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!