Noticing Nature – Nature Prompts for April 2016

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts: April 2016

April’s prompts to encourage you and your child to get out and notice nature have arrived!  There are only four – perfect for setting a goal of doing one each week.  Life happens and things get delayed (like this post) but we can all make room for one simple activity each week, right?

Take a sensory inventory

This prompt is about slowing down, being fully present in the moment, being mindful of our surroundings, and heightening our senses.  When you begin, sit quietly for a few moments and make note of what you observe.  Then try tuning in to one sense at a time.  Do you notice anything that you hadn’t at first?

Go on a texture walk

My children were especially tuned in to the variety of textures that surrounded us on a recent visited to a local nature preserve.  I don’t know what sparked it but they wanted to touch everything.  My son noticed rough patches on a tree’s bark and had to feel the difference of the textures.  My youngest daughter saw a rock that looked shinier on one half and called me over to feel it with her.  And I can’t even tell you how many patches of moss we felt.

So much information about the outside world can be learned through our sense of touch, which most children are naturally compelled to do.  But what about you?  When was the last time you touched something in nature out of pure curiosity?  Wonder and feel along side your child .  Model using words that describe textures.

Be a nature camera

This is an activity from Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children II called the camera game.  It is meant to help focus one’s attention and notice details.  Allow only a few seconds for the “camera” to take a photo.  You may ask questions to help him recall what he noticed.  Feel free to allow a longer time if your child needs it.

Make a nature pal

This one is a creative and playful way to interact with nature.  It encourages imagination and self expression all while exploring the characteristics of natural objects.

If you’d like some ideas, check out my ‘Crafts From Nature’ Pinterest board.

Noticing Nature: Nature prompts for children and their families - April 2016Download and print the prompts here.

Before you go…  Two things occurred to me while I was working on the prompts for this month.  The first was that I would like to do a recap each month of how we got along with the prompts.  I will share photos, our experiences from both my children’s perspectives and mine, and how we document it all.

The second was that I’d love to share your photos and experiences too.  I’m always curious about how others connect with nature and find such inspiration in sharing.  I am considering creating a private Facebook group.  What do you think?  Would you like to be a part of a group that shares nature connections, questions, observations, resources, and love?  Take a moment and let me know in the comments.  Thanks!

Wishing you a wonder-filled week!


Nature Word of the Month – April 2016

Nature Word of the Month - April 2016

Spring, how ever slow its crawl, is finally making an appearance!  This month we move from looking for ‘primaveral’ signs to ‘vernal‘ occurrences.

Download your copy here and print off the recording sheet to keep track of all your vernal observations for the month and be sure to check out the April nature prompts (coming very soon) for some special vernal nature fun.

Vernal observations recording sheet

Tip: When introducing this month’s nature word, compare it to last month’s and ask your child if she notices any similarities (both words contain the root ‘ver‘, Latin for ‘spring’).

Have a wonder-filled weekend!


Nature Maps: 2 Projects for Curious Young Naturalists

NATURE MAPS - 2 Projects for Curious Young Naturalists

Map skills and nature study are two things that I really like to incorporate regularly in our home-educating activities so when I saw the following projects in the book Map Art Lab, I was very excited to be able to combine them.

Why is it so important for children to develop map skills?

  • 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 and builds spatial awareness, visual literacy and critical thinking.

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 projects…

Mother Nature Maps

If your child is unfamiliar with maps, it would be helpful to briefly discuss the different types of maps and look at some examples.  The Library of Congress has a diverse online map collection.  Then grab your camera or sketching supplies and head outside.

Take a close look at the nature around you.  Look on trees, rocks, leaves, shells.  Take notice of the patterns.  Perhaps the cracks in a large rock look like streets.  Beetle larvae tracks beneath the bark of a tree might look like a map of a branching river.  Maybe the colors in a tide pool remind you of a thematic map you’ve seen before.  There are no limits.  Be open-minded and welcome creativity.

