Infants & Toddlers/Activities: Activities That Promote Nature Studies
- Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K
Adorn your school with green plants that require little care, have nonpoisonous leaves, and will survive some rough handling (such as the occasional pulling off of leaves). Choose plants that do not require exotic climates to survive. Also select plants that will grow tendrils that curl or hang down, so that the babies can actually witness the growth and development of new leaves and vines. Root part of a sweet potato in water to grow an attractive vine that will unfold its greenery for babies to enjoy.
Plant hyacinths on pebbles in a bowl of water. The delicious perfume of the blossoms will encourage enthusiastic sniffing! Sensory delight is one of the generous gifts of perfumed flowers.
Babies love a ride in the group stroller. If you have flowering bushes in the play yard, the babies will be close enough in their seats to sniff the aroma of jasmine or other flowering shrubs. Plan the plantings for your play space as carefully as you choose materials for outdoor play equipment. Your flowers will bring sensory and aesthetic pleasures to the babies. Experiencing nature up close stimulates infants' senses and provides so many opportunities for you to name the flowers, plants, and animals and to talk about their characteristics.
Visit local parks with babies in a group stroller. Point out not only plants and insects but doggies that are running around sniffing and squirrels climbing up trees. Actually, as the babies begin to use some language, they may call your attention to the animals and birds. Rejoice in their excitement. The world of animals and birds is a new kind of discovery for them. A trip to the park is a wonderful way to introduce babies to a great variety of nature's textures!
Growing plants is a wonderful activity to engage toddlers' enthusiasm. After you have served orange, tangerine, or grapefruit slices for snack, save the seeds and plant them. The citrus fruits, including lemons, make small, lovely plants with shiny dark green leaves. Each toddler can spoon some planting mix into a disposable drinking cup and then drop some seeds into the mix. Label each child's cup with his name. Hopefully, if the cups are watered every few days, little leaves will sprout. These plants grow slowly, but they are exciting to watch. The children learn that not only can they enjoy the fruits, but that they themselves can make a plant grow from the fruit seeds.
Take toddlers hunting for different weeds in the grassy part of your play yard. Bring your wildflower book outdoors with you. Praise those sharp-eyed youngsters who find bindweed or dandelions or knotweed or even crabgrass. Again, the toddlers are sharpening their observation skills, while beginning to understand the enormous abundance of plant life-forms.
Consider providing a fish tank in the classroom. Toddlers adore goldfish with long, fancy tails. Remember to buy a firm, heavy top for the fish tank-loving and enthusiastic toddlers may want to "take fishy out for a walk"! Gradually, you can introduce the great variety of shapes and forms found among members of the animal kingdom. If you read stories about large-breed dogs as well as tiny ones, your toddlers will soon become aware that there are different sizes and styles of fish, too.
Try growing succulents. They are very easy to tend to. Break a piece into small sections. Each child can plant a piece of the plant in a cup filled with soil.