Kids today have huge advantages with regard to learning through technology; however, many kids are very – sometimes almost completely – disconnected from nature.
Having all the technological advantages for education doesn’t mean that our children need to miss out on the important lessons that they can learn by interacting with nature. Here are some ideas to get your kids out and about, and learning some of the wonderful lessons that are just waiting to be discovered about plants, animals, and the world around us.
Learning About Plants
Chances are, your child isn’t planning to be a botanist when he grows up. But plants have a lot to teach us about biology, reproduction, landscapes, even art.
Some activities for children of various ages, to start learning from plants, might include:Experiment with crayon rubbings of leaves and bark from different trees.
Learn to identify common wild plants and flowers in your local area.
For older children, examine different kinds of flowers, and learn how different plants reproduce. Look up diagrams of flower parts in books or on the internet, then see if you can find similar types of flower in the park or woods.
Learning About Animals
When you really observe the animals around you, you’ll find that they are ALL interesting. A child can learn just as much from the sparrows in the backyard as from the lions in a safari park.
Ideas for budding animal observers:What are the commonest birds in your local area?
Observe how different kinds of birds move. For older children, learn to identify more difficult species, based on their flight movements.
Collect feathers, and try to identify what bird they came from. Then use the feathers in craft projects!
What signs can you find in the park of animals that are too shy to usually be spotted? Look for prints, droppings, holes in the ground and plants that have been nibbled.
Look for insects in different places – under rocks or logs, in trees and flowers, in ponds and streams. Gently catch insects in a jam jar, draw them and then release them back where you found them.
Learning About Geography
You can think up lots of nature activities that will help your child in school geography lessons; doing so will also broaden your child’s horizons when it comes to thinking about his local geography as well as larger issues.
With young children, try out some of these ideas:When you have trips out, show your child where the park / river / woods etc are on a map. At this early stage, you’re just getting across the concept of representing places on paper.
Lie on your back in a field together and spot different shapes in the clouds.
Raise your child’s awareness by talking about the seasons and the weather. Play games like spotting trees that have started to change color in the fall, or who can spot the first signs of spring in the park?
For older children the opportunities for learning geography in nature are almost limitless:Make your own map of your local park or wood. Bring it to life with symbols showing where you have seen different plants or animals.
Learn about different types of clouds, and see how many kinds you can spot in a week.
Examine the soil in different areas. What are the differences in texture and color? Does this affect which plants grow?
Make a study of a river near you. What can you learn about it? Can you find your river on a national map, and trace the path your river takes until it reaches the sea? How do the shape of the river and the type of soil it runs through relate to how fast the water flows? What animals live in your local river?
Learning About Yourself
When we interact with nature, perhaps some of the most important lessons we learn are about ourselves! When you take your children out to explore nature, you’ll find they will need very little equipment other than their own senses.
Encourage your child to learn about himself as he explores the natural world around him:How quietly can I move? Can I walk slowly and quietly enough to get close to a squirrel or a rabbit?
Can I mimic the movements that different birds make? Can I crawl like a turtle, wriggle like a snake, run like a rabbit?
Can I close my eyes and use my sense of touch? For a young child, a great game is to put several natural items in a cloth bag and have the child feel them and identify which is a feather, flower, leaf, piece of bark or a rock.
Wherever you live, and whatever the time of year, you and your family can always have a lot of fun learning from nature!