NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – October 2016

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families - October 2016

The nature prompts for this month are centered around a theme.  This month we’ll be focusing on trees.

In the northern hemisphere it’s the leaves that are really standing out right now and there’s an activity that will get your child noticing the rich variety.  It’s also a great time to get to know trees a little better.  You’ll find some printables designed to help your child explore the world of trees and one very special activity from a friend over seas.

Meet a Tree

This activity comes from Joseph Cornell and helps heighten our sensory awareness as we get close and personal with a special tree.  You will need a blindfold, a partner for your child (an adult is preferable if your child is quite young), and the directions found here or on the nature prompts printable.

Magic Tree Hunt

For the very first time we have a guest contributor sharing her passion for encouraging children to observe and discover nature.  Lisa Lillywhite from Smart Happy Project created this magical tree hunt that your child is sure to have fun with it.  He’ll be noticing trees like he never has before. 

Give Lisa’s notes about the activity a glance before getting started then download the printable and let the fun begin!

Bark Scavenger Hunt

The outer bark serves the same function for all trees but there is a lot of diversity in how it looks.  So many different patterns and textures and colors to notice.  Your young naturalist will gain a greater appreciation for trees with this scavenger hunt.

You can add a sensory element by asking your child to feel the difference of the barks.  Do they feel rough or smooth?  Are they thick or thin?  Take some bark rubbings too.  They will aid in remembering the experience and serve as prompts for reflection and further discussion.

Tree bark scavenger hunt printable / Noticing Nature Nature Prompts: October 2016 via Green Acorns

Colors of Autumn Leaves

There is such an array of color to be found in the fall leaves.  Shades of red, yellow, green and even purple.  Collect leaves of different colors with your child and point out the rich variety.  Group them by color and notice the nuances.  Use the color wheel and find matching shades.  If you have collected leaves they can be pinned to the color wheel or torn into smaller bits and glued on (a great fine motor activity for wee ones).

Lisa has also provided us with a blank color wheel that she suggests filling in with paint chips.  This will allow you to customize based on the colors in the surrounding landscape.  You can see some examples of how she has used it here.

Resources to Inspire

Spark excitement and further learning with any of these lovely books;

Don’t forget to print off this month’s prompts and keep them in a handy spot.
Have fun enjoying the world of trees with your child!


NaturePlay Film: Bringing Back Childhood

NaturePlay: A film review @Green Acorns

I recently had the privilege of viewing the film NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back which was created by Daniel and Aimie Stilling with the goal of inspiring a cultural and educational shift in the U.S. and around the world in regards to the values placed on childhood and the importance of whole-child education.

The film begins with captivating images of children playing outside – free and happy, exploring and connecting with nature – underscored by Richard Louv reading a passage from his book, Last Child in the Woods.  We are then presented with the serious issue that this film addresses: The increase in high-stakes testing in our schools and the loss of unstructured play time outside (in and out of school) are negatively impacting our children.  Childhood is being taken away, our children are suffering, and the consequences are long-lasting.

The film then offers a source of hope and remedy as it leads us on a journey to Denmark where we learn about the Udeskole model of education and the cultural attitude of Friluftsliv and then to Norway where they share these same values.

Udeskole is defined as a method that “…gives the pupils the opportunity to use their bodies and senses in learning activities in the real world in order to obtain personal and concrete experiences.  Uteskole allows room for academic activities, communication, social interaction, experience, spontaneity, play, curiosity and fantasy”.  (sourceIn other words, Udeskole takes learning out to nature and relevant community settings for meaningful, hands-on experiences that can be applied to the classroom lessons across all academic subjects.

NaturePlay Film

The Udeskole pedagogy is implemented in all grades from kindergarten through high school and the impacts are inspiring.  Learning experiences are not standardized as they tend to be here in the U.S.  This pedagogy makes it possible for children to take away their own lessons, develop their own unique skills, broaden their own perspective of the world.  The experiences go from hand to mind to heart, empowering all children to unlock their full potential.

