Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nature Play!

I recently did a Backyard Science program at the Bristol Library. I decided to focus on Nature Play, as it's something children can do in any area and is a great way to explore backyard science! I started talking about some of the great natural resources in our area and shared the Michiana Summer Guide I made with interested parents. There are lots of options to connect our children with nature in our backyards, parks, natural spaces, and community resources!

Outside, we started looking for items on our nature scavenger hunt. We looked high and low and all around. We almost smelled some of the blooming milkweed--such a pleasant smell! Outside the library, there is a native flower garden, trees, and open yard space. With the threat of rain, we stayed fairly close to the building.

Sometimes having a scavenger hunt to focus attention and exploration while outside can help interact with nature. I love seeing the adults join in, too! 

I explained a little about the different stations before we divided up into groups and let the children explore! Stations included nature art, movement and music, fort building, insect exploration. 

Nature Art Station

In the Nature Art Station, I introduced environmental art by Andy Goldsworthy, sharing some pictures as inspiration. There were various loose parts, clay for nature faces, and lots of room for exploration and creativity. 

I bought a big block of clay at Michael's for about $7 with a coupon. We probably only used about 1/4 of the clay, so it's very economical and gives children a chance to interact with natural materials and create art that is completely recyclable. 


Each face is so different and unique!


The care and attention to find the "perfect spot" requires observation skills, texture building, and even cooperation. 


When we moved some activities inside due to the brief rain, we saw more creative juices! 


Even the librarian got into the action! She was great at stacking rocks to make cairns!

Music and Movement Station

In the Music and Movement Station, we had lots of insect puppets, musical instruments, movement activity cards, and lots of scarves. 


Scarves can be used for so many things! I saw many insects buzzing around!


Fort Making Station

Fort making is a traditional childhood outdoor activity; however, many children today never have that opportunity. Building secret places encourages spatial awareness, problem solving, cooperation, and more. My brother and sister-in-law gave the boys a fort making kit for Christmas this last year. It included flat sheets, rope, and clothespins. We've added extra sheets and ropes to accommodate more children. We make these in the basement with the cousins from time to time, but it's nice to take it outside to create forts, too. My kids said they enjoyed the fort building the most on our nature play day! 

Insect Exploration Station

In the insect exploration station, there were nets, bug jars, pattern block templates, field guides, and insects to explore!

 This guy found something special! His mom even got in the action!


 Rain made a short appearance, so we moved some activities inside!

Children naturally categorize as they investigate natural items. They could see insects up close in a safe way through this insects in acrylic. Later, they often are more willing to try to catch one in an insect jar for observation. 


I love the movement, action, and dynamic forms as the children were insect hunting! 


This was one of my favorite stories of the day. A boy about the age of my oldest seems to be very scared of insects. However, with a net in hand, he caught a dragon fly to observe! He was so excited. We dug out the insect field guide to look up options. It was fun talking to his mother about this experience. I hope he is finding more bugs now! 


Wrapping Up

Good nature play encourages backyard scientists to explore, investigate, move, build, and make connections! Find some time to spend outside playing in nature! Simple tools and activities can enhance the experience, though all most children need is a little time outside. I built many of these station ideas around the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom concept (using a mobile version). Here are some of the natural playscape areas we enjoy in the area. We're also developing a space along these lines at Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart.  

This little guy is just too cute. You can see how happy he is outside. Okay, he's my youngest! :-) This is why I do what I do, to help connect others with nature so they can have that same joy and sense of wonder and discovery as I find with my own children in nature!


A few of my boys and my niece--what great nature fun outside! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Finding Nature at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair

It's fair time at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair! That means many families and others are heading out in droves to consume fair food, look at the exhibits, and listen to the entertainment. We also had to check out the new activities and see the boys' projects. I'm sure we will be back, so look for  nature filled updates.

A fun new experience (Thanks, Jayco for sponsoring it!) is the Kidz Science Safari. It's like a small, portable science museum. We love science museums! Strollers and wagons and such should be left outside. We left the stroller out and just took our valuables inside. No food or drinks are allowed either, which is understandable in a hands-on place like this. There were plenty of activities!


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fort St. Joseph Museum

This last week we visited the Fort St. Joseph Museum based on a recommendation from a local educator. I wasn't sure what to expect. I had six kids with me, from almost 2 up to age 11. The cost is free, so we only had to pay for gas to get there. Of course, donations are accepted. There is a historic mansion next door, both comprise the Niles History Center. The Chapin Mansion is $5/person if 10 or over, but they have been doing some renovations recently so call to check on tours. If I were more into architecture, I would be really excited to know this is one of the finest Aesthetic Period examples in the United States. It looks like it would be great to visit in the future! It is quite ornate.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Summer Walk at Wellfield Botanic Gardens

We've had a beautiful, cool summer. It's nice to get out when it's not 100 degrees! We had an hour while in Elkhart recently and stopped by Wellfield Botanic Gardens. See our past visits here. The entrance is only $5 for adults and free for children 12 and under, so I could take the 5 of us for only $5. However, it is also FREE on Tuesdays. It's a great day to explore and learn about the plants and animals around us! Angie, the education coordinator, was creating a display of the flowers in bloom and where we could find them in the visitor's cottage when we arrived. It's neat to see what we might expect in various areas of the garden.

I had two older boys park themselves on a bench and read books (their request) while the younger boys and I walked around. What a pleasant place to read, next to the water. Do you like to read outside?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lavender Hill Farm

We were in Niles last week to visit the Fort St. Joseph Museum so stopped by the U-pick Lavender Hill Farm. It is open mid June through mid July for picking, yet also has an online store.