There are plenty of great reasons for getting your children outside to explore nature, from encouraging physical activity to a link to improved concentration, but the best reason is that children love being outdoors and exploring their world.
There are some simple things that you can do to encourage your children’s explorations and deepen their understanding of how the world works.
Here are some nature explorations that you and your child can work on together. I’ve tried to include something to do in the areas that I find are are of greatest interest to children – animals, plants, weather and the world under the water.
Choose one of these explorations and get started finding out more about the natural world:
Animals: Look for Signs of Life
Wherever you live there will be animals making their homes near by. If you look closely you will find many signs of wildlife. Go on an animal hunt. How many signs of animal life can you find? What sorts of animals are living near you? Perhaps you can find
- a spiderweb
- tracks in the dirt
- burrows in the ground
- a snail’s trail
- chewed leaves
- What can you hear? Can you hear animals calling?
Plants: Watching a Plant Grow
Children love to plant a seed and see it grow. It seems like magic. But it’s frustrating because it can be a long time before you see anything.
Here’s an experiment that lets you see the growing process.
Find a potato or sweet potato. Stick toothpicks around the potato to suspend it in the mouth of a glass jar. Fill the jar with water so that the bottom part of vegetable is covered. As you wait for it to grow, keep the water topped up. Place the plant in a sunny spot. It will take about two weeks for a vine to start growing and you will be able to see both what’s happening above and below the ground.
Water: Looking Below the Surface
When you into the water what you see is often blurred by light reflections off the water. But there is an fascinating world under there waiting to be explored. You can build a viewer to help you peek into the underwater world.
To build a water viewer you need:
- a small plastic bucket
- plastic wrap
- an elastic band
Cut a big circle from the bottom of the bucket. Cut a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the top of the bucket. Secure the plastic in place with the elastic band.
Place the top of the bucket (plastic-wrapped end) into the water. Look through the hole in the other end of the bucket to see what’s happening down there under the surface of the water. The deeper you push the bucket the more the view is magnified, but don’t put the top of the viewer into the water or it will fill with water. The viewer works best in clear water.
Weather: Make a Rainbow
For me, one of the most magical things to see in nature is a rainbow. Rainbows occur when sunlight bends (refracts) as it passes through droplets of water in the air. This separates the white light into separate colours and creates a rainbow.
You can make your own rainbow with a glass of water and a piece of white paper. Find a sunny spot, inside or out. Hold a glass of water above a piece of white paper and watch as the sunlight passing through the glass of water bends and forms a rainbow on the paper.
Try holding the glass at different angles and see what happens. Try using different glasses (or even use something bigger like a glass vase).
Now What: Start your Nature Collection
Now that you have your child wondering about the natural world, you can keep them interested with a nature collection. Follow the interests of your child as you decide what to collect.
You could create a general collection of the best natural objects you have found. You might include: shells, a snakeskin, feathers, rocks, a bird’s nest, seedpods, fossils or bones.
You can also create themed collections, for example, a collection of seedpods, or shells and so on. This is a great way to compare the different shapes, sizes, colours and other characteristics of natural objects. This is the start of learning to identify and classify species.
You might want to create a mix of both general and themed collections.
Be sure to check regulations about collecting in your area before you take things. You might be able to take a photo of the object if you aren’t allowed to collect it.
Collections can be stored and displayed in a number of ways - in a bowl, on a nature table or grouped and labeled in boxes.