Today regular contributor Tricia Hogbin of Little Eco Footprints. shares five 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.
Pretend you are explorers and look for something unusual or unexpected. Look high up in the trees and low on the ground.
My daughter and I are interested in mushrooms at the moment so a lot of our exploration is directed at the ground.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- Tips for Teaching Young Children Facts…Playfully!
- Asking Questions That Encourage Creative Thinking
- Responding to Children’s Spontaneous Experimentation