Outdoor activities for studying ancient history are a great way to engage students. Even while reading about prehistoric times in the dead of a New England winter, my daughter wants to take it outside. As a former ancient history student, I want to see my child authentically experience similar activities that deepen her understanding. I have adapted the following outdoor activities to recreate challenges that a person during that time period may have faced.
When planning history activities and outdoor activities, I have found that using the new read-aloud curriculum History Quest meets our needs. The book is clear, engaging, and organized. Additionally, the History Quest Study Guide was indispensable when planning these activities because it comes packed with art and science explorations, book suggestions, and extensions. While History Quest is an excellent option, these activities would work well with most ancient history curricula. Everything is more fun outside!
Below are seven fun outdoor activities for studying ancient history.
Outdoor Activity One: Keep a “Hunting” Log
Paleolithic and Neolithic people ate lots of meat, and the people of the Paleolithic period were not yet growing any crops, so hunting was their main food source. Although my family does not hunt (nor do we eat a lot of meat), we will try to adopt that mindset in order to understand how difficult it was to find food.
- Clipboard, book, or a sturdy surface
- Pen or pencil
- A place to sit and observe animals outdoors
Go outside with your paper and writing utensil.
Find a comfortable place to sit very still where you can see in most directions (remember: you want to become invisible). Think about these questions as you take advantage of outdoor activities for studying ancient history :
- What animals do you observe?
- Would these be a good source of food? Why or why not?
- What would you need to do in order to catch one? Remember that the technology of today does not exist.
- Record your findings over a few days in your Hunting Observation Log.
Outdoor Activity Two: The Importance of Fire in Ancient History
Fires in prehistoric times were incredibly important. Besides providing critical warmth, fire offered cooking options which made for safer food consumption (even if they did not fully understand why), and offered light that kept dangerous animals away.
History is a favorite subject in our house: What did people use before refrigerators? What was used before toilet paper? How did people build houses? How did the mail work before cars? We look up the information, discuss how people were affected during that time, and allow ourselves to continue our journey. Before long, we are studying another culture or time period.
Not everyone today has space for a campfire, but there are often grills/fire pits at state parks available to all. You can go outside and enjoy a fire in any season, but be sure to follow your local fire safety codes and always supervise your learner around an open flame. If you are in doubt of the safety, skip this one. My family will complete this activity during the cooler months because that works best for our schedule, but it also makes the activity more authentic—remember you are studying an ice age!
This activity can be done at the same time as the bread activity in the History Quest: Early Times Study Guide, or it could be done separately.
- A safe place for a fire
- Matches or lighter
- Stick or skewer (soaked in water so as not to burn)
- Large (one-inch cubed) chopped veggies like pepper, onion, mushroom, zucchini, etc.
- Pot to boil water (if you are making tea)
- Tea leaves (again, if you are making tea)
- When you start your fire, talk about what prehistoric people would have used. Were lighters or matches around in the Paleolithic or Neolithic periods? How long would it take to start a fire if they could not find dry wood?
- When you have your fire going, you could cook some food on a skewer or stick. Vegetables like peppers, onions, and zucchini are delicious, though I would not recommend meat as it is easy to undercook.
- Alternatively, you could boil some water (thus requiring the aforementioned pot) and make some tea.
- As you enjoy your snack or beverage, discuss what it would be to eat like this all the time.
Outdoor Activity Three: Farm Like an Ancient Egyptian
Egypt is a desert country. As your learner considers the climate, food sources, and challenges of this time and place from ancient history, they will learn that water is a precious resource. In this activity, you and your learner experience gardening with limited water. You could plant an Egyptian garden if you have space, or utilize a container of your choice. Before starting this activity, it is helpful to look at this slideshow, which gives a focused overview of ancient Egyptian farming practices and their reliance on the Nile.
- Container or garden space
- Bowl, or clay to build rain catcher
- Egyptians grew grains, vegetables, fruits, and spices. Look up the planting zones where you live and find a plant that Egyptians would have grown. Beans are hardy and grow pretty much everywhere.
- Plant your crop in the ground or container, and water per directions.
- Create a way to trap water from rain. Egyptians did not get much rain, so they would have trapped water in clay reservoirs from flooding, but most people do not have access to floodplains like the Nile. If you live in an area with rain, you could build a rain catcher with clay, mud, or simply place a bowl outside.
- How hard is it to water your plant only with what you catch in your reservoir? How often do you need to use water from your tap?
