5 Steps to Nature Inspired Playful Learning

Today regular contributor Tricia Hogbin of Little Eco Footprints. shares five ways to make the most of nature inspired learning.

5 Ways To Make the Most of Nature Inspired Learning

My favourite kind of play is nature inspired. Backyard time, a walk around the block or a bushwalk provide the perfect starting point for days of playful learning.

Almost daily my daughter and I go for a walk and look for something unusual. Some days we explore for a few minutes only metres from our home.  On other days we explore further afield, visiting a playground or nearby forest.

For my daughter, it’s fun time with mum. For me, it’s an opportunity for her to learn how to explore, observe, document, research and play creatively.

Here are five steps that can be done anywhere (even on an urban footpath or in a small backyard) that will turn minutes of outdoor time into days of playful learning.

1. Explore
Pretend you are explorers and look for something unusual or unexpected. Look high up in the trees and low on the ground.

5 steps to nature inspired learning - explore

My daughter and I are interested in mushrooms at the moment so a lot of our exploration is directed at the ground.

2. Observe
When you find something unusual – look closely. Stop and watch. Ask your child if they know what it is. Ask them to describe it. Ask what colour is it? Why would it look like that?

5 steps to nature inspired learning - observe

We recently spotted a moth camouflaged on a log. We spoke about why it’s useful for the moth to be camouflaged and then had fun camouflaging ourselves based on what we were wearing.

Decide if it’s safe or appropriate to pick it up and look closer. If it’s dead or inanimate, like a rock, shell or leaf, pick it up and explore it further. Ask your child to describe how it feels or smells. I once asked my daughter to smell a small hard round ball she had discovered. She gave it a huge sniff and then I told her it was dried kangaroo poo. She thought it was hilarious.

If it’s living it may be best not to pick it up, or if you do make sure it’s safe, handle carefully, and put it back where you found it once you’ve finished.

3. Document
Help your child capture information about the object of interest. They could take a photo, create a drawing, write a few words or, if it’s dead or inanimate, collect and take home.

5 steps to nature inspired learning - document

Alternatively they can try and memorise information.  We saw an unusual bird and spoke about its size, colour and markings. Back home we explored a bird guide and I asked her to recall the information and we looked for the bird together.

4. Research
Now that you have information on the object of interest you can research more about it. If you don’t know what it is, search the internet (Google images can be particularly useful), borrow a reference book from the library, or ask a friend.

5 steps to nature inspired learning - research

Once you know what it is you can search for more information. My daughter is interested in rock wallabies. We’ve borrowed books from the library, watched wallaby videos online, and spoken about how and where rock wallabies live and what threatens them.
A trip to a museum, wildlife park or zoo is a particularly great way to continue the research.

5. Creative play
For most children, the above activities would have felt like play rather than learning. That’s what I like about nature inspired learning. Kids seem naturally interested in nature.

But the learning can continue through creative play.

Perhaps they found a frog or tadpole – sing a frog counting song with frog hand puppets, print a frog face mask and pretend to be frogs, or make an origami jumping frog. These are just a few of many frog play ideas.

Each and every one of these creative play activities will provide further learning opportunities. To think all this can stem from one brief outdoor moment.

What are your favourite ways to engage your child with nature?

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  1. Melanie Lee says:

    Nature inspired playful learning, I love it! so very important 🙂 a very enjoyable read, thank you.

  2. Nature inspired playful learning! I love it! We are going to be exploring the natural area of our school playground this week for signs of spring! I can’t wait. Now I have some great “catch phrases” to talk about what we are doing (and to use in my lesson plans).


    1. Glad I could help your lesson plans Terri 🙂

      I love that your school has a ‘natural area’ – sadly such areas seem to be missing from many schools these days.

  3. I love the photos and ideas in this post Tricia…thanks so much for the inspiration! My twins just love to explore and play outdoors…your daughter would probably love the wallabies that visit frequently here!

    1. I’m sure she would love the Wallabies Jode. Wallabies are one of her main interests at the moment. She wants to grow up and be a Wallaby Vet 😉

  4. Wonderful post, Tricia! I often forget that my kids consider our outdoor time together play, since there’s also so much learning going on!

    At the moment, my youngest (almost 5) is all about animals, so we’ve been spending extra time at the zoo, making an animal photo book & going on animal scavenger hunts. My oldest (8 years) is an aspiring scientist, so we’re studying the weather & identifying & classifying plants. I so love the outdoor classroom.

    1. I’m impressed with your oldest identifying and classifying plants Debi. There’s so much learning to be had in that process.

      I coordinated a Plant ID workshop for adults a few weeks ago – I bet they wished they had started at your sons age 😉

  5. Oh what a great post Tricia! Will share this all over the place today. Your images lend themselves childhood excitement for me. I just adore the picture of the mushroom pushing out of the ground with your child in the background. Oh and I had to look twice to see that well camouflaged moth. Amazing. Nature rocks!

    Thanks so much for linking to my frog mask too 🙂

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