Skills: Children will use problem-solving and creative- and critical-thinking skills as they learn many ways to sort and classify outdoor objects.
- Natural objects including rocks, twigs, leaves, grasses
- Trays, carpet squares, or paper plates
- Experience-chart paper
- Markers and crayons
In Advance: Present a wide variety of one type of item, such as rocks or twigs, for children to examine freely and discuss. After children have had time to explore, ask, "How many ways can you use this item?" Invite children to brainstorm all the creative ways the item can be used. Then write children's names and ideas on experience charts.
1 Show children the items you collected and encourage them to sort them in many different ways. (Children can use trays, carpet squares, or paper plates to organize their sorting.) Watch to see how children group the objects. Most will probably begin sorting according to appearance, such as by size, shape, or color.
2 When they finish, encourage them to find new ways to sort. Refer to your experience chart for ideas. Notice whether anyone sorts his or her objects based on their shape, color, or size. Suggest that everyone try sorting this way. Then ask children if they'd like to look around the outdoor play space for other objects to sort, such as flowers, weeds, and bark.
3 Now that children have practiced sorting in many different ways, encourage a different type of thinking by ending with an art project. Look again at the collected objects and ask, "How can we use these objects to create something beautiful?" Encourage children to discuss and try out their ideas. Some children might make rubbings or hang twigs to make mobiles. Invite them to display their creations in the classroom.
Remember: Encourage children to talk about their actions as they sort, to help develop language skills. Ask what decisions they are making as they group their objects together.
For younger children: Show children a circle shape. Ask children to collect objects outdoors that have a round, circular shape. Later, draw a rectangular shape. Children can hunt for objects such as sticks, twigs, and lengths of grass that represent this shape.
For older children: Add challenge to the sorting activity by having children group objects according to those that will blow in the wind, roll down a hill, and have hard or soft textures.
Observations: Notice children's styles as they sort. Who is strictly logical? Who is more flexible? Your observations will help you learn more about each child's learning style.
Invite children to work together to create a nature collage from the objects they collect outdoors. As children attach their new-found objects to a large sheet of cardboard, encourage them to talk about the way the objects feel, the colors they see in the objects, the weights of the objects, and the different ways the objects look when they are positioned on the cardboard.
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