Outdoor Activity Four: Nature Weaving the Ancient Andean Way
Weaving was (and is!) an important part of the Andean people’s culture. They used wool to make cloth, but you can get a sense of weaving by looking around outdoors and using what you find. Nature weaving is a creative, simple way to try out weaving for the first time. Flowers, grass, bendy sticks, bark, seed pods—the choices are limited only to what is available in your area. To save time, you or your learner could make a simple frame of four popsicle sticks or sturdy sticks they have gathered.
- String or yarn
- Hot glue or twine
- 4 popsicle sticks or sturdy twigs
- Access to the outdoors, like a park or a yard
- Build the frame, either hot gluing or tying the sticks together with twine.
- Tie strings going vertically from top to bottom at intervals of about a half-inch apart. If your learner prefers, they could craft their loom outdoors with twine or grass holding a frame together, or just with grasses woven together and no frame (but this way is harder).
- Start weaving by placing the bark/grass/flower under and over the strings.
- Repeat until your learner is pleased with their weaving.
Outdoor Activity 5: Design and Build an Ancient Hanging Garden
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and they are a mysterious wonder as little knowledge exists about their whereabouts and architecture. Despite their mystery, they have inspired landscape architects to this very day. Hotels, museums, and office buildings frequently employ design elements of these gardens. In the next two outdoor activities, your learner will be invited to use their imagination to build a hanging garden (or place a hanging plant), to draw a garden, or to use their knowledge to spot gardens like the Hanging Gardens that might be in their area.
- Internet access, reference books
- Colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.
- A place to hang a plant
- Hanging plant container
- Research the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and explore what scholars think they may have looked like.
- Use your imagination and draw what you think they may have looked like.
- Now go outside and find a place to create a mini hanging garden. What grows in your area? Which plants are imported? This website has wonderful pictures for inspiration, but a hanging garden can be gorgeous simply as a single plant hanging by the entranceway or a window near your home.
- An adult should place the hook and install it using its directions. Hang your plant and admire your hard work!
Outdoor Activity 6: Modern Hanging Gardens
- Internet access, reference books
- An area with buildings to walk around (with a trusted adult)
- Camera to take pictures, or paper and pencil to make a sketch
- Look up the “Parkroyal on Pickering”, which is a hotel in Singapore. Do you see similarities to this building and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?
- If you live near a city, it is likely that there is a building with modern landscaping. See if you can find any modern hanging gardens.
- Take a picture of the building and garden or sketch them.
- At home, look at the pictures. Why do you think the garden was inspired by the hanging gardens? What do these gardens offer to people? Why do we build them and look at them?
Outdoor Activity 7: Make a Paper Kite and Fly It!
Kites were used and engineered in ancient China originally for sending messages, and they’ve also been used for pleasure for upwards of a thousand years. Kites have a fascinating history, and If your learner is interested, researching kites might be a fun way to prepare for this activity. The Story of Kites by Ying Chang Compestine is a wonderful book that may be available at your local library, Visiting The Weifang International Kite Festival, which is held in China every year, would also be a great way to prepare. There are also many videos on YouTube showing the intricate and gorgeous kites filling the sky. Here is one I enjoyed.
- Internet access and reference books
- Space to fly a kite
- A standard piece of paper
- A wooden skewer or plastic straw
- Kite string
- Ribbon or surveyors tape
- Research the history of kites and consider what they were initially used for. Would this type of communication have a place in the modern world? What could it be used for?
- Make your kite/s following this tutorial. If you don’t have room to fly a full size kite, you could make a miniature kite using the same instructions and a smaller piece of paper.
- After you and your child are tired from running around with your beautiful kite, you could read a book about the history of kites outdoors while enjoying a snack.
Other Outdoor Activities for Studying Ancient History
Playing outdoors with your learner will teach more than the challenges faced by ancient peoples—each of these activities nourishes skills like risk-taking, thoughtful planning, creative problem-solving, and decision-making. These are skills that cultivate academics, allowing your learner to build on their prior knowledge using connections to real-world experiences. Your learner may begin to see and understand the natural way subjects like history and science overlap with one another and use that knowledge to make deeper connections in this and other places in their education.
In our home, we try to lift boundaries off learning as much as possible to build love and motivation for integrated learning. Outdoor activities for studying ancient history are an integral piece of the puzzle for us. I hope you and your learner enjoy these activities and that they inspire more outdoor adventures. Let me know what you do! Did these activities work for you and your learner? Did you change something? Make a discovery? Go on a tangent? I can’t wait to hear all about it.