Do we have to make every experience outdoors “educational”? We really do not. The most valuable advantages children receive as a result of spending time in nature are exercise, a dose of fresh air, being able to experience a sense of freedom and learn spontaneous risk assessment. However, the question is: “Is a standard classroom setting the most ultimate and effective environment for children’s intentional learning to occur?”
In my personal experience, implementing learning activities that children would normally acquire in the classroom outdoors can be very effective, fun and beneficial for mental health for the child and for the educator.
I and my husband are homeschoolers by choice (it’s a new term I never thought I’d need to use). Going hiking, exploring national parks and venturing outdoors using any chance we get is something we often do as a family. I also take my children to do intentional learning in nature on a regular basis. Here is what one day of nature schooling looks like with my three children.
I am not a biologist, and chances are, many children aren’t going to be either. So making learning naturalistic is not going to fit every child’s interest and call to their intrinsic motivation. Hence, I aim to make it broader and touch on various curriculum subjects. I also heavily rely on children to show me the direction I should lead them.
I plan and prepare for three activities and leave the rest up to them to decide.
1. Drawing from observation. I normally take watercolors. Pencils, pens and crayons are an obvious choice too. We settle in one place, each takes a turn to tell me what they observe and we aim to pick the most interesting details to include in the painting. The best way to engage children is to join them as well, however, I find it harder to assist them in case they need my help if I do. The most appealing part is that children of different ages can participate and enjoy it equally as much.
2. Weaving. Prepare a weaving frame in advance at home or make one on a go. We use four solid sticks and string to make one. It’s a great opportunity to teach older children to make knots. Then children are invited to search for nature objects to weave into the frame. Bring it home with you. It will make a beautiful piece of decoration. Children can add new items to it in the future.
3. Leaf prints. If we already have paints with us, it only makes sense to work on another art activity.
On this particular day, I had something completely different planned. This painting activity was initiated by my son, he had it all going so I went with the flow.
This activity suits the youngest children best. If you wish to give it a go, invite the child to collect a few different leaf shapes, paint them and make prints on paper.
Most likely, if asked, every person will admit to enjoying spending time in nature. Our mind and body equally feel refreshed and get a great boost of energy after venturing outdoors. However, when we decide to take learning outdoors, we can get stuck trying to imagine what it might look like and where to start. People are mostly accustomed to thinking that learning happens within four walls. Today educators and parents are actively shifting this perception and frankly, they are doing an amazing job!
We start seeing schools opening their classrooms for students to spend more time in the fresh air, we see homeschool coops taking their children outdoors and allowing them to get their hands dirty with glorious mud.
My daughter has attended Natureweavers Forest School in Australia. Based on what she told me about her adventures with Carly, I can confidently say that those days have become some of the most fulfilling days of her childhood.
Now all my children get a fresh dose of vitamin N practically on daily bases enjoying free play and discovery. As I mentioned earlier, we also regularly go to do homeschool learning out in nature. And I have to admit, it is not always easy to come up with engaging hands-on ideas children would enjoy doing outdoors that complement and extend their learning about the outside world. I’ve got a solution I hope will make educators’ and parents’ task of taking learning in nature a lot easier – my seven-day planner with outdoor explorations. I thought of three activities a day you can plan and prepare to do with your students in nature. These are fun and brush up a few curriculum subjects. I invite you to download the outdoor activity planner from the Subscriber Library.
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