26+ outdoor STEM activities that are fun and age appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers. Experiments to help children develop STEM skills.
It’s never too early to start developing your children’s love of learning, curiosity, critical thinking, and natural inquiry.
And an assortment of STEM-based activities is a great way to make learning awesomely fun.
In the summer months, you can get outside and enjoy these outdoor STEM activities and the beautiful weather!
Even on wet or rainy days, these outdoor learning activities present a great opportunity to get outside.
Kids really like using the great outdoors as a backdrop for learning, and you won’t have to worry as much about making a mess.
Plus, many of these ideas are free, with little to no materials or preparation required!
Below, I’ve collected some of the best outdoor STEM activities I’ve tried with young students at school. However, they’re easy for parents to try with kids from toddler age and up, outside in your yard or on a driveway or sidewalk. Even better? Most are free, or very low cost!
What is STEM for Preschoolers?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Sometimes you may also see the acronym STEAM, where the ‘A’ adds Art into the mixture for a more creative element, too.
Often the STEM subjects are not studied alone, because there is a lot of overlap between the skills.
All of the STEM activities below are meant to be fun and age appropriate for preschoolers, focus on outdoor learning and education, and will help children develop their knowledge of the world around them.
To ensure they’re age appropriate, all of these activities are powered by nature, or your own little one’s energy, to be safe. No fancy battery powered or solar powered builds on this list!
What is the Benefit of a STEM Curriculum for Preschoolers?
There’s no doubt the growing minds of youngsters are inquisitive and curious.
So what better way to support this creativity than to begin to problem solve through scientific inquiry activities?
Encouraging toddlers and preschoolers to explore and question the world around them helps them build neurological links in their brain. As they grow and experience more, these links expand and strengthen, setting a foundation of STEM and STEAM thinking that will serve them throughout their education and life.
It also helps kids develop other areas, too. These outdoor STEM challenges and projects help kids develop their language skills, and encourages them to use words and questions.
STEM activities are also great for collaborative learning, by letting children work together to solve challenges and building on each other’s experiments and projects. If you have friends, siblings or other kids nearby, let them work on these projects and challenges together for even better learning!
Finally, developing young scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians can never be a bad thing, right?!
How Can I Develop a STEM Mindset for My Preschooler?
STEM is all about natural curiosity and what comes from it…
- Spotting the patterns and process in the every day
- The search for everyday problems (and coming up with a solution)
- Experimenting to observe a reaction to different inputs and changes
You can encourage this mindset through open ended questioning!
Allow your kids to experiment and wonder. And remember, 99% of science experiments don’t give you an answer – they lead to more questions!
Take the ‘what ifs’ that arise following your outdoor STEM activities and encourage your little thinkers to find ways to solve their own theories – just like real scientists!
Also, encourage kids to make predictions before the activity is done, ask them what they think will happen – and then have fun seeing if they are right or not!
Allow them the freedom to test ideas out through play, and not rigidly sticking to the ‘rules’ of an experiment to keep learning creative and fun!
Get ready to cast off your little one’s tablet and science apps, and head out into the great outdoors for some fun and learning!
26 Outdoor STEM Activities for Kids
Science – Outdoor STEM Activities
#1 – Outdoor Science Lab!
Scientific inquiry doesn’t need to be limited to an adult-led science experiment (or sitting at home on a tablet, playing with “science” apps).
When little hands are exploring, you can develop curiosity just by ensuring kids have the tools available for them to explore for themselves.
You can make an outdoor science lab very easily, that will let your kids do their own experiments.
Have a large chopping board as a work area, and a storage bin as a sink. You could repurpose your outdoor mud kitchen if you have one! Then add a bunch of loose parts that your child can try things out with.
Try things like pipettes, tubing of different lengths and thicknesses, a magnifying glass, small containers to keep things in, shallow dishes, funnels, and jugs.
Your kids might not know what they are researching, but chances are they’ll stumble on some kind of STEM discovery when playing here! This can be the basis of your outdoor STEM activities and will really develop your scientific mindset!
#2 – Shadow Bodies
Light travels in straight lines, and when light is blocked it creates a shadow. Begin to use this STEM concept to create artwork too that kids will love! (Ideally, you need to be outdoors on a bright sunny day for this to work best)
You can either do this in your yard, driveway or sidewalk using chalk, or on large sheets of construction paper, for a craft you can hang up later.
