Children are fascinated with the world of nature. From the tiniest of ants to the tallest of trees, they want to know the answers to the "why?," "how?," and "what can I do with it?" questions. This section provides you with intriguing nature activities that provide a solid starting point for expanding children's thinking and learning. Through these activities, children will be building skills in important curriculum areas: They will be developing creative-thinking and problem-solving skills as they create environments with natural materials; they will be making predictions as they enjoy print making with natural objects; and they will be estimating and making comparisons as they explore rock painting with rocks of various shapes and sizes.
Before introducing the activities, give children time to explore natural materials. Then, try these ideas:
- Start with a collecion of natural materials such as leaves, sticks, shells, rocks, and flowers hidden under a dark cloth or paper. Play a nature observation game by revealing a small part of each item, one at a time, and inviting children to guess what it is. What do you think is hiding? Where do you think I found the object? What clues did you use to know what it was?
- Expand the discussion of the objects by adding another natural element to the exploration: sunlight! Invite children to predict whether sunlight can shine through each of the objects. Then take children outside to check out their hypotheses. Will sunlight shine through a leaf? a rock? Let's see!
- While outdoors, collect more natural materials for further exploration.
Using the Activities
There are some great nature activities in this issue that you can use "as is" and then elaborate throughout the summer. One of the best ways to keep the learning going is to change one ingredient of the activity. This creates a whole new experience! For example:
The Rock Painting activity is a wonderful way to look at rocks and to experiment with what surfaces paint will adhere to. What else can we find to paint on? Will paint stay on a stick or leaf? Adapt the activities by shifting the curriculum focus. If an experience is mostly art related, adapt it to a literacy activity by asking children to title or write about their work.
Ask children to keep a Science Field Journal throughout the nature activities. As children collect objects of nature, ask them to sort, classify, and seriate them in different ways.
Try some of the ideas from the Use Nature to Explore box above. Choose one and see where it leads. Can you paint a shadow? What happens to the paint when it is in the sun? When it is in the shade?
As children participate in nature activities, observe the following:
- Do some children shy away from touching natural materials or from exploring things in nature? Are they afraid of bugs, birds, or other living things?
- Can children solve problems with peers while participating in an activity or do they look to you to solve them?
- Are children aware of safety rules when participating in nature activities? How do they express their knowledge of these rules?
- What ways do children explore the materials? Do they take a scientific or mathematical approach or a creative approach to using natural materials?
Conversations and Questions
With just a simple question, you can alter the course of an activity and open doors to critical thinking through conversation. Here are some suggestions for stimulating conversation starters:
- How many ways can you use a leaf (or a stick or a flower or a shell)?
- What is a tree good for?
- What kinds of shapes do you see in the clouds?
- Where do clouds come from?
- Where do the birds go in the rain?
- What do ants like to eat?
- What if you were a butterfly (or an ant or a worm or a spider--how would you see the world?
- What if there were no trees?
- How many ways can you use paint and nature objects?
- How can you group your objects in different ways?
- What can we do to help stop pollution in the environment?
Building Skills With Nature
The activities in this section will inspire you to use nature to build a wide range of skills. You can expand on these activities or introduce activities of your own to build skills in:
- Making comparisons
- Creative expression
- Fine-motor coordination
- Socio-dramatic play
Use Nature to Explore...
- Bird watching
- Five Senses
- Life Cycles