My seven year old enjoyed taking photos of whatever struck her fancy.  I admired her ability to see without judgement.  There was no “right” or “wrong”.  Sometimes my kids took pictures of things not because it reminded them of a map in the moment but because it might look like a map when we viewed the photo of it.  And they were right.

It’s fun to put them together into a collage or hang the photo next to a similar-looking map.  Here’s just a few of our “Mother Nature maps”:

Mother Nature maps

The pattern in this ice reminded us of contour lines on a topographical map

Mother Nature Maps

We thought this looked like a terrain map

Mother Nature Maps

Either a big city or plots of farmland with a main thoroughfare

Maps Personified

In the book, this project is called “Personify a Place”.  For centuries maps have been made into the shapes of people and animals to portray abstract ideas, attributes, emotions or concepts.  Often times it was satirical.

I think this is a wonderfully creative way for children to communicate their knowledge of something.  The instructions in the book suggest mapping a familiar person but of course, I chose to make it something from nature.  It also provides a fun opportunity to work in some geography and map terms.

Here’s how to do it (this activity is best for children ages 9 and older):

  1. Think of a favorite thing from the natural world like a shell, a bird, a tree, etc.
  2. Make a list of distinctive features and characteristics.
  3. Using a photo or drawing as a guide if you like, either draw an outline of the object or trace the outline from the photo/drawing.  Make sure it is large enough to easily add details and labels.
  4. Add some physical features (rivers, mountains, forests, deserts) and label them by combining geography & map terms with the characteristics they represent.
  5. Give it some color.

My ten year old LOVES birds and so that is what he chose.  Here is his personified bird map…

Nature personified map

My seven year old was not in to this activity but did help me create one of our cat.  It’s not finished but it gives you a look at how we began our personified maps.  Some lines will get erased as we add the various features.
 Maps Personified
As your child chooses an object to create a personified map from, keep this quote from Lucy Sprague Mitchell in mind – “It’s important to have children begin map-making the way they begin drawing; maps and drawings are representations of things that are emotionally important to children…children’s maps represent their experiences of beauty, secrecy, adventure, and comfort”
I hope you and your children enjoy these activities.  I’d love to see the results!
Have a wonder-filled weekend!

Noticing Nature Prompts – March 2016

Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts - March 2016

Hello!  I hope you enjoyed the weekend.  Were you able to get outside?  My family and I wandered through some trails to a pond that adjoins our neighborhood and we were out for nearly three hours.  And my kids didn’t want to go home.  It was a great way to start the day and set the tone for the week ahead.

We try to get outside every day, even if it’s only for a short walk around the neighborhood.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder to explore a little more.  Our outing started with one of us saying, “We haven’t been to the pond in a while.  I wonder what it’s like there right now”.  Even an everyday neighborhood walk can be a bit more intriguing with some prompts to consider.  I hope these will get you on your way…

Nature prompts for children and their families - March 2016

Signs of the Season

We are approaching spring and we have been noticing some early signs (Did you catch our nature words of the month?  This is a great opportunity to use one of them if it’s the spring equinox that’s approaching.)  It’s a tiny bit lighter out when we wake up (yay!) and we have noticed the male goldfinches just beginning to get their brighter mating plumage.  What have you been noticing?  Different sounds, smells?  Don’t forget to engage all of your senses when observing seasonal changes.

Nature prompts for children and their families - March 2016

Noticing Patterns

Patterns in nature is defined as “visible regularities of form found in the natural world” and can include symmetries, spirals, meanders, waves, tessellations, cracks and stripes.  They can be found everywhere, high or low, big or small.  Keep your eye out for some that interest you and peak your curiosity.

Nature prompts for children and their families - March 2016

Making Connections

“This makes me think of…”  is a great phrase to keep in mind when making observations in nature.  My daughter peered inside a dead tree riddled with woodpecker holes and said that inside one of them reminded her of a rustic cabin we stayed in recently.  Hmm.  Could some animal have used this has a home?  What kind of animal might shelter in there?  The connection led to these and other wonderful questions.  Maybe a connection will be made to some prior knowledge.  Maybe some similarities will be made to another object.  Even if it seems a little silly, state what it reminds you of.  You never know where it might lead.

