Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Last Child In The Woods for Kids...Connecting Children with Nature

In honor of Earth Day this month, I am going to step up on my soapbox for a bit and tell you that I believe in order to take care of our planet we need to reach out and touch our planet.

If there is one thing I am passionate about in education it is getting kids outside.  That's one reason for my tag line....where everyone is dancing their merry kinder kapers.  Movement....Excitement....Curiosity.  Hopefully you can catch the vision and see those little ones "dancing" about outside having a wonderfully educational time.

Richard Louv  affirms all that I believe to be true about children and getting them outside. He is the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  He reminds us that,

"Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.  If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature."

Can we take time from our school day to explore?  Of course!!  Is it common core??  YES!!

Does it need to be work?  No!

"If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection or the chore defeats the joy.  It's a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together.  And it's a lot more fun"

Try a scavenger hunt...what interesting things can you find in your schoolyard?

Can you collect things (perhaps with a camera)?  Can you sort them?  Can you count them?  Is there more of one thing...or perhaps you could compare colors?  What about Kindergarten conversations.....what are your students excited about...are they asking questions?  Are they taking turns, and carrying the conversations on through multiple exchanges?  What did they find...can you help them take their learning in another direction?  Did your students record their findings (in a journal, chart, graph, table)?

Can I do it if I live in the city?  Yes again.

Learn to use the tools of a scientist or naturalist.  Above we were learning to read a thermometer, so we could test which color was the warmest to wear.

Try growing some seeds.  Clear cups are the best for seeing those roots go down.
We planted sunflower seeds for St. Patrick's Day.  My kinders were so so excited the day they sprouted.  We left them untouched for a few days as they grew taller and taller.  They watched the seed coats fall off and were fascinated!  When we picked up the cups to look closer, my kinders discovered the roots down the sides of the cups and across the bottom.  They discovered those things.  Now we are learning the science words and writing our own nonfiction book about plants.  Common Core...yes!

It won't be long and we will be ordering our butterflies.  I order a classroom set because everyone gets a turn to work with the caterpillars, everyone gets their own to examine closely, and I don't have to worry if a few don't make it (there are plenty of extras).

When the butterflies finally emerge I set up this tent and we take turns getting up close and personal with those butterflies.

Do you need research to help back up the importance of spending time outside?  Check out the Children and Nature Network.  There is a wealth of information, from research to workshops to ideas to use.

Whenever we go outside, we do have to have some rules.  It is school after all.  The rules are simple.
1.  It is not recess, so we do not get to run around or yell.
2.  Students must stay close to me or within the boundaries set for the day and activity.
3.  Students must not harm (pick, break, or squash) living things.
4.  Students must follow the directions given.  Sometimes it will be okay to collect many things, most days we collect only 1 specimen (especially if we are collecting living things like leaves or seeds).  
Pears from the trees at school (last September)
Do I need special equipment?  No...You can get outside with none at all.  There are a few things that might make it more fun.
1.  magnifying glass
2.  digital camera of some sort
3.  container for specimens
4.  paper, pencils, and a hard surface to write on (I use our whiteboards and binder clips)
"Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own).

What do I use to help me plan our time outside?  Along with the common core standards and our state guidelines, I love using Project Wild and Project Learning Tree.  I also use the books by Joseph CornellSharing Nature With Children is my favorite.  There are so many resources available, many unique to your location.  Each National Park and many state parks have Junior Ranger programs.  The activities are adaptable for most grade levels.  The Forest Service and BLM have lots of free resources as well. For unique picture books I turn to Dawn Publications.  If you go to their website, not only will you find books, but free activities to go with them.  It is a treasure trove of ideas!!

But what do I really need?  Time, natural curiosity, and a no worry attitude about dirt and bugs.

"We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories.  These are the moments when the world is made whole.  In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist."
~Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder


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