When planning to incorporate nature in your classroom, where to start? This may seem obvious, but the key is letting children start by exploring. All learners, but early learners in particular, need to be given the opportunity to observe for themselves and formulate their own questions before being told what to do. Young students are still learning how the world works and need time to watch and think.
Take an entire period, or more, to have students make observations outdoors. Pick a spot in the schoolyard or a nearby park and have students observe what they see. Here are some ways to encourage that observation and exploration:
Before leaving the classroom, make sure that students know not to touch any animals they find. For plants, explain that if a part of the plant is attached to the ground or to a tree, it should be left alone. Leaves or seeds on the ground can be picked up.
- Give each student a clipboard and piece of paper. Pre-literate students can draw what they see; literate students can both draw and write their observations.
- If students are having trouble focusing, give them a prompt to focus on. Ask students to observe the ground for five minutes, then the air, then look for signs of animals, then plants, etc.
- Students should have some time to sit and draw or write, as well as some time to walk around and explore. Give students boundaries, but allow them to move freely within those boundaries. If one student finds something particularly interesting (a spider web, a puddle, a live animal), you may want to re-gather the class so they all have the chance to see it.
- When you return to the classroom, have students share what they saw and any questions they may have. Some questions may be answered during the course of your regular curriculum, while others may merit extra research by the class. Take note of which topics they were interested in; these could provide ideas for what to focus on next.