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“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature; to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature”. Maria Montessori
Nature offers infinite ways to support a child’s cognitive, physical, and emotional development. This is not to say that nature can completely replace the time children spend in the classroom. However, I believe that if teachers and parents neglect the benefits an entirely natural environment presents to us, children may miss out on incredible opportunities.
Time spent in nature has decreased in a significant way in the past few years. On average youth play outside in nature for 4-7 minutes a day, while spending more than 7 hours each day in front of a screen. However, stress, depression, and anxiety levels skyrocketed. Antidepressant use has increased by 49 percent among US school-aged children with the most significant increase attributed to preschoolers. Healthcare professionals point out a direct link between children’s deteriorating mental and physical state and the absence of unstructured outdoor play in the fresh air.
“I would far rather write a prescription for safe outdoor play for my patients than see them five years later with depression, anxiety, and obesity.” Dr. Wendy Kohatsu
I want to highlight the benefits and advantages of nature play and learning in nature from the perspective of a Montessori educator. Several important aspects positively influence the learning process.
Nature is the ultimate resource for eco-friendly craft and art materials for children. All materials – pine cones, twigs, shells, fallen leaves, flowers, branches, pebbles, and the list goes on and on are naturally produced by our environment and can be recycled – returned to where originally came from with zero carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, no water wasted.
Significant health benefits – it is essential for mental and physical well-being. Children are encouraged to venture outdoors, breathe fresh air, run, take risks, and climb. For example, one of the most effective ways for children to experience and learn to appreciate silence is in the forest on the bank of a lake. It creates nothing but stillness, mindfulness, and peace.
Interaction with living things.Children learn that everything around them is living, flourishing, progressing from one stage to another, and coexisting in harmony. Children interact with the land that is breathing; they too start to breathe deeper, and look closer. Children are the best at observing and absorbing information.
Children learn to be bold, and carefree.As soon as children emerge from the natural environment all social stigmas disappear. They have no one to impress, no one to compete with, they are free to be themselves. this allows children an opportunity to be carefree, take bold steps, challenge, and extend their potential.
Physiologically children learn to relate, be empathetic, and understand their behaviors in nature. Children may realize that, just like humans, nature has different patterns and “characters”. Nature can be daring, silent, wild, gentle, gloomy, or glorious. There is no one way to “be”. These patterns come and go. Our feelings come and go, we don’t need to be ashamed of feeling one way or another, carrying the stereotypical cliché of being called “quiet”, “nerdy” or “wild”. Nature changes, we change from one moment to another.
Hands-on experiences.Nature provides countless opportunities for hands-on learning experiences and discoveries. All children naturally become explorers and artists. They draw with sticks on the ground; they mix soil and water. In nature, children are free to experiment, prove or disprove their own theories.
Child-driven explorations. Nature presents ways to follow a child’s interest and boosts curiosity – they may choose to build a forest house, study trees, investigate, and study the content of the soil. Their interest is their ultimate motivator.
Sensory experiences.Every single aspect of learning in nature is already predetermined to influence and generate sensory experiences and involve all senses in the learning process.
Nature as a source of inspiration. Nature is an unbeatable source of inspiration – not just in the sense of creating art but also nature helps to clear your head, gain perspective and become more creative at problem-solving.
Nature is free.
Educational benefits. I struggle to think of one concept or subject that is impossible to teach using the natural environment – science, biology, math, language, art, geography, chemistry, astronomy, and technology. Nature takes all sorts of forms and shapes – from a backyard to the beach, cave, forest, meadow, lake, waterfall, creek, and swamp. It all can be successfully implemented, explored, studied, tested, and examined in nature.
Nature has no walls.
Children do not require a great deal of adult involvement when they play in nature. They can be more independent. Children are more prone to resolve their conflicts and misunderstandings with minimum participation from adults. They also seem to have much fewer reasons for being unhappy with each other.
It’s hard to be passive in nature.Even a child who tends to be indifferent when it comes to learning (I would call it unmotivated) still can absorb everything and benefit from stillness and moments of mindfulness that nature brings without having to be very active. Additionally, nature will eventually force anybody to move around – the shade moves, ants get under the shirt, it gets too cold – you are going to be moving whether you like it or not.
