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Exploring the Natural World by Priyanka ,  May 19, 2013

The Natural World is an amazing and inspiring place.

There are the plants, animals and fungi that live all around us. There are rocks, fossils and minerals that are found inside the Earth we walk on.

The West Midlands has many varied habitats and the region's museums hold fine examples from the Natural World that have been found locally, regionally and that have come from across the world.

We invite you to explore some of the amazing natural objects held by West Midlands museums.

On the following pages you will find images and text to use for your own, non-commercial use, whether in the classroom, to share with friends or simply to enjoy for yourself. So follow the links and begin to explore the Natural World just beyond your doorstep.

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
  • droppings
  • 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.

Your love of nature may be for the spectacular rock formations formed over thousands of years, or simply to sit and watch birds swooping over clear lakes. It could be the thrill you get from staring at waves until you spot a dolphin, or wandering hillsides and chancing upon delicate wildflowers. Greece's mixture of mountains and islands, as well its varied climate, means it offers visitors a rich variety of wildlife to choose from.

Birdwatching Corfu is a haven for birdwatchers. Lake Korission in the south-west of the island is a popular spot, where European flamingoes, great white egrets and pygmy cormorants all flock in. Mount Pantokrator is the highest point of the island at 906 metres and Egyptian vultures, buzzards, booted eagles and kestrels are regularly spotted here.

Butterflies There are butterflies all over Greece, but nowhere has them in quite such abundance as Petaloudes, or Butterfly Valley, in Rhodes. Throughout the year, they'll accompany you as you wander through this shaded green valley with its peaceful waterfalls. At the end of May butterflies cover almost every rock, bush and tree trunk – a purely natural phenomenon.

Sunvil Greece: Oia, Santorini island, Thera 

In a country renowned for its breathtaking views, Santorini provides some of its most instantly recognised. Photograph: Giovanni Simeone/Corbis

Landscape Ask eight people for their favourite view in Greece and you'll get 18 answers. But it's hard to beat the island of Santorini and its caldera that was formed in a massive volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago. Sheer cliffs rise almost 300 metres from the sea, gently curving in a four-mile-wide circle. The whitewashed towns that nestle in their terraces grace many a picture postcard of Greece.

Dolphins It's tough to guess where you'll see dolphins; they're fond of their freedom and can be spotted all over the Mediterranean. But the boat trips from Paleochora in south-west Crete boast a high chance of success.

Rather than just taking a dolphin-watching tour, you could combine it with a boat trip to one of the island's stunning gorges, such as Sougia.

Wildflowers Like most of the Greek islands, Paxos is covered in wildflowers throughout spring and early summer. It's also small enough to walk in a day and crisscrossed with hundreds of paths and tracks. So if ever you want to really get to know a whole island, this is the one for you.

Alternatively … Nature's perfect holiday For many, the perfect natural holiday is warm sunshine, a clear blue sea and a sandy beach. And if you want to introduce your children to the delights of a beach holiday as you remember it – no arcades, no creches, no ice-cream parlours – then the island of Lemnos is for you. It has lovely sandy beaches – ideal for burying dad and building sandcastles – the chance to take family sailing courses. Also, with the remains of four ancient cities, your children will really understand what it is to visit a different culture.

Inspire your little scientists outdoors with these ideas from charity Learning through Landscapes…

A child’s innate desire to explore their world requires them to use their senses, test out theories, make mistakes and persevere. Exploring the world in this way enhances their development, and doing so outdoors allows children enough space to use their whole bodies, to work on a variety of scales and to make sense of a wide variety of different materials…


Soil is an inexpensive natural play resource and in many settings is readily available. Adding water changes its consistency, making it ideal for mark making. In addition, mini-beasts love it, and you can use it for growing too! Create a digging pit so children can explore the soil while developing their gross motor skills, and provide a table so that they can easily manipulate it to develop their fine motor skills. Read the story Jasper’s Beanstalk and give the children some beans and a magnifying glass. What colour are they? Are all seeds the same? How long does it take for a seed to germinate? Set up a display where the children can put different seeds on damp kitchen paper to watch them germinate. Write questions on card and place them with the display. Which seed grows first? Try planting seeds outdoors and observe them in the same way.


Sand offers multi–sensory experiences to children as they can immerse their whole bodies when exploring it. It can be sprinkled, patted, moulded, dug and poured; dug up and transported from one place to another; or turned into a landscape for small world play. In fact, the bigger the sandpit, the greater the opportunities! Sand also allows children to experiment alongside others, interacting, collaborating and socialising. Place a portable tray on legs into a large sandpit to give children an opportunity to explore the sand at different levels. If you don’t have a pulley system in your sandpit for moving sand, work with the children to create one using ropes, buckets, wood, bricks and hooks, attaching it to a fence, a branch, a wall or post.


