Category Archives: Nature Activities

Growing Up Wild Activity Book

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Project Wild offers a great resource for educators and parents with children aged 3 – 7. The Growing Up Wild book (order it here) covers 27 themes, including “Oh Deer (a habitat theme)”, “The Deep Blue Sea”, “Who Lives in a Tree”, and “Wildlife is Everywhere.” Each theme includes: several ideas for group activities, and for self-guided exploration stations, recommended books (fiction and non-fiction), songs and movement activities, outdoor exploration ideas, math activities, art projects, snack ideas, links to videos (listed here) and “take home” sheets with ideas for parents to try at home. (See sample theme here.)  Each theme also includes a list of numerical codes for which Head Start Domains and which NAEYC Accreditation Criteria are met by the activities, and warm up and wrap up activities to assess children’s prior knowledge and learning outcomes. (Learn more about the contents of the book here.)

I attended a training where we had the opportunity to try out several of these activities. Some samples:

  • Looking at Leaves. The instructor had collected 25 leaves, and given us each one. She asked us to look at our leaves and memorize them. You could ask children to think about how to describe their leaf: shape, color, texture, and so on. Then we put them all in a pile and mixed them up, then had to find our own. Simple, free, and great for teaching attention to detail, visual discrimination, and short-term memory. Easy to customize to age group, or to start a year with leaves that are very easy to tell apart, and over the course of time, have collections with more subtle differences. After the leaf match, you could take them outdoors to find the plant their leaf came from. You could also do leaf rubbings or leaf prints, then add the leaves to a collage.
  • Spider Web Wonders. Draw a spider, discussing its anatomy (head, abdomen, 8 eyes, 8 legs that attach to the “head”). Children create spiders with a variety of craft or snack materials. The math game is “how many legs”. The teacher holds up a sign saying 0, and asking what creatures have zero legs. After children guesses, turn over the card to show a picture of the answers. (Snake, worm, etc.) Then do 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 14, 30+. A take home at Halloween time could be to check out Halloween decorations, and see how many of them get the spider anatomy wrong.
  • Hiding in Plain Sight. Gather a collection of toy animals (stuffed or plastic). Begin with a matched pair, and hide one in plain sight before the children arrive. Then show them the matching animal animal and see if they can spot the hidden one in the room. Talk about how it was hiding  in plain sight – for example, placed in front of a similar colored item it could blend into, or placed somewhere that’s visually very busy so it could “hide” in the clutter. Explain the basics of camouflage. Next, the teacher or some children “hide” more animals, either in the classroom or outdoors. BUT… they should be told to hide them in plain sight. Then take the other children out to search. Then, build camouflage collages: cut out photos of animals, have the child paste one onto paper, then surround it with tissue paper squares in the colors that would camouflage it. Play “freeze birds”, explaining that even when animals are camouflaged, they give themselves away if they move. The “hawk” closes his eyes while the “bluebirds” play. When you call out freeze, they freeze, and the hawk opens his eyes. If he sees anyone move, they become the hawk.

That’s just a small sampling of ideas. For educators this book could provide a full ready-made nature curriculum for  your class, or could provide lots of ideas you might sample as you build your own curriculum. For parents, there’s plenty of fun and easy ideas in here – you can try out any that seem fun to you.

To learn more about nature play, click on these links “Recommended Daily Allowance of Outdoor Time“, Benefits of Outdoor Play, and Overcoming the Barriers to Outside Play.

Nature Connection Pyramid

pyramidi like this infographic from the Nature Kids’ Institute, which gives “recommended daily allowances” style of recommendations for getting your child outside. (They have a free five part series of short videos on “Let’s Bring Childhood Back Outside.”)

They talk about free, unstructured outdoor play once a day. This is about the little stuff, like finding some tree stumps in your neighborhood to climb and jump off of, or stopping at a local plant nursery, going on an autumn leaf hunt or a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood, or walking to the store, or playing in the backyard, or weeding the garden or digging in a sandbox. In the video, they say the best thing is an empty outdoor space with no toys or obvious activities so children get creative and invent their own play.

They suggest that once a week, you make a plan for a nature outing, like a trip to the dog park (whether or not you have a dog), a visit to a farm park or petting zoo, a hike to search for wildlife. You could even just visit the same woods or park every week, and make friends with a tree. At this time of year, try the pumpkin patch.

Once a month, check out a regional, state or national park. Here are some new favorites we found this summer. And once a year, go somewhere wild.

If you find yourself making excuses for why you “just can’t go outside today”, check out my post on overcoming the barriers to outside play.

Why do this? There are so many benefits to outdoor play! Increased creativity and self-direction, decrease in ADHD symptoms, large motor development, lower obesity rates, better vision, and more… As winter sets in, you’ll often feel like your child is “bouncing off the walls” inside. Bundle them up, take them outside, and let them play!

Have you gotten your recommended dose of nature today?

Time to go wading!

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What could be better on a hot day than wading in a cool creek?
It’s cool, the sound of the water is relaxing, it’s building big motor skills (staying balanced on uneven ground), small motor skills (picking up pebbles to throw), caution and limits (don’t go to the deep area), entomology (water bugs!), mud-ology  (check out this great post on the benefits of mud play http://rightfromthestart.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/build-a-mud-kitchen-why-playing-with-mud-is-good-for-children/) fluid dynamics (water moves much faster over the waterfall than on the flat), mama’s limits (you can’t play near the waterfall!)
Lots of great stuff!
Do be aware of safety. Watch for broken glass in the water if you’re wading barefoot. It’s great if you know drowning rescue and CPR just in case. And it’s best to go with friends to help keep an eye out for everyone. Shower or bathe when you get home to wash off any buggies…

Wading at Everest park in Kirkland, WA

Wading at Everest park in Kirkland, WA

These pictures were taken at Everest park in Kirkland, WA. Plan to park in the lot north of the ball-fields. The creek is between parking and fields / playground. I was surprised to find we were the only ones in the creek on this hot hot day, but this park is never crowded… It is one of those almost- undiscovered gems.  http://parksofkirkland.com/everest-park/

Note: You do need to closely supervise here… the middle picture above shows the waterfall at the edge of this little pond area.

 

Cheap Dates with Toddlers: Nature’s Playgrounds

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Peter Kirk Park, Kirkland, WA. Click to enlarge photos

Sometimes, parks have to take out trees – they’re old, they’re damaged by insects or lightning or whatever. That’s always sad. But, when you’re really lucky, the park does this! At Peter Kirk Park in downtown Kirkland, when they took out a tree (or cluster of trees?) recently, they left the stumps behind, in a perfect toddler and kid playground adventure!

My three year old loves playing on these, but so do kids of all ages. Unlike modern playgrounds, they’re not standardized sizes and shapes, with the exact measured distance between objects and a scientifically designed surface beneath. They’re just four stumps, of different heights that you can climb up, perch on, jump off. Fabulous!

If you live in the area, come check them out (but be sure to park on the street or at the library – the shopping center says they’ll tow park users). If you’re not local look for similar lucky finds in your neighborhood!

We also found a great set of stumps at Bridle Trails Park in Bellevue, next to the arena.

Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, WA

Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, WA

To learn more about kids and nature, just click on ‘nature activities’ in the right hand side bar.