This month’s nature prompts can certainly be used as a one time activity but would be best revisited throughout the month.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem to come easily at first.  Curiosity and observation are skills that can be developed through practice.  Keep getting outside and keep making and effort to notice.  And remember, you are a powerful role model for your children!


“I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see.”

—Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

Nature Word of the Month – March 2016

During March we officially move from winter to spring so I thought it would be appropriate to share two seasonal words…

Nature Word of the Month - March 2016: APRICITYT

The first is apricity which refers to the sensation of feeling the warmth of the sun on a cold winter day.  My children and I experienced this just yesterday.  It was a chilly and breezy day and as we walked across an open courtyard we turned our faces to the sun for a moment to soak up its warmth.  Can you remember a time that you experienced apricity?

Nature Word of the Month - March 2016: PRIMAVERAL

While vernal refers to anything relating to or occurring in the spring, primaveral can be used to refer to anything that occurs in early spring.  The spring equinox is coming right up on March 20th and so many people across the country are all ready seeing early signs.  We have been noticing the goldfinches’ feathers displaying more yellow color, a primaveral sign of the males developing their breeding plumage.  What primaveral changes have you been noticing?

Click here to download a copy of this month’s nature words.

Note: Do not be concerned about using “sophisticated” vocabulary with young children.   When you model new words and  practice them in regular and meaningful ways, you are helping your child develop crucial life-long skills.

Simple Tools for Looking Closely

Simple Tools for Looking Closely at Nature - Green Acorns

My children and I have joined Dawn’s Mud Puddles Nature Lab and one of the recent prompts was to “look closely”.  My children and I love taking a close look at nature, whether it’s through a camera or some other tool.  We have noticed so many details that we would not have noticed otherwise.  This leads to more questions and making connections with the world at large.  This is such an important way to observe nature.  Changing the scale and focusing your attention can open up a whole new world of discoveries!

So I wanted to quickly share a couple of our favorite tools (in addition to a camera and magnifying lens) for taking a close look: Hand magnifiers and loupes.



Both of these tools are inexpensive and perfect for focusing attention.  Right now we only have one but I will be ordering more so each of my kids can have their own.

What are you favorite tools for taking a closer look?  Share in the comments…




The Key to Conifers – Learning to Identify The Evergreens

The Key to Conifers - Identifying Members of the Pine Family

It all started with one of our read-aloud books about a boy who leaves home to live in nature and makes a shelter in a hemlock tree.  The more we read, the more we began to wonder about this type of tree.  What does it look like?  How big do they grow?  Where do they grow?  So began our investigation of conifer trees (don’t you love it when something sparks curiosity like that?!).

Much to my embarrassment, I soon realized that we have hemlocks right in our neighborhood.  How could I not know that?  I have always appreciated their swooping branches and mini cones.  My children felt too that they wanted to become more familiar with the trees that surround us so we set off on a mission to identify the conifers of our neighborhood.  We found that once you learn just a few characteristics, it becomes easy to distinguish pines, spruces, and fir trees.

The Key to Conifers - Learning to Identify the Evergreens

Over at Playful Learning, I’ve shared some resources and tricks to help you easily distinguish between the different trees in the pine family.  Download the flashcards to use as an easy guide for identifying pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock trees.  Laminate them and they’ll be ready to travel with you on your outings.

Especially for you here at Green Acorns, I’ve created a guide that includes more in-depth information about conifers and the the various trees in the pine family.  It also includes journal pages and “curious naturalist” questions.  I hope it will prove to be a useful tool for you and your child when exploring the conifer trees of your area (note: it provides general characteristics as a general guide, not a comprehensive field guide).

Download the guide

You may also find inspiration for further investigation in these posts: