30 Rainy Day Challenges for Out-of-School Time

posted on Wed, Dec 7 2016 8:00 am by Daniel W. Hatcher, Director, Community Partnerships

Rainy day activities are wonderful opportunities to foster a love of nature and movement in a way that makes the world kinder, gentler and a lot more fun. According to the Children and Nature Network, nature-based learning is associated with reduced aggression and fewer discipline problems. Exploration outdoors can promote motivation to learn and enhance creativity, critical thinking and problem solving. Although you may be inside, the activities you choose have the power to promote outdoor fun.

Benefits of these types of activities extend to helping students prepare for the workforce too. Creative exploration isn’t just fun – it is an essential skill!

According to the World Economic Forum, the top 5 workforce skills for 2020 include complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordinating with others. As you review the activities below, you'll notice they cultivate these skills!

Rainy days are amazing days. The next time your outdoor program plans are cut short by precipitation, remember, these days are opportunities to foster a love of nature, creative expression and cooperation - all in an active and healthy way!

Here are 30 rainy day challenges to try this winter! The list is in no particular order and includes activities for all ages, including community and family engagement.

1. Take 5 minutes to clean out your supply closet to find materials for students (and staff!) to design and make nature journals. Having a dedicated reflection notebook for your outdoor adventures will make explorations more intentional and give students a great take-home item.

2. Invite administrative and custodial staff to join your program for a Foods of the Month activity station fair. Set up 3 to 4 different hand-on activities around the room and give all staff a chance to see what your students are learning. Front desk staff will be much more likely to model healthy behaviors (an important practice) if they’ve finger-painted with berries and apple-stamped alongside your children.

3. Pick a few books from the DC Healthy Schools Book List and spend the afternoon reading aloud as a group. Integrate calming yoga breaks to inspire a reflective environment for children. Who knows, your classroom might be the most peaceful time during a child's day. 

4. Host a “Honey, I’d Like to Dance” party to have fun exploring bee behavior and insect communication. During your next family event, invite a local extension agent to join your program as guest speaker. Ask students to explain and lead everyone in a bee dance!

5. Research animals from different climates. Use leftover art supplies (or donations!) to make dioramas and posters to display around your program site. The grey winter is no match for your student's colorful creations.

6. Measure hallway distances in your building and kick-off a migration movement challenge. Use Alliance for a Healthier Generation Fitness Trail Cards for even more fun movement. Can your afterschool program walk the distance of the Monarch migration?

7. Download or order free healthy posters from Movin’ for Summer Meals and jazz up your afterschool space. Make your own version using poster board and craft paper. Can your students do a healthy makeover of your staff lounge or break room?

8. Host your own DIY Brain Boosters challenge using Alliance for a  Healthier Generation Task Cards. Write up your instructions to create your own brain booster tool-kit. Share it with your local school-district and other community-based organizations as a free resource.

9. Pick your favorite GoNoodle video and make a corresponding healthy snack. Why not dance to “Ants in your Pants” then make bugs on a log! Take pictures and share healthy messages on social media and send the healthy snack recipe home.

10. Raise youth voices! Use the No Kid Hungry Youth Tool-Kit and Alliance's Youth-Hosted Forum Playbook to plan a youth-led service project or event. Help students prepare a presentation for organization leadership to gain buy-in and support.

11. Plan a community garden and apply for the Katie’s Krops Grower Search (deadline: December 31, 2016). Encourage students to draw their ideal garden and discuss what it would take to bring the garden to life. Who knows, you might have a budding landscape architect in your class.

12. Create a “Flip the Switch” back up plan with these 8 tips. Let students decide what your program does on rainy days and develop a program agreement so all students know that rainy days mean active days. This will help you feel confident that when you give students choice, they'll pick a healthy activity.

13. Break students into small groups to write nature haikus, similes or metaphors. Explore other poetic styles that students are learning in the classroom. Why not create a classroom book of original nature poems?

14. Rainy days don't have to be complicated. Just roll the dice and pick a random Afterschool Energizer to play! Create an activity jar and let students pick which activity the group will do together.

15. Even if you're using a shared space, why not explore classroom set up? Hand out large sheets of paper and ask students to redesign their space to make it as active as possible. Why stop there? Invite students to draw what their ideal city would look like. On the next sunny day, go on a walk around your site to identify opportunities to make your community more walkable, cleaner and safer. If you're sharing space with someone else, take time to review student recommendations and find out if it is feasible to make adjustments to promote movement.

16. Try the element of surprise! Host an impromptu genius hour or transform your space into a maker space for the day.

17. Take the stairway to healthy! Give your stairwells a makeover with healthy messages from CDC.

18. Help children build public speaking skills and self-confidence through empowerME4Life skits (page 68) and role-playing.

19. Spice up your program time by playing “Red Pepper, Green Pepper, Chili Pepper” and other games from the USDA's Summer Food, Summer Moves.

20. Create a unique classroom icebreaker to welcome new students using this last minute activity.  Discuss how to make each afterschool day a welcoming space. What ideas will you kids have?

21. Make bullyshields and do the JAM Bullyshield routine to address this important issue in an active way.

22. On your next sunny day, go on a ladybug search with the Lost Ladybug Project. Too cold for ladybugs? Plan a springtime ladybug mural. Draft a letter as a group to your local paint store and art supply shop for supply donations. Create a stencil and get ready to paint! Ask students to draw their small scale version and discuss as a group how to create the larger version. Ladybugs and math! Does it get better?

23. Reflect on your successes of the year and host an impromptu healthy celebration.

24. Create a student playlist and host a building-wide dance break. Don’t forget old school dances like the Moonwalk and Hammertime (see page 2).

25. Explore current events and support social studies concepts by playing the simple yet fun capital game.

26. Stretch it out with “Simon Says Geometry”

27. Have a string of rainy days and need a bigger project? Discuss global issues, research youth service grants and plan a service-project or spring healthy fundraiser.

28. Beat the winter chill with an indoor Zumba party.

29. Gather your old math flash cards and combine them with fun physical activities. Encourage students to invent new ways to play the game with blank flash cards. How many jumping jacks would I have to do if my flash card was labeled with the French word "quinze?"

30. On your next sunny day, use the free downloadable BirdSleuth Explorer’s Guidebook to go on a habitat scavenger hunt. Then, use the notes from your hunt (in your nature journal, of course) to create your own fantasy habitat with imaginary animals. Take turns acting out your imaginary animals and sharing what they eat, how they sound and where they live.


It doesn’t matter which challenge you start with; make it fun, creative and as active as possible. Want to share your idea? Create your own game or write up your favorite activity and e-mail it to me to be featured on our blog.


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