Water has many fascinating properties that children love to explore. Very young children will investigate why things float and sink. Try pushing an inflated balloon down on the surface of the water and you can feel the resistance. What happens to water displaced by objects dropped in it? What happens to water when you freeze it? Collect a variety of resources such as Lego bricks, match boxes, tubes, plastic containers, leaves, lids and straws, and set a challenge for the children to design and make a boat. Which ones floats or sinks? Ask the children why they think this has happened.

Natural resources

From sticks and leaves to pebbles and rocks, natural resources offer more ‘affordances’ – opportunities to use them in many different ways – than most manufactured toys. Playing with objects like these gives children the chance to be more creative and imaginative, allowing them to explore and understand more about the world they live in. Collect together samples of wood, straw and real red bricks (ask parents if they can donate any of these). Retell the story of the Three Little Pigs and let the children explore these materials and try to build homes for the pigs themselves. Which is the strongest? Why?


Encourage parents to support children’s investigations at home in their daily routine: e.g., using bath-time to explore floating and sinking or discussing the weather when walking to nursery.

Did You Know…

It takes children up to 40 minutes to become totally engaged with an activity outdoors? Give children plenty of time to plan their ideas, explore and make discoveries, and be prepared for them to repeat an activity again and again to consolidate their learning.

Sandspit is a perfect base for visitors who want to experience the beautiful natural world of Haida Gwaii and get an up-close view of the connection between nature and culture.  Perched on the boundary between forest and ocean, the town provides unparalleled access to marine and land-based activities.  Sandspit is the closest community, and the closest airport, to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which makes it the starting point for all tours to this amazing wilderness area.  Whether or not you plan to visit Gwaii Haanas, you can experience the beauty of the islands by hiking, kayaking and boating in the Sandspit area.  This is also a great area for birdwatching.

The ocean

Breaching Humpback Whale

No visit to an island community is complete without spending some time on the water.  Sandspit is located between the wild ocean of Hecate Strait and the calmer waters of Skidegate Inlet.  Traveling through Skidegate Inlet to the west, you can reach the rugged west coast of the islands.  This makes for a wide range of options when it comes to exploring by water.  Those looking for a relaxing area to kayak for a day will enjoy the calm inlet waters dotted with small islands, while those looking for a longer wilderness adventure will likely head south into Gwaii Haanas.  Sightseeing tours by boat mostly focus on the Gwaii Haanas area and the area just north of Gwaii Haanas, while fishing tours will take you to the west coast.  Beachcombing the many miles of shoreline is fun and relaxing for the whole family.

The oceans around Sandspit are rich with sealife, from crabs and starfish to whales and dolphins.  Anyone traveling by water, even if is just on the ferry from Graham Island, will likely see some wildlife along the way.

Batstars in the intertidal 

If you are interested in seeing whales, the best time to visit is spring and early summer.  In May and June, humpback whales migrate through Hecate Strait, and are a common sight on any tour to the south of Sandspit.  Dolphins are also most common at this time of year, although they are unpredictable and can be seen all year round.  The spring also brings gray whales into Skidegate Inlet where they feed off of Onward Point and near Skidegate.  Killer whales or orcas may be spotted at any time of year, and sometimes pass by near Sandspit.   Seals are a common sight, and larger sea lions congregate on rocky islets on the more exposed coastlines.

The life of the intertidal zone, revealed when the tide is low, is rich and plentiful along the beaches of the area.  Keep in mind that the biggest factor in whether or not you will see intertidal life is the height of the tide.  Pick a day with low tides (5 ft or less) and time your exploring to coincide with the time of low water.  The protected, flatter and sandier beaches in Skidegate Inlet are home to starfish, crabs, sand-dollars, and shellfish.  These are good areas to walk with the family and collect treasures such as the large, round moonsnail shell.  The more exposed, rocky coastlines that border on the Hecate Strait are best for viewing dense, colourful collections of starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones and colourful seaweeds.  Some of these sites are best viewed from the water by boat or kayak.  If you are joining a scheduled boat tour and hope to see intertidal life, pick a time when there are low tides during the day.

The forest

Haida Gwaii is considered a temperate rainforest environment.  This type of forest is famous for its towering old-growth spruce, hemlock and cedar trees rising from a thick carpet of moss on the forest floor.  Various old-growth stands around Sandspit are great examples of this forest type.  Other stands have been logged and provide a view of the forest succession as various species grow back.

Less obvious than the trees, but equally fascinating, are the tiny plants and mosses that grow on the forest floor.  These include some species that are found only on Haida Gwaii.  The dedicated naturalist will find plenty of entertainment walking forest paths with a plant book handy.

The high precipitation levels on the islands mean that the forest is often wreathed in mist, and every valley bottom has its stream, some of which provide spawning grounds for salmon.  The return of salmon the their streams of birth every year is known to transfer nutrients from the sea to the land around spawning streams, and contributes to the rich growth of the forest.

The forest around Sandspit can be enjoyed through a variety of hiking trails, some located in conservancies that protect the old growth forest.  You can also learn about the forestry history of Sandspit by talking to local people, many of whom work or have worked in the logging industry.  The visitor will get a very real and down-to-earth perspective on logging history by learning from those who were actually involved.