Have your kids stand in a funny pose (with as many limbs at exciting angles as possible for the best effects) and have them hold it. You then draw around their shadow on the ground.
Once you have drawn around it, your kids can decorate their shadow or color it in patterns or with chalk paint.
You can develop this outdoor STEM/STEAM art project for more curious minds by looking at the shadows at different times of the day.
#3 – Fizzy Rainbows
Kids love this science project, and it doesn’t take much to set it up. You just need a shallow tray, vinegar, pipettes, and some food coloring.
Begin by covering the base with a thin layer of baking soda. In a few cups, mix a little vinegar with food coloring, to make a rainbow of colors.
The magic begins when the children use the pipette to drip the vinegar onto the baking soda tray. It will fizz and bubble – just like real magic (or, as the case is, science).
Using a pipette encourages care and attention, supporting fine motor skills too.
This is a great activity for the outdoors, as it can get a bit messy!
# 4 – Leaf Matching Game
Go on an outdoor nature walk in your local environment and take a basket to collect some leaves inside. For every type of leaf, try to get 2 that are similar, in size and color.
Once you get home, you can use contact paper, or better still, a laminator to seal the leaves to create a matching game with them, with little ones using their observation skills to identify the right leaves. To incorporate a math activity, you could measure the leaves and compare them.
(You can also try this with flowers too. It will take a bit more time, as you might need to press the flowers between a pile of books before laminating.)
#5 – Toy Zip Line
This one does require some adult help to get going, but all of the pieces can be bought for this from a hardware store for only a few dollars.
You need a piece of thin rope or clothesline, and a pulley, and a space to hang it all outdoors. The pulley I’ve used in the past was designed to hang your clothespins from when hanging laundry outside.
Simply tie the rope across the garden and allow your toys to take a ride across the clothesline. (Small action figures work best. I’ve added loops using cable zip ties so they could hang from the pulley easily)
This science activity, as well as being a lot of fun, encourages thinking about gravity. Kids will learn through experimentation that the pulley needs to start higher and end lower; and that the steeper the gradient of the rope, the faster the zip line will fly! For older kids, you could start to talk about angles and gradients to incorporate math.
This is a fun warm weather activity in summer, and is great to share with family and other neighborhood kids.
#6 – Elephant Toothpaste
This is one of my favorite science experiments to do, and little eyes will light up when they see it for the first time! It’s definitely worth doing this one outdoors, as it can get a little messy.
This needs an adult to prepare and do most of the mixing – but is a combination of dish soap, water, and hydrogen peroxide that makes this a whole lot of foamy fun (you can also add food coloring – because – why not!?)
After the ‘toothpaste’ has emerged, it’s also safe for your children to play in the foam too – it’s just a soapy mixture – just have a towel and water handy to clean up!
#7 – Bug Hunt
Another one for your outdoor nature walks is to go on a bug hunt. While walking through the woods, or even just in your garden, see if you can find the bugs that live there. Disposable wooden chopsticks are great for digging just below the surface in the dirt.
For even closer observation and more bug projects, you can also make a ‘bug pooter’ to collect the insects in too. There are lots of instructions online, but it really just uses a jar with a lid and some straws.
The pooters are great for those of us (and I mean us adults) who are a little bit wary of bugs, and don’t really want to be picking them up. You can suck them in, to observe them easily.
Just remember to release them back to their insect friends in the wild afterward.
#8 – Walking Rainbow
You may have seen this science activity before, and it’s a really cool way to make a rainbow (great for the unicorn obsessed!)
You can begin to look at colors and color mixing through the process, and have children share their ideas for what colors will be made when the rainbow ‘walks’.
Set out a tray of plastic beakers filled with water, and make ‘rainbow bridges’ between the cups using paper towels. Add a few drops of food coloring to some of the cups and after a while, the colored water will begin to cross over the bridges and make new color mixes!
#9 – Will It Float Or Sink?
This science activity couldn’t be easier to set up. You just need a plastic storage bin and water. (A transparent bin is best so you can see when things sink too!)
The aim is to see if things float or sink. Simply lie them on top of the water and observe.
You can create a ‘recording chart’ for your results by having a red and green sheet of construction paper (or blanket/towel/hula-hoop) and have the things that float in the green pile and sink in the red pile.