Children learn to embrace sustainable living and be self-sufficient. Nothing is ever wasted in nature. Growing a garden, picking edible berries, and mushrooms, and making tea in the forest – these are all a part of learning to appreciate natural resources and processes. Learning to value what you’ve got and waste not.
In nature, children learn to connect.
Every child has a high potential to thrive in nature. We need to make sure they experience this advantage early on in life. I grew up in a school located in the forest, and I could not recall as many classes as I do the infinite number of adventures we had there as kids. This experience forever ignited the passion I have for our natural environment and the desire to see a child’s mind, soul, spirit, and body embrace all the benefits nature has to offer.
Must-Read Books About Nature Learning and Living
Exploring Nature - Children's Books and Learning Resources
Major Biomes of the World is a set of 3-part cards, information posters, and worksheets for students to learn about the major biomes of the world. It includes a map, 3-part card activities, descriptions, follow-up coloring, handwriting, and sorting activities.
Three-part cards and sorting activity with three major groups of rocks – Igneous, Sedimentary, Metamorphic. Rocks are often a great point of interest for lower elementary students. It is easily translated into a hands-on experience for children who enjoy looking up various types of rocks and learning their origin and proper name pronunciation.
Seasons in Nature Printable contains: 4 work mats for sorting 24 picture cards for sorting (6 for each of the seasons) Sun and Earth rotation poster to place in the middle British and American versions
The printable features photos of birds and eggs. Each card set comes with a photo of a bird + a label, a label card, and a photo card of eggs including a picture of the bird that laid them. This makes it easier for children to connect the right picture of eggs to the right bird without assistance.
From a fragile and beautiful bird egg to a glittering meteorite from space, discover more than 100 intriguing natural objects with fascinating tales to tell in this beautifully illustrated wildlife book for children. This unique nature reference book has a fun, new approach that teaches children about nature through objects. It includes: • More than 100 amazing objects that you can find in nature made by geological processes, or by plants and animals. • Four chapters: Animals; Plants, Fungi and Algae; Minerals and Rocks; and Made by Nature. • Illustrated diagrams that support understanding. • Large, detailed photographs of truly fascinating objects. • Eye-catching jacket finishes: gold foil, holographic foil and metallic gold edges.
NATURE JOURNAL: Exploring nature with children through fun journaling. These activity books were created by parents who found a way to guide kids to discover and observe the outdoors with simple drawing and sketching. When given a purpose and excitement for finding plants, animals, and landmarks, your kids will enjoy learning to draw on this illustrative workbook in their own backyard.
by Editors of Storey Publishing (Author)
Jump-start curiosity with this take-along field guide for children ages 4 to 8. From worms, birds, and spiders to trees, flowers, and clouds, young explorers learn what to look and listen for wherever they are — whether in a nature preserve, an urban park, or a suburban backyard. Seek-and-find lists, on-the-trail art projects, and discovery games get kids engaged in hands-on learning about nature, and a real pull-out magnifying glass helps them get a close-up glimpse of leaf veins, seed pods, and tiny insects. Filled with activities, checklists, and stickers, this interactive nature guide belongs in every kid’s backpack.
See the world in a whole new way! Acclaimed illustrator Julia Rothman combines art and science in this exciting and educational guide to the structure, function, and personality of the natural world. Explore the anatomy of a jellyfish, the inside of a volcano, monarch butterfly migration, how sunsets work, and much more. Rothman’s whimsical illustrations are paired with interactive activities that encourage curiosity and inspire you to look more closely at the world all around you.
From the smallest speck of sand to the stars that blanket the sky, nature is full of incredible things to explore. Inspire little ones to learn about the world they live in with this colorful and imaginative choice in nature books for kids. It’s packed with fascinating info and full-page photos that teach children about the weather, seasons, plants, animals, and more.
Kids are full of big questions like “What makes plants grow?” or “Why does the moon change shape in the sky?”. Awesome Outdoor Experiments for Kids can help them find the answers! It’s a treasure trove of outdoor adventures, with more than 50 fun experiments that show kids science in action as they play outside.
When words in verse are paired with the awesomeness of nature, something magical happens! Beloved former U.S. Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis curates an exuberant poetic celebration of the natural world in this stellar collection of nature poems. From trickling streams to deafening thrunderstorms to soaring mountains, discover majestic photography perfectly paired with contemporary (such as Billy Collins), classics (such as Robert Frost), and never-before-published works.
