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Outdoor Mark Making Ideas for Preschool

Outdoor Mark Making Ideas for Preschool

These are some of my favourite outdoor mark making ideas that can be used to help children develop the skills to write. Spending time in the outdoors, will promote children’s physical and mental health, including improved strength and stability, which will eventually help them in developing their writing skills.

Prints and Rubbings

  • Flower prints – Children can collect flowers and then dip them in paint to make prints and pictures. Some plants can also be pressed and printed into salt dough or clay.
  • Leaf prints – They can gather leaves and dip or paint them into paint and then print them onto paper.
  • Rubbings – e.g. bark rubbing, or leaf rubbing. They can place leaves under a piece of paper or place paper over tree stumps or tree bark, and use the broad side of a crayon to rub over it.

Alternatives to Basic Brushes and Pens

  • Natural paintbrushes – Grass, leaves, flowers or other plants can be used as paintbrushes. They can be tied to a stick to make a ‘brush’ or used as a to brush to paint or print.
  • Sticks and twigs – These can be used to draw and make marks in the dirt or mud.
  • Feathers – Feathers can be used as a brush or a quill.
  • Spray bottles or ketchup squirt bottles – Children can spray, splatter and squirt paint onto large outdoor easels, fences, etc. 
  • Window painting Children can use paints, like shaving foam paints on the outsides of windows or sliding glass door.

Finger Mark Making

  • Mud – Children can finger paint in mud.  They can also do this on a tray or tuff spot.
  • Mud paints – You can make different coloured mud paint by combining mud with food colouring. It can be used to paint on fences, walls, trees, sidewalk pavement, etc.

Invisible Writing and Mark Making

  • Lemon juice writing – Have children write with lemon juice on paper, and let it dry. Then hold it up to the heat of a lightbulb which will cause it to turn it brown. Alternatively, children can paint over it with turmeric dissolved in rubbing alcohol to reveal the writing (see my Turmeric pH Indicator Experiment post).
  • Dandelion Writing – They can write with the ‘juice’ of a dandelion stem on paper (It will slowly turn the paper brown).

Impression Mark Making Activities

  • Carving pumpkins– Children can scratch into them or cut them (such as Halloween pumpkin carving).
  • Carving/scratching wood – They can use sharp (but not too sharp) objects like big nails or screws to scratch or carve into things like wood to leave marks and impressions.

Transient / Mark Making with Objects

Children can use natural objects to create transient (non-permanent) art. These can all be used to create pictures and representations which can then be made into new pictures repeatedly:

  • Sticks
  • Pieces of paper/shapes
  • Pebbles and/or sand
  • Natural objects- Flowers, conkers, acorns, pinecones, etc.

Mark Making on Different Surfaces

These are a range of different natural objects on which children can practise drawing, writing and making marks. These can all be painted or drawn upon (depending on the surface):

  • Painting on pumpkins 
  • Painting on leaves
  • Painting on sticks
  • Painting on pinecones
  • Tree trunk painting
  • Making mud or clay sculpture on tree trunks (also using natural objects)
  • Sun print paper – see my post on making & using natural sun print paper.
  • Mark making in mud or with mud
  • Snow (making impressions in snow or painting on top of snow).

Questions to ask

  • What have you made?
  • Tell me about your picture..
  • What do you notice about your drawing?
  • What does this mean?

What they get from outdoor mark making ideas

These outdoor mark making ideas are multisensory and will help the development of the motor skills needed to learn to write. Research demonstrates that learning outside the classroom enhances critical thinking skills, reinforces academic learning and aids long-term memory (Dillon et al. 2003, Ernst & Monroe 2007; Fabian, H. 2005). It also improves children’s level of physical activity and benefits their physical fitness and health. Learning in the outdoors has also been shown to benefit children’s social skills and behaviour (Taylor & Kuo, 2006; Bagot, 2007; Malone, 2006; Hoffman et al., 2007). Benefits also include improved mental health, self-esteem and resilience (Mygind, 2007; Wilkinson, 2013; Dowdell, Gray & Malone, 2011). These are all essential skills that young children need to develop in order to support and build on their learning as they progress through school.

Take it further

You may want to see some of my other Mark Making Ideas or Pre-writing Activities. If you would like some more ideas for taking learning outdoors, you may want to see some of my posts on learning outdoors.

References – Outdoor Mark Making Ideas

Bagot, K, Kuo, F.E, and Allen, F. (2007). ‘School playgrounds: nature and attention’, in Asia Pacific EcoHealth Conference. Deakin University.

Dillon, J, Rickinson, M, Sanders, D, Teamey, K, and Benefield, P. (2003). Improving the Understanding of Food, Farming and Land Management Amongst School-Age Children: A Literature Review. National Foundation for Educational Research, King’s College, Department for Education and Skills, The Countryside Agency.

Dowdell, K., Gray, T., & Malone, K. (2011). Nature and its influence on children’s outdoor play, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education 15(2), 24-35.

Ernst, J, and Monroe, M. (2006). ‘The effects of environment-based education on students: critical thinking skills and disposition toward critical thinking.” Environmental Education Research, 12, 429 – 443.

Fabian, H. (2005). Outdoor learning environments: Easing the transition from the foundation stage to key stage one, Education 33(2), 3-13.

Hoffman, A., Knight, L. and Wallach, J. (2007).  Gardening Activities, Education, and Self-Esteem: Learning Outside the Classroom.  Urban Education, 42 (5), 403-411.

Malone, K (2006). Building a Child Friendly Community: Children’s Research Workshops, Pilot Study Report 2006, City of Bendigo, Child and Youth Interdisciplinary Research Centre, University of Wollongong.

Mygind, E. (2007) A comparison between children’s physical activity levels at school and learning in an outdoor environment, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 7:2, 161-176.

Taylor, A, and Kuo, F.E. (2006). ‘Is Contact with nature important for healthy child development’, in Spencer, C and Blades, M. (Eds) Children and Their Environments: Learning, Using and Designing Spaces. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilkinson, R. (2013) The benefits of outdoor learning in a natural environment, Bachelor thesis. Retrieved from https://skemman.is/bitstream/1946/15693/1/B.ed%20thesis.pdf

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