In this blog we look at three ways you can take your reading instruction into the great outdoors; not by turning the outdoors into a copy of the classroom, but by using the wide-open spaces for inspiration.

Idea 1: Use Nature for Sensory Letter Practice

Small hands might not be ready to write, but tracing letters in dirt or forming them with rocks and sticks can be fun! For extra impact, trace the letters in sand, mud, shaving cream or another rich texture. Practice by slowly saying the sound while forming or tracing the letter. When working on new words, say the sounds separately while forming letters, and then blend the letters together at the end. If there is any mess from sand, mud, sticks or whatever, just get out the hose.

Idea 2: Incorporate Physical Activities with Decoding Practice

Often, a child who is reluctant to practice words will find new energy when movement is involved; throwing hacky sacks, shooting targets, or even just running to a tree and back between words can keep minds sharp and spirits up.

Print the letters or sight words on individual sheets of paper, and spread them around the outdoor space. Mount them on walls or trees to shoot with foam darts or water guns, or spread them on the ground to hit with hacky sacks or thrown stuffed animals. More confident readers can try to hit the word or letter as you call it out; beginners can hit a word and then tell you what it is before they retrieve their ammunition to try for the next one.

Idea 3: Jump to words

For small children, print words large on individual sheets of paper, and spread them out. Have your child jump, hop, or run to the words and bring them back to read aloud. Bonus points if you make it a multisensory activity, such as tracing the words in sand, mud, shaving cream or any other sensory material after the word is retrieved.

The possibilities for outdoor reading instruction are limitless. You can make a trail of words and turn your yard into a giant board game. Or simply sprawl in the grass together with a great book. As a reading specialist, helping parents and children succeed, one of the first barriers we overcome is the struggle to make home learning “like school.” Adapting instruction to your child’s needs and interests can turn what might have been an indoor power struggle into the perfect afternoon outdoors.


If you think you and your child may benefit from outside help, Cathy Pelzmann is a certified reading specialist with a master’s degree in special education and has been working with parents and teachers to create individualized home learning programs and help children overcome reading delays inside and outside the classroom for over 20 years. She does sessions over Zoom and can be contacted at