This model of education and the governmental policies that support it would not be successful if it weren’t for the cultural value of Friluftsliv – “free air life”.  In Nordic and Scandinavian cultures, direct experience in nature is a part of everyday life.  Children spend extended periods of time immersed in nature.  They experience life outside in all kinds of weather.  They are allowed to take risks – climbing trees and boulders, learning how to use knives and make fires, using construction materials and tools to build forts and rafts. It is understood and accepted that children need time away from adult monitoring and influence.  Even the public parks and adventure playgrounds are designed to support and encourage these philosophies.

It is believed that children have an innate sense of belonging in nature and that it is crucial to maintain that connection for a high quality of life.  It is believed that children and nature and education belong together and that working to make it so is an investment in the health of society.

NaturePlay film

After highlighting many positive and encouraging examples of “Udeskole” successes, the film brings us back around to the struggles we face and the price our children are paying.  We are raising a generation of disconnected humans – disconnected from each other, disconnected from nature, disconnected from life.  We have created false constructs of achievement and what is important in life.  We have lost touch with the fact that life-long personal success, health, and overall well-being are rooted in childhood.  This film challenges us to take an honest look at our current mindsets and to take up the challenge of doing better for our children.  After all,  “What parent wants their kids to be less alive?  What teacher wants their students to be less alive?  Who among us as adults wants to be less alive?”  The solution lies in a more nature-rich existence.

Gain more insight to the film with these wonderful reviews and by watching the official trailer:

So, who should see this film?

  • Parents who want to enrich their children’s lives;
  • Educators who want to unlock their students full potential;
  • Community leaders who want to promote a creative, independent, empowered generation;
  • Organizations who want to spark a love of outdoors in children and nurture future stewards of the environment;
  • Anyone who wants to improve the lives of our children and the future of us all.

Who could you approach about hosting a viewing?

  • School board of directors, administrators, teachers, and parent groups;
  • Local nature clubs and environmental centers;
  • Universities;
  • Public libraries;
  • Parents and family members.

Make a passionate plea to get this film shown in your community.  Whether you write a letter or arrange a personal meeting, make an undeniable case by sharing research findings, giving anecdotal examples of experiential learning and the impacts of unstructured time in nature, and asking your audience to recall their own experiences.

All the information for hosting a screening can be found here.  Together we can help take back childhood.


P.S. I asked Aimie a few follow-up questions after viewing the full film.  I’ll share our conversation and some related resources in an upcoming post.

Touchscape: A Nature Mapping Activity

Touchscape: A Nature Mapping Activity (via Green Acorns)

Map skills and nature study are two things that I like to incorporate regularly in our home-educating activities and I especially like it when I can combine the two. Nature study is a wonderful enrichment to any education. It expands awareness and understanding of the natural world, strengthens skills of observation, cultivates curiosity and a love of investigation, and lays a foundation for scientific study. But why incorporate maps? Is it really important for children to develop map skills? One might think that in this digital age, where information can be found right at our fingertips within seconds, that map skills are obsolete. Having these skills are unnecessary, right? Not at all! Reading maps and map making incorporate skills from across many areas of learning:

  • Maps convey information that help us understand our world.
  • Map making deepens that understanding.
  • Maps are a way of sharing ideas and experiences.
  • Making maps allow us to express our sense of place.
  • Interpreting maps involves reading and math skills, builds spatial awareness, visual literacy and higher-order thinking.

Children as young as preschool-age can be introduced to the concept of maps. One way to do that is through books.  There’s sure to be one here that will interest your child:

Once children have had some exposure to map concepts they can be introduced to map-making. The elementary years are a great time to get started.

If you would like to learn more about introducing maps and map-making to your child, I highly recommend the book MapMaking With Children by David Sobel.

Now on to the nature mapping activity…

Touchscape - Nature Mapping Activity


In this activity, you and your child will go on a texture hunt around your yard and then add samples of those textures to a hand-drawn map. You will need a copy of the “texture words” printable, a large sheet of paper or piece of poster-board/cardboard, a pencil, a basket or other container to hold nature artifacts, and glue (optional).

