Your 4-year-old is likely fascinated with animals — perhaps even spending much of the day insisting he is a dog as he barks incessantly and crawls around the house on all fours. Use this love of animals to encourage your child to spend time outdoors as he engages in solo activities or games with his friends that nurture his interest.
Make a list of common animals whose behaviors and noises are well-known and understood by 4-year-olds, such as cats, mice or birds. Privately assign each child an animal, ensuring that two children are always assigned to be one animal. Once every one knows his animal, give the signal for the game to begin. Each child then pretends to be his animal, walking like the animal, making noises like the animal, and using the nature around them — the grass, trees and rocks — as props. No humans are allowed in this game. The goal is for each animal to find his mate — the child who is pretending to be the same animal as him.
Animal Scavenger Hunt
At first glance, it might not seem you have many animals nearby to create any type of worthwhile scavenger hunt list. Expand your vision. Does your neighbor have a dog? Do you live near a stream or pond with fish in it? Are you within walking distance of a farm or ranch? Are there birds such as crows, magpies or gulls that frequent your neighborhood skies? Create a list with all the animals you might be likely to see and go for a walk with your child, crossing animals off the list as you spot them.
Place a bin of different-colored stuffed or rubber animals — a yellow bird, a brown bear, a blue dog — on one side of a small field or yard. Place corresponding colors of cones on the other side of the yard. When you give the signal, the kids pick an animal from the bin and run to the other side of the yard, placing it next to the matching colored cone. Have them continue running back and forth to place the animals next to the cones until the bins are empty. This activity is not only a wonderful way to get their dose of physical activity for the day, but also reinforces colors and sorting.
Hen and Chicks
Have one child — the hen — stand between two trees. The remaining players are the chicks, and they can stand at either of the two trees. When the hen calls to her chicks, the chicks must run past the hen to the other tree. If the hen tags them, they must stay with her in the middle and help her catch other chicks the next time she calls to them. Change the game by letting the kids be different animals each time, such as a mama grizzly and cubs, a lamb and her sheep, or a cat and her kittens.