproof guide with instructions for how to tie 23 essential knots. I love how easy it is to clip everything together to grab for an outdoor adventure.
This easy to use and durable compass is perfect for an introduction to map skills, cardinal directions, and angles and degrees. I will never forget when my Dad taught me how to use a compass at age 7. To this day I orient myself anytime I am in a new location and have successfully taught students how to navigate a basic obstacle course using this compass. They love the easy-to-read marks and magnifying lens and I love the lanyard, which prevents lost compasses along the trail!
Hands-On Learning: Earth Science
Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils
Uncover the wonders of the Earth with the following kits. Explore and dig up gemstones or break open geodes as you discuss the rock cycle. Study the physical characteristics of various rocks and minerals and transform them into pieces of art and jewelry with a rock tumbler starter kit. Find evidence of what life on Earth was like by digging up fossils.
Sometimes simple toys can give you the most bang for your buck. My kids have spent hours playing with buckets and shovels in our backyard and while camping or visiting the beach. We always discover something new. When you add a sieve to their bucket set you help them discover how to separate mixtures based on their physical properties and size.
Are all metals magnetic? What kinds of metals are easier to find? Can you describe the physical properties of objects people have lost at this location? My husband lets us tag along on his metal detecting trips and this kid-friendly version helps us to ask lots of questions about metals and why people lose things! It’s about 30 inches long and can detect objects up to 6” below the surface. It requires a 9v battery.
Hands-On Learning: Life Science
Observe the process of metamorphosis with this butterfly kit and practice taking notes and collecting data, such as how many days it takes for a larvae to form a chrysalis. The kit comes with an 18-inch reusable mesh habitat, 1 coupon for 5 living caterpillars (just pay shipping), a quick guide for raising caterpillars, a plastic life-cycle model, and dropper for feeding the insects.
Gently collect and observe critters with the help of this vacuum and habitat case. Both contain a light and magnifying feature so you can study the insects up close. My hesitant students liked that they didn’t have to touch any bugs to be able to observe and release them. A light on both the vacuum and case allow you to observe insects and critters at night!
This is my most used viewer in and out of the classroom! It features a large dish with mirrors and 3x magnification on the sides, top, and below so you get a great view of whatever you catch. We’ve used it to catch terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) critters. It can get scratched easily if you are rough with the clear parts, which affects your ability to see clearly, so be sure to tell your little ones to handle it gently.
Observe Plants and Animals
Animals and insects are fascinating to watch, especially when you can get a glimpse of what they do under the ground! Kids love to watch plants grow with the help of this container that gives them a window into the soil. Ants and worms have a lot going on under the soil and this ant farm and worm farm let students observe and ask questions about their adaptations and behaviors. Finally, keep the animals coming back so you can observe them by placing insect houses and butterfly feeders around your school or home.
All the tools your little explorer could ever need are included in this 20-piece set. They can observe, identify, classify, navigate, and describe living and non-living things using tools such as a compass, magnifying lens, binoculars, insect collection cups, forceps, and guide book.
Help your kid carry all of their gear and protect their head with this explorer vest and hat combo. The vest features a zipper closure with 3 cargo pockets, 1 clear pocket, 1 zipper pocket, 1 mesh pocket, 4 rings, and reflective strips on the front for safety. The vest does run a little small, so I would suggest this for kids size 6 and below. The hat features an adjustable drawstring and large brim.
Get a Closer Look with Scopes
Whether you want to look at stars, animals, or natural objects these scopes will help you observe and identify the world around you. TMM Member Ginny’s said her son River loves this GeoSafari Jr. Talking Telescope. She says it has loads of info about planets and stars. Bigger kids will enjoy these Think Peak Binoculars, while smaller kids can practice their observation skills using these GeoSafari Jr. Kidnoculars Extreme.
We love to look at natural objects, insects, and plants with this GeoSafari Stereoscope. Although it’s a bit pricey, the conversations and questions we have in and out of the classroom are worth it! If you’re looking for a more comprehensive and inexpensive kit for little ones, this Mini Explorer Nature Explorer Kit has tools like binoculars, a hand lens, flashlight, fan, and multi-tool.
Acorn Naturalist Favorites
Acorn Naturalist is a small company based in California with a huge array of products for parents, educators, and outdoor enthusiasts. Over 30 years ago, Acorn Naturalist was founded by educators to provide educational products in formal and informal settings and classrooms.
They provide hands-on and high quality products that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) programs. I have used their products for years and wanted to share a few of my favorites with you!
These circles are waterproof, durable, and easy to carry on a backpack, clipboard, or belt loop thanks to a carabiner. Depending on the set they may include activities, investigations, clue cards, identification information, or “Make Your Own” Activity suggestions. I love using them as “early finisher” activities or conversation starters.
These kits are so easy to use and include everything you need for a group of students, or a family, to explore an area. They are meant to encourage independent exploration of nature and include tools, activity suggestions, and journals. An adventure kit is available for age ranges and habitats.
Ages 3-5 and 5-8 each have a corresponding kit which includes a journal, nature circles, field guides, and generic tools. The kits for ages 8-12 are also organized by content, such as garden, pond, insect, bird, and animal tracks and contain more reference material, tools, and guides.
Easy to Carry Tools
This Pocket Plant Press and Outdoor Knots Folding Guide are staples in my backpack for school and home. The folding guide measures just over 3×8 inches and includes a 20cm ruler for use in the field. The plant press is only 5×7 inches and includes 15 blotter sheets that go between 2 Masonite pieces (additional blotter sheets sold separately). My kids love pressing plants we find in our backyard throughout the different seasons.
Journals and Field Guides for Kids
My students take their composition notebooks outside and every year there is at least one casualty due to water, dirt, or wind. When I’m out camping with my own family or our nature community I like to keep a Rite in the Rain Mini Notebook handy to take notes or draw sketches of things we see on a trip or ideas I want to take back to the classroom. The kids in our nature community love the size options for the Rite in the Rain Outdoor Journals (small and large).
Kid-Friendly Field Guides
When we’re not making our own notes from observations or collecting data, we love to read a variety of field guides to learn about birds, fish, butterflies, constellations and the night sky, rocks, and how to stay safe in an emergency situation. These guides are compact and easily fit into a backpack and small hands. Young kids can look at the pictures while older kids can work on their reading and comprehension skills.
Outdoor Curriculum and Books
This set of curriculum guides and activity books are managed by state coordinators under the larger umbrella of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The suite includes Project WILD, Aquatic WILD, Growing Up WILD (Ages 3 – 7) and Flying WILD.
As a certified facilitator for the Project WILD suite of guides, I can confidently say it includes activities directly aligned to state and national science standards and helps give a real-world context for learning. I have used each of the curriculum guides in public school, informal settings, and with my own kids. If you are interested in becoming trained, contact me and I would love to help you out! I’m on Instagram as @ntkidsoutside.
Have you ever howled, hooted, or cawed to get your little ones or students’ attention? This guidebook introduced me to new activities, methods, and strategies to help my students, my kids, and myself connect to and learn in nature. Organized by skill and method, this comprehensive guide has over 500 pages and includes an easy-to-use index with background information for parents, mentors, and educators.
Ari Mosquera from The Science Penguin has created a set of 35 science activities on topics such as matter, soil, erosion, landforms, the water cycle, natural resources, shadows, ecosystems, seeds, and animals. Using activities like scavenger hunts, guided walks, investigations, projects, and explorations she helps students observe, explore, and explain the natural world. You can download a free preview to check it out for yourself.
If you are a classroom teacher, this is a wonderful resource because she breaks down the activities into a TEKS-aligned and NGSS-aligned lesson plan for you, which means less prep for you and more time outside for your students!
TMM Founder Amelia has written two amazing books to help get your family learning and playing outside! You’ll definitely want to get a copy of her Outdoor Family Adventure Guide to get 365 ideas and 75+ picture book suggestions for things to do together, categorized by season. The 6×8 inch size is perfect for traveling and you can document your adventures using the 52 journal pages!
She also wrote the Camping Activity Book for Kids, which contains 35 outdoor activities kids can complete on their own or with a little bit of adult assistance. The book is organized by skill level, with each skill building upon the next, and includes kid-friendly icons, tips, parent checklists, and helpful suggestions for fun and safe adventures.
Subscription Boxes and Homeschool Ideas
Medinah of Science Teacher Mom has created high-quality, engaging STEM subscription boxes for toddlers through 5th grade. Each box contains at least 4 lessons, activities, and/or crafts to engage students in learning about concepts. Many of the boxes can be completed outside and there is digital access to some of the components. What I love is that picture books aligned to the concept are also included!
Check out the other subscription boxes and TMM member thoughts, too!
Learning is Fun with this Outdoor Education Gift Guide!
Play is serious business and learning can happen naturally when you are outside or going on an adventure. These outdoor education tools, books, kits, and toys can turn any adventure into an educational opportunity.
What are some of your favorite tools or toys to help you learn outside?
- Must-Read Outdoor Adventure Books Series for Kids
- Gift Guides + Giveaways for Outdoor Families
- Favorite Gear for Kid Adventurers
Gifts for Outdoorsy Kids
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