This is great to do with fruits and vegetables too! And afterward, you can all enjoy a delicious fruit salad!
This is a cool project to do in the bath too, using bath toys.
#10 – Sprout Seeds In A Jar
Kids really like to plant seeds (we have a whole host of gardening ideas) but they can’t really see what’s going on below the soil when the seed sprouts.
You can grow broad beans easily in jars lined with paper towels, and see the roots sprout and the stem begin to grow towards the light.
Children will be amazed to see the twirling tangles of roots that appear and how the stem leans towards a light source.
You can develop this further by changing the criteria for each bean – grow one plant in the light and one in dark. Give one bean water and one soda? Water one bean once per day, and another once per week? There are endless opportunities to expand with further science experiments from the questions that arise!
#11 – Snowmans Jacket
I love this game, as it really challenges thinking skills!
All you need is some snowmen (but it doesn’t need to be winter – just use ice cubes!)
The hypothesis to test is if we put a ‘jacket’ onto the snowman will he melt quicker?
Then have your tots make some little snowman jackets from different things. They can use their prior knowledge of knowing that a jacket would keep you warm. The results are fun and surprising, in this early investigation into insulation.
#12 – Coffee-Filter Chromatography
This STEAM experiment is great for little minds that are beginning to explore color. Have them color blobs of marker pens onto a coffee filter. then you can either stand it in a beaker of water or drip water onto the colored-in blobs and watch the colors as they separate.
Since the water carries the different pigments at different rates, the ink separates to reveal the colors that were mixed to make it. This uses a technique called chromatography and combines to teach art and science in one lesson!
#13 – Melting Ice With Salt
This outdoor STEM project almost feels more like magic to a toddler! You need to prepare by filling balloons with water and freezing them overnight. (If you want to make it extra fun – you can also hide some small figurines in the balloon too – but this might detract a little from the ‘science bit’)
The next day, take your large frozen balloons outside and encourage your little ones to make them melt fastest… Let them try all sorts of ways, but have some salt around too…
I won’t give away too much more, but this fun project is always a favorite whenever I’ve planned it before!
#14 – Grow Food From Trash
Encourage your kids to eat more fruits and veggies, and begin to explain how food is grown by using your leftovers.
After cooking, show your little ones the waste parts, that would normally go into the trash. Then re-plant, or use water to regrow your veg from the leftover scraps.
Leeks, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes and many more are all easily regrown into new plants. And growing your own will also help to encourage fussy eaters to join in and try new foods at home, or when over at a family member’s house for dinner!
Technology – Outdoor STEM Activities
#15 – Photo Scavenger Hunt
There may be days when you simply don’t want to carry a ton of leaves or things you’ve collected on a scavenger hunt. So instead you can still plan this as an outdoor STEM learning activity.
Have your kids take a photo using a digital camera or device of what they search for and find outdoors instead!
This will let them use learning language to explain what they took the pictures of too.
This also works really well when going on a shape hunt, or number walk, as you can’t ‘collect’ the triangular window from the family next door’s house, or the round tire from the bus you saw. But you can snap a photo of them!
You could then print the photos and let your child make a craft or collage from them!
Engineering – Outdoor STEM Activities
#16 – Build A Nature Sculpture
This is a great free activity for a day in the woods, in your yard, or at a park. Challenge your little ones to build a natural sculpture using only the things they can find outside and around them. It could be a simple thing – such as make a face from plants, leaves, and twigs.
But as your child gets adventurous, you could get them to build a den for a stuffed animal, or a bridge to cross a small gap.
You can be really open-ended with this outdoor STEM activity, and if it’s something your children really enjoy, you could also make a ‘kit’ of useful bits to take with you in preparation for this kind of thing: some string, elastic bands, clothespins, etc. (Be sure not to leave trash behind in nature and take all man-made items home with you)
#17 – Construct A Bird Feeder
There are lots of examples of how to make bird feeders using old soda bottles online. Try making one with your little engineer! As well as the challenge of building and designing, there is the crossover STEM benefit of watching the birds that arrive in your garden afterward.
#18 – Backyard Railroad Engineering
You can really go to town with this engineering project if you want to… Kids really love this and honestly, this project could go on all summer long!
Take a patch of your backyard to build your wooden railroad tracks on. The scruffier and more cumbersome the patch of land (think huge mounds of mud and clumps of growing plants) the better – it makes it more challenging.