1. Review texture words
Explain that you are going on a texture hunt and look over the texture words printable with your child. Can he imagine what each one feels like? Does he have any to add?
2. Create a map
Find a spot outside from which you can view your house and yard. Take a few moments with your child to look around and talk about what nature you see and where things are in relation to one another. Draw a map of the area on a large sheet of paper or posterboard. It’s easiest for children to draw the house first. Do not worry about being perfect – this map is meant to act as a general guide and does not need to be exact or very detailed. If your child is very young, draw a map ahead of time and review it with him.
3. Go on a texture walk
With map in hand, take a walk around your yard. Pay close attention to the various textures of the nature you see. Is there a soft mossy patch? Do you have trees with rough bark? Smooth bark? Maybe there are some fuzzy dandelion puffs or prickly bushes. Stop to touch with your child and talk about how each thing feels. Encourage your child to use descriptive words and make comparisons (ie. rough like sandpaper, soft and squishy like a sponge, etc.).
4. Collect samples & add them to map
If appropriate, collect samples of the nature that you find on your texture walk. When you have finished your walk, ask your child to recall where each collected item was found. He can then place it on the map (and glue it on if desired) at the appropriate location.


Extending the activity

Here are some ideas for using your collected nature bits once you are done with the mapping activity…

Create a sensory bin

Make Mandalas

Play with clay

Sort, Match & Classify

Have fun!


NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – September 2016

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts for- Children and Their Families - September 2016

Hello!  I hope you have been well and happy.  My family and I have been adjusting to a new back to school / home-school schedule so my focus has been on easing transitions.  How about you?  Is it back to school time for you too?

I hope you find this month’s prompt useful for maintaining your child’s connection to nature and as tools for slowing down and alleviating some stress during what can be a hectic, hurried time of year.


Postcard From Nature

Role-playing in pretend play has so many benefits for children, teens included.  They can play out various scenarios of actions and consequences which can lead to a sense of ownership and personal responsibility.  It allows children to integrate emotion with cognition.  Perceiving situations from another’s perspective develops empathy.

Why not nurture your child’s connections to nature by encouraging them to pretend to be an object in nature?  Consider your child’s interests (flowers, birds, water, etc.) and set the stage for engaging her imagination.  When your child is ready, ask her to choose an object and pretend to be that object.  Use the questions on the prompts printable to help get her thinking.  Ask her to write a postcard to a friend or family member as that object.  You can use this postcard template or a postcard of your own.

These books might help get the creative juices flowing:


letters in nature

Letters, Numbers and Shapes.  Oh my!

Have you ever noticed different shapes in nature?  For young children, finding shapes in nature can help reinforce early math concepts.  It also encourages looking at things in a new way, getting creative, and of course – noticing nature.

Kick it up a notch by asking your child to also keep an eye out for numbers and letters.  Exposed tree roots are a great place to find these!


Create Your Dream Soundscape

One of the July nature prompts was to take a soundscape inventory as a way to help your child practice listening skills and deepen her experiences in nature.  Your child probably noticed human-produced noises mixed in with the sounds of nature.  The fact is, it’s becoming harder and harder for us to hear the sounds of nature.

It wasn’t until we headed to a nearby field one night to view a meteor shower that my children realized what a nuisance the human-created noise is.  It was relaxing to lay in a field under the open sky and exciting to wonder what we might see or if we’d encounter any animals.  It was my oldest daughter that commented first on how the sounds of traffic negatively effected her experience.

So we started wondering – what would our ideal soundscape be?  Would we want to hear running water and if so, would it be from a rushing river or a trickling stream?  Would there be leaves and grasses blowing in a breeze?  Woodpeckers tapping?  Maybe a wind chime made of rattling seed pods.

What would be included in your child’s soundscape?  Feel free to get creative, just keep it natural.  You may find it helpful to revisit the soundscape inventory and the silent sharing walk from July (and if you haven’t tried these activities yet, it’s never too late!).

Download this simple printable to use for creating your very own dream soundscape.  Think of it like a garden of sounds instead of plants.  Add drawings or paste photos of your own or from magazines.