Girls can do anything, and Adventure Girls! proves it! Packed with exciting activities and crafts for girls (ages 6 to 12), this book inspires young adventurers to be curious, innovative, and bold. From stargazing and animal tracking to making a pinhole camera and building a shadow theater, Adventure Girls! is not one of your typical craft books.
Crawl into the wonderful world of bugs—a fun photographic adventure for kids ages 3 to 5 Take your child on an educational adventure bursting with the kinds of colorful photographs you need in bug books for kids. The Backyard Bug Book for Kids has everything you’d want in bug books for kids: a story, pictures, and activities combined. Introduce your little one to the types of bugs they’re likely to see during their day, then help them remember what they’ve learned with fun, on-the-page challenges.
by Fiona Cohen (Author), Marni Fylling (Illustrator)
Filled with fun facts and 100 full-color, beautiful, and scientifically accurate illustrations, this nature guide will inspire kids to go outdoors and discover the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. Did you know that baby raccoons are smaller than a bar of soap? Or that salmon smell using little pits in the front of their eyes? Curious Kids Nature Guide is filled with full-color illustrations and fun facts about the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest, encouraging kids to discover and explore nature in their own backyards and beyond.
Immersed in the natural world, The Organic Artist for Kids inspires creativity by connecting kids and their adults to our wilderness roots. In addition to offering a wide variety of fun, collaborative projects using nature as a source for art supplies and inspiration, this book also introduces the concepts of awareness and perception that are fundamental to the creative process.
In the era of screens and devices, the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors, and children are no exception. Not only does this phenomenon have consequences for kids’ physical and mental health, it jeopardizes their ability to understand and engage with anything beyond the built environment.
Wild creatures, cloud formations, plant habitats, and more―nature is full of wonders to behold and explore! In this nature journal, young naturalists will get all of the guidance they need to study and record their experiences of the natural world.
Clare Walker Leslie shows kids how to experience nature with all five senses, whether they live in the countryside, a major city, or somewhere in between. Guiding children through inspiring activities like sketching wildlife, observing constellations, collecting leaves, keeping a weather journal, and watching bird migrations, The Nature Connection encourages kids to engage with the world outside and promotes a lifelong love of nature.
From the author of the bestselling book 50 Things to See with a Small Telescope, this colorful edition explores the constellations with young readers, guiding them to dozens of galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. Every page features a helpful “telescope view”, showing exactly how objects appear through a small telescope or binoculars.
Get ready to explore the sky above, the ground below, and all the plants and creatures in between! Made just for kids, this nature anatomy book teaches you about the incredible forces and living things that exist in nature.
by Pamela Hickman (Author), Carolyn Gavin (Illustrator)
Balancing child-friendly facts with colorful illustrations, this perfect introduction to plants is sure to inspire the budding naturalist in every child. From crowded cities to open prairies, deserts to wetlands, plants grow everywhere! This comprehensive introduction will open children's eyes to the plants that surround them every day and how important they are to life on our planet. It covers the basics of plants, such as their parts, life cycles and growing zones.
The birds, the bees, the flowers and the…TREES! How do trees grow? Why do leaves change? What kind of tree is that? The acclaimed Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s guide answers all kids’ (and their parents’) tree-related questions in an easy-to-understand way. It features 33 different trees that grow in North America, from rural Georgia to the streets of New York City to the California suburbs.
Anyone can get lost while camping or on a hike and Survivor Kid teaches young adventurers the survival skills they need if they ever find themselves lost or in a dangerous situation in the wild. Written by a search and rescue professional and lifelong camper, it’s filled with safe and practical advice on building shelters and fires, signaling for help, finding water and food, dealing with dangerous animals, learning how to navigate, and avoiding injuries in the wilderness.
by Mrs. Peanuckle (Author), Jessie Ford (Illustrator)
With playful text, bright illustrations, and sturdy pages, Mrs. Peanuckle's alphabet books will engage toddlers, and take them on an alphabet adventure through the natural world! Explore the wondrous world of hiking while learning the ABCs with Mrs. Peanuckle! Mrs. Peanuckle takes on the outdoors and shares all her favorite animals, plants, and more in her latest tour of the ABCs!