Working on social skills isn’t just an activity to take place in the classroom. We, as kids and adults, use social skills every day out in the real world. This gives lots of opportunities for practicing and strengthening those skills everywhere – even outside.
Whether you are a parent looking to boost your child’s social skills at home over the summer or an educator seeking some non-worksheet strategies for improvement, I hope these ideas are helpful to you.
Some important points to help as you work on these social skills through outdoor activities:
- Be intentional with the skills you are working on. Talk about the social skills and why they matter.
- Give plenty of practice. So often, one experience isn’t enough to really target a skill. Give it time!
- Allow choice. Give kids an option of two different activities. This will help them buy-in and feel empowered before they even start.
Here are some activities to build social skills outside the four walls of the classroom.
Gardening can sometimes be a favorite activity for kids and teens. Even though there is a bit of work up front, it’s so fun to see something you yourself have grown! Most obviously, this can build a great deal of patience. This can also be extremely rewarding and even act as a coping strategy to see something grow over time.
In addition to these skills, you can work on skill for planning while listing out ideas for a garden, choosing what you want to grow, and designing a map for where to grow each item. This can also involve some research, as it’s helpful to know what conditions different plants need.
Writing Sidewalk Chalk Messages
Grab some sidewalk chalk on a nice day and write thoughtful messages. This activity lends itself to promoting kindness, empathy, and compassion for others.
If you’re not sure what to write, spend some time looking up positive and kind quotes before you head out.
Walking and Talking
A simple activity, walking and talking is just what it sounds like – building conversation skills while walking together. Spend time talking about feelings, interests, thoughts, and hopes for the future. Give plenty of time for back and forth discussion. This activity also provides practice with turn-taking, active listening, and empathy. All the while, you will also be improving relationship skills.
If you’re running out of ideas, grab these free discussion starters to give some ideas.
Birdwatching is an activity that can help build attention skills while also practicing mindfulness and coping strategies. To start with birdwatching, you don’t need anything special. Just pick a spot in a yard or while out on a hike. Then, use your senses to notice the wildlife around you.
This is a favorite activity, as it also encourages a sense of curiosity, leading to more discussions and learning. If you see or hear something that you’re not familiar with, take extra note of it or take a picture. Then, look it up once you’re back inside. This is a great way to create a positive connection with nature while working on social skills at the same time.
Tidying the Yard
Cleaning up after ourselves is a critical self-management and organizational skill that we all need in our daily lives. You can use these activities to teach about why it’s important to clean up and stay organized on a regular basis. When we have routines for staying organized, it really makes the clean-up process much easier.
Just a few activities kids and teens can help with include weeding, raking, spreading mulch, cleaning patio furniture, and gathering toys.
Picking Up Trash
Taking care of the environment is important! Spending time picking up trash can promote responsibility and respect for the world around us. It can also encourage discussion about responsible decision-making and learning that our choices impact those around us.
Picking up trash can be done at any local park or just when you are out on a hike. Make it fun! Give yourself “one point” for every trash item you find and put in a bag.
During the clean up process, discuss that even though you didn’t leave the trash, it is part of our collective responsibility as humans to help clean up. Of course, this also fosters compassion and care for the environment.
Going on a Scavenger Hunt
Work on attention skills with an outdoor scavenger hunt. You can make the list ahead of time or find one to print out. Have kids mindfully look for different items, like a green leaf or a rock. Mark it down on the checklist and keep looking for more.
Jogging, running, and walking are extremely healthy ways to practice coping strategies outdoors. Just like any other aerobic exercise, jogging is known to raise heart rate, burn calories, increase lung capacity, and improve the immune system. While these are generally seen as physical impacts, it’s worth noting that this boosts mental and emotional health, too.
Going for a quick jog is a great way to promote a positive coping strategy when feeling stressed, angry, or even sad. Even more, jogging can be used as a proactive self-care strategy.
Basketball (or any sport)
Basketball, or really any sport, is an ideal activity to work on sportsmanship, fairness, and perseverance, to name a few skills. Choose a sport that your kids and teens enjoy most, whether it is basketball, baseball, soccer, or bowling.
If you want to work on flexibility skills, try a sport or activity that your child doesn’t know well. Practice and learn together!
Another strategy for focusing on mindfulness, leaf rubbing is an easy and quick activity that can be done almost anywhere. All you will need is paper, a clipboard, and a crayon (or two). Have kids find a leaf on the ground that they like. Place it under the paper on the clipboard and shade in the paper.
Planning a Picnic
Grab a clipboard and start a checklist to work on planning your ideal picnic. Have kids take the lead to work on their planning and organization skills. Rather than telling them what they should bring, ask prompting questions like, “What do you think we might need?”
Letting kids and teens lead an activity like this also helps build self-confidence!
In this activity, you will be playing music and giving dance time. After a minute or so, pause the music and make sure everyone freezes on the spot. After a quick pause, play the music again and resume.
Use this as a memorable way to practice and talk about self-control. Of course, this is a game that can be played either indoors or outdoors!
Again, it’s important to note that the possibilities are working on social skills outside are limitless!