You draw your child’s attention to interesting nature finds, encourage unstructured play time in nature, and nurture the development of her unique connections with nature.  How about asking her to take a mindful nature break and do a self check-in?  You can use this list of feeling words as you follow the self-inventory prompts.

Click the image below to download and print your copy.

Noticing Nature-Monthly Nature Prompts: September 2016



Nature Word of the Month – August 2016: MIZZLE

Nature Word of the Month - August 2016: MIZZLE

I am currently reading Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett (which is a fascinating read that I highly recommend). In the prologue she quotes a line from Ray Bradbury which includes the word “mizzle”. I immediately loved the word. I could easily conjure up memories of being out in this sort of fine rain – not being able to feel the individual drops but becoming quickly and completely blanketed in wetness. Have you ever experienced it?

As you try each of the August nature prompts that involve being out in the rain, pay attention to the differences in the rain and how each affects the outcome. What would produce a better rain print, a mizzle or a downpour? What type of rain would produce the best rain symphony?

If you’d like to print a copy of this month’s nature word, click the image above and download it.

Before going, I wanted to note that August is the one year anniversary of sharing monthly nature words. I’m hoping to keep it going for as long as I can. If you ever come across an interesting nature-related word, please do share. I’d love to include your contribution.



Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families- August 2016

Noticing Nature - Monthly Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families: August 2016

August has always been one of my favorite months. I love the deep yellows of Goldenrod and Black-Eyed-Susans punctuating the landscape. I savor the last of the leisurely summer days. And there is something about the hot days and cooling nights that awaken some long forgotten visceral senses.

August is also a great month to play with water. Specifically, rain. If there hasn’t been much rain, or won’t be, where you live, grab a spray bottle and a bucket and read on.

Rain Symphony

Did you know that rain can create a symphony of sounds? The next time there is a good steady rain, put on your rain gear and head outside to listen to all the marvelous sounds playing around you. Look for different surfaces and listen closely to how the sound of rain varies on each one. Maybe you’ll hear a muffled plunk on moss or a loud splat against a rock. How does the rain sound as it plops onto a leaf? Can you make out a melody as drops splash into a puddle?

Create a Rain Print

Are you familiar with Andrew Goldsworthy? He creates amazing pieces of ephemeral land art using leaves, twigs, rocks and the likes. One of his outdoor works is created only with rain and his own body. He calls them “rain shadows” and he has been known to lay in place for hours while immersed in this work.  Mr. Goldsworthy says, “The point is not just to make the shadow, it’s to understand the rain that falls and the relationship with rain and the different rhythms of different rainfalls.” How wonderful is that?!

Your children can follow suit and create their own rain shadows or they can create rain prints using various objects such as rocks, leaves (weighted down), and other items with a fairly flat surface. It is best done during a light rain but do feel free to explore the results from different rains.

Ephemeral Puddle Art

Like land art except on water. Gather some natural, lightweight objects like leaves, twigs, or flower petals. Find a calm, small body of water like a pond or a puddle. Use the objects from nature to create a temporary “picture” on the water’s surface. If the water is shallow and clear, you could also create a design on the bottom using rocks.

Notice how the objects interact with the water. Do they stay in place? Do they let any water seep through? Do they become slightly transparent or deepen in color? What else do you notice?

Noticing Nature - Monthly Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families: August 2016

Make Some Ripples

Children find water fascinating and water play can be a focusing and calming activity for many. But it is so much more than play. Children are observing, investigating, experimenting, theorizing. They are getting hands-on experience with scientific concepts. Encourage them to investigate waves by making some ripples.

The next time you are near still water (like a puddle or pond), take some time to play with ripples. Toss in a pebble and notice the ripple pattern. Would a leaf dropped onto the water’s surface create the same pattern? What kind of ripples would appear if you lightly tapped a straight stick on the water’s surface? What if you dropped two pebbles side by side? What other ripple patterns can you create?

Resources to Inspire

Download and print the August prompts and be prepared to get wet. Have fun!

