Children are fascinated with the world of nature. From the tiniest of seeds to the highest of birds, they wonder "Why?" "How" and "What can I do with it?" Through these nature activities, children will build skills in very important curriculum areas. They will be developing observation skills as they birdwatch and make rainbows, experimentation skills as they explore seeds and carrots, prediction skills as they wonder what ants will eat, and measurement and recording skills as they watch weeds grow!
Before doing the activities, take time to spark children's sense of wonder about the natural world. This simple game of wonder and surprise will get children thinking and talking about the world around them:
- Start with a collection 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. Children can sort and classify their "findings" and then add the materials to the guessing game.
- unbreakable magnifiers
- portable unbreakable microscopes
- digital or disposable cameras
- clipboard, paper, and markers
- clear plastic containers and bags for collections
- collage materials
- yarn or string
Using the Activities
You and your class can use the activities above over and over again this summer. It is important to repeat activities and add variations. This allows children a more in-depth experience with a concept. Here are extension suggestions for each of the activities in this section:
1. Expand vocabulary and knowledge of birds with a fun song. Take the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus" and change it to "The Birds in the Nest." Invite children to suggest words for the different sounds (cheep, tweet) and actions (flap, peck) a bird does and add them to the song.
2. Act out the seed cycle as a fun way for children to demonstrate the process of growing from seed to plant. Use the tune and structure of "The Farmer in the Dell," changing it to "The Farmer Plants a seed." Children can act out and sing each verse while they pretend to be the farmer planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, and eating.
3. Take an ant's eye view of the world. Invite children to wonder, "How does an ant see the world?" Encourage children to explore moving very low and slow. Ask, "What do you see? How big does a tree look? Or a blade of grass?" Then, ask them to draw their observations.
4. Make carrot prints as a way to investigate carrots. They come in many different sizes and shapes. Cut the carrots lengthwise and crosswise to explore the insides as well. Press the carrot pieces on a stamp pad or a shallow dish of paint and make prints with them.
5. Grow a comparison plant to "compete" with the weekly weed study. Which will grow fastest? Which will grow tallest? You can use fast growing seeds such as beans or zinnias. Chart it!
6. Paint rainbows as a way to document the colors children observe in their rainbow refraction experiments. Provide watercolors and paper cut in rainbow arch shapes, or dip folded paper towels into containers of food coloring.
Conversation Starters and Questions
With just a simple question, you can alter the course of an activity and open the door 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 if there were no trees?
- What shapes do you see in the clouds?
- Where do clouds come from?
- Where do rainbows come from?
- Where do bubbles go when they float up?
- Where do birds go when it rains?
- What would happen if it never rained?
- How many ways can you use paint with nature objects?
- How many different ways can you group your objects?
- What can we do to help stop pollution in the environment?