If your school is like mine, it lacks a quality outdoor space for learning. Giving kids experiences with nature and the outdoors is an important part of learning, and I have strived to include that in our classroom. Here are a few ideas that have worked well in adding at least a little bit of nature in learning with my students. Want more inspiration? Here are 50 more tips for every grade!
1. Nature Walks
Regardless how much “nature” you have around your school, the natural world is always present. We don’t have a lot with regard to nature around my school, but we do have a small memory garden and a few grassy areas to explore. They don’t seem like much, but when you give kids a magnifying glass and a bucket to collect items, you’ll be surprised by what they will find.
By getting outside often to explore, the kids learn to slow down and use their senses. Adding a camera as part of the nature walks is great way to enhance the learning. I let the kids take two pictures and then they pass it on to a friend. When we come inside, we have a lot of pictures documenting our learning from the kids’ perspective (examples below).
The key to making these nature walks valuable is to get the kids to ask questions and make them feel like explorers. This means I wonder out loud a lot and always answer kids questions. We don’t go on nature walks to play, we go to investigate the world.
2. Living Centers
Adding living centers to my classroom has been one of the best ideas I have ever had. We have several living centers, but the one that has been the most successful is the terrarium. All you need is a 10-gallon aquarium, a bag of aquarium rocks and some soil. If you want a fancy terrarium, I like these. Simply add the rocks until you have about a 2-inch base, then add the soil on top (2 to 4 inches) and you are ready to go. We love adding things we find on our nature walks to the terrarium!
Typically you will find snails, roly-polies (pill bugs) and crickets in the terrarium. I love watching how the kids in my class get more and more brave with touching nature as the year progresses. I start with just a few kids willing to pick up insects and end with every kid diving into the natural world around them. I know many teachers cringe at he thought of this, but the amount of learning that happens in this center makes it worthwhile.
If you just can’t take the thought of handling insects, let the kids be in charge and watch from a distance. The best part about the inhabitants is they require such little care. We add leftover snacks and pour a cup of water in once a week to keep the soil moist. Check out the pictures below to see what cool things happen in our terrarium.
3. Nature Homework
I don’t give homework very often, but when I do, I try to make it fun and meaningful for the kids as well as their parents. A few of my favorite homework activities include nature. Since we go on nature walks often in my class and the kids are experts in collecting things for our terrarium, I try to encourage those experiences at home. Several times a year, I make our homework to collect insects for our terrarium. I love seeing what the kids find and hearing the stories about how they found them. The kids love seeing their contribution in the terrarium and, of course, taking care of them.
I also tell parents if they ever find something great to add to our terrarium to just send it in. Another homework activity is encouraging kids to play outside. Yes, it is that simple. I send home homework that simply states “play outside,” especially when we are having great weather in Texas. Ride your bike, walk a mile, collect leaves, take pictures of trees—these are all wonderful homework activities for kids.
Some more pictures of our terrarium, if you’d like to see:
And more nature photos taken by my students:
How do you include nature in learning? Let us know in the comments!