P.S. Please keep safety in mind at all times during any water play. Also, use water conscientiously. If you are using water from the tap for any of these activities, find a way to put it to good use when the play is through (like watering plants).


Nature Exchange: Deepen your connecting to nature by sharing it

Nature Exchange: Deepen your connection to nature by sharing it

Have you heard of a nature exchange? Simply put, it’s collecting nature from your local environment and sharing it with someone who lives in a different part of the country (or world).

I first learned of the idea a few years ago on the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog and recently heard of it again from a group of lovely ladies that I connected with on Instagram who have banded together to organize an ongoing Nature Pal Exchange program. After seeing photos of amazing collections and reading about the impacts on children and their families, I couldn’t resist joining. I signed us up for the spring 2016 round and I’m so glad I did!

Whether you join an organized group like this or on your own send a nature collection to a family member or friend, I highly recommend giving nature exchange a try whatever your child’s age or level of interest in nature. It’s a terrific way to awaken a child’s enthusiasm for noticing nature and for fostering a deeper connection with your local environment. Plus it’s fun and you can be as creative as you want!

Deepen your connecting to nature by sharing it

For the nature newbies

What you need: Participating in a nature exchange is a wonderful way to introduce children to the practice of noticing nature and to spark their curiosity. There’s no need for planning and you don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of the surrounding nature. When you go out to discover with your young one all you need is mindfulness and the willingness to role model curiosity. Let go of expectations and be fully present with your child.

What to do: Anytime that you are outside with your child, even in your own yard, make a point to stop and notice. Engage your child’s attention. Be playful. Share your observations. Ask “I wonder” questions. Take the opportunity to help your child focus his attention a little more each time you are outside. Nature provides unlimited opportunities for discovery. With time you will see his observational skills improve and his enthusiasm for nature grow.

Extending the experience: Collecting the nature that excites your child is an affirmation of his interest and will keep the spark alive. If you don’t already have a designated area in your home for displaying nature finds, this is the perfect time to create one. While you are collecting nature for your exchange, remember to collect two of each item – one to send and one to keep. Display appropriate items within your child’s reach so that he may explore them at any time. Depending on the child’s age, add magnifying glasses and resources or materials for play to the area.

Resources to inspire:

Nature Exchange: Deepen your connection to nature by sharing it

For young naturalists

For children that have some experience noticing nature and are motivated to do so, participating in a nature exchange can be a way to deepen their understanding. It provides the perfect opportunity for further inquiry, making connections, and forming hypothesis about the interconnections of life.

What you need:  The most important thing you need for your experienced naturalist or older child is a desire to cultivate inquiry.  It’s also helpful to have access to resources like field guides, apps, and books.

What to do: Provide resources and provocations, ask open-ended questions, help your child connect what he already knows, use your child’s questions to sprout more questions.

As your child considers what nature to include in the collection, encourage him to think about how the local wildlife may differ from that found in his pal’s environment. He may consider the difference in climate and how wildlife has adapted accordingly. His interest in geography may be piqued. The experience of participating in a nature exchange will be enhanced by these deeper investigations.

Extending the Experience: Encourage your child to record his observations in his nature journal.  If he doesn’t have one already, capitalize on his enthusiasm and suggest he start keeping one.  Create a “wonder” wall or journal to keep track of questions that your child would like to investigate.  Use your nature area to support his growing interest and inspire further exploration.

Resources to inspire:

Additional benefits

  • Sharing discoveries and interests will help clarify and reinforce your child’s growing knowledge base
  • Preparing the collected nature provides and opportunity for reflection on experiences and learning
  • Personal bonds with nature will be established
  • Exploring surrounding nature helps foster a sense of place
  • Bonding with one’s own environment lays the foundation for future stewards of the environment

If you are interested in giving this activity a try but are feeling intimidated, remember that the act of noticing nature with your child and collecting & packaging specimens to share is alone a valuable experience.  You need not go any further.  Keep it simple and have fun!  Hopefully the experience will be a catalyst for continuing your nature explorations.

An important note: Whether you join the Nature Pal Exchange group or create your own, please be sure to collect responsibly and follow these safety guidelines.