Have your children make a route between the stations you lay in the patch, and let them use their science, technology, engineering, and math skills to build the tracks. They’ll learn through play that they can’t just build a track over a mound of dirt, so will they build around the mountain, or carve into it to fit the track between? You could also submerge bins of water as lakes for them to cross and navigate between too!
# 19 – Build A Car Bridge
On a sunny day, you can chalk a car race track onto the driveway or another outdoor area for hours of fun, but how about including a bridge in there too?
Pool your construction toys, the Duplo and Legos, the Meccano, and anything else you have, along with household bits and bobs, like plastic cups, construction paper, and tubes from paper towels.
Challenge your children to build a bridge that their cars can cross over. You can extend it by making it higher, longer, and wider!
Mathematics – Outdoor STEM Activities
#20 – Count To 10 With Nature
For this activity, you can make a list of things to do or collect outdoors on a nature walk.
It could be things like:
- Find 1 ladybug
- Jump over 2 tree roots
- Collect 3 different leaves
- Spot 4 algae covered rocks
Some can be actions, some can be searching, but keep it fun. It’s a simple, easy and free way to practice numbers outdoors in the summer, winter, or in between, and can also be done with no preparation!
#21 – Balloon Number Splash
All kids love playing with water balloons, and on a warm summer afternoon, you can combine outdoor STEM learning with splashing wet fun!
Draw numbers on the floor and have kids splat them with a water balloon when you call out the number.
Make it trickier for older kids (or siblings that want to join in) by calling out simple math equations for them to splat an answer.
#22 – Geometric Pattern With Sticks
Search for long sticks and use them to create big versions of shapes outdoors. Make triangles, squares, and rectangles, by looking at the number and length of the sides.
This simple, free math activity can be done with no prep, just collect the materials on a nature walk, or in your garden if you have a good collection of tree sticks and twigs.
#23 – Action Dice
This can make a summer day in the park more fun, and definitely can burn through some toddler energy!
On your custom dice put some ideas for your child to do – such as star jumps, bunny hops, spins, circles around a tree, and steps, and have your child roll both dice.
They then do the number of the activity they rolled – maybe 3 star jumps, or 4 spins! It’s an open-ended game that is a great way to teach early counting and enjoy family time!
Art – Outdoor STEM Activities (or STEAM!)
We also want to inspire creativity – so here are a few bonus STEAM activities and ideas that are predominantly art-based.
#24 – Magnet Painting
This is an art project with a twist. You need paint and paper, but no paintbrushes are needed!
Firstly, put a few blobs of paint onto your paper, and then add some nuts, bolts, and screws to the page too. Use a large magnet to pull the metal objects around, which will slide through the paint, creating unique abstract artwork with a magnet powered “paintbrush.”
If you put the paper on a tray, you can also pull the magnet around from underneath, too!
This is a fun art project, but also a great way to teach an introduction to magnets.
#25 – Suncreen Painting
This painting shows the strength of solar rays, and the importance of wearing sunscreen for little ones.
Use colored construction paper and paint on a design using sunscreen (be sure that there is a clear amount of the page left untouched – a full-page blob won’t really work!)
Then leave the pages out in the sun to dry. You’ll see the parts without sunscreen will fade quickly in the bright light of the sun.
You can also extend this by putting solid objects over part of the paper too, which shows that covering our skin completely is best for protecting from the sun.
This is a great activity for late spring or early summer, when sunscreen wearing ramps up considerably.
#26 – Rainbow Hunt
On a nature walk, search for and collect as many colored items as you can in nature.
Red petals, yellow flowers, green leaves, and grass, etc. when you get home, use these colored objects to create a nature collage picture.
Final Thoughts on Outdoor STEM Activities for Kids
So many parents I’ve talked to seem to think that to teach STEM, you need fancy apps and tablets. But natural inquiry beats apps, any day of the week!
I hope my selection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math activities for the outdoors show you that you can use the world around you to teach these concepts!
The challenges and ideas that are encouraged by these outdoor STEM activities will contribute to your little thinkers learning and put them in good stead for when they head to school. Plus, they’ll love trying them this summer, or any time the weather is good!
If you know other parents with a future engineer who needs encouragement to get off their favorite toddler app, share this list with them too so that they can have some STEM fun in their backyard as well.