NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – October 2017

Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families - October 2017

“There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.”
–  Nathaniel Hawthorne

This quote expresses how I feel about fall and this month in particular. It lays between the blur of September – full of transitions – and the delightful, although busy, holiday season. It is quieter, cozier, slower and full of colorful fall beauty. I hope the prompts for this month help you slow down and notice some of the splendor of the season.

Track the changing temperature

The temperature can shift quite drastically this month. From day to day and even hour to hour. Today in Maine the temperature reached near 70°F in the afternoon and is supposed to dip to the low 40s tonight. That’s a big change! Use our weather log to track the temperature and weather throughout the month and see what a difference a day can make.

Life of a log

Even after it’s life, trees continue to be a crucial element in the ecosystem. They help lessen erosion and provide shelter, food and nutrients. Examine a fallen log and you’ll see that it’s full of life. Search for signs of animal activity and fungal growth. What did you observe? Why do you think they were in, under or around the log? What role do these things play in the cycle of life?

*Note: While observing fallen logs, please be very gentle and careful. This is a living habitat.

These are some of our favorite books to accompany the exploration of fallen logs…

Go on a 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.

bark scavenger hunt

You can take this activity further by adding some sensory elements.

  • Ask 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.
  • Try smelling the bark. Go ahead, don’t be shy. The bark of some trees have very distinct odors. Sandalwood, red cedar, yellow birch and ponderosa pines are some.

Notice the night sky

This month is the perfect time to get outside after dark and observe the night sky. It’s getting dark before bedtime, still warm enough to not have to bundle up too much, and the skies tend to be clear.

While time spent together simply gazing at the night sky is a wonderful thing, you can make it engaging and educational by doing a little prep work. I like this short video for generating some ideas: Stargazing with Kids.noticing the night sky

Here are some other resources you may want to have at the ready…

Happy October. Have fun exploring and noticing nature!

Fondly,
Monique

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Noticing Nature prompts – September 2017

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families: September 2017

Are you feeling adjusted to the back-to-school routine yet? This is our second week and we have been slowly finding our way. We are settling in to a new routine and working out our homeschooling schedule. For us, nature time is a priority and like any other priority, it has become a part of our daily and weekly rhythms – from our walks after lunch or dinner to unstructured playtime outside to nature studies and nature journaling. Including it on our written schedule is a visual reminder that it is just as important as anything else we do to feed our bodies, minds, and spirits. After awhile it becomes a habit and a natural part of what we do, who we are. Even so, it still holds its place of honor on our schedule.

That’s partly why I write out monthly nature prompts. They can be printed out and serve as a reminder that taking time to intentionally notice nature is important. And sometimes we all need a spark of motivation – some fresh ideas to enliven a sense of curiosity, to incorporate more nature in your life and to find a greater appreciation of the natural world. I hope these will help you and your children do just that.

Noticing Nature prompts - September 2017

The prompts for this month were inspired by The Wander Society by Keri Smith (of Wreck This Journal fame). I have been enjoying revisiting this book since a member of Noticing Nature 2017 mentioned it a few weeks ago (that particular week’s prompt was “wander”). “Wandering is not about a specific place or destination, getting from one place to another, or movement as a means to an end. Instead, it’s about letting the soul and mind roam… It involves a complete immersion in the current situation, a willingness to be open to whatever comes up, whatever you find in front of you at the moment. It is to exist in a state of naivete in the truest sense of the word, making no assumptions about what it is you are looking at”. Sounds wonderful, right?. I also highly recommend that you check out her book How to be an Explorer of the World

Now on to the prompts…

Tracking Color

Choose a different color for either each week this month or for different outings you take and notice all the different things in nature of that color. Record what you observe to help you remember. I highly encourage you to take photos if possible. The photos can be added to your nature journal or used create a collage to display (a wonderful way to revisit the experience and share with others). It may also serve as inspiration for an art project (like mixing paint to match the different hues) or a  creative writing session.

Tracking Sound

There are two ways you could do this one…

The first is to simply take notice of all the sounds you hear while you’re out for a walk. Be mindful about tuning into your sense of hearing. If you’d like to take the activity up a notch, bring a notepad and pencil to record them during your walk. Do your best to record where precisely you are when you notice each sound (standing under the oak tree that’s two houses down, the corner of Main and Elm, etc).

The second option is to choose one sound in nature to track (the wind, water, bird calls, etc.). Listen for it during several different outings. Notice the similarities and differences of each instance.

Noticing Nature - July 2016: Nature prompts for children and their families.

Tracking Transformation

Choose one thing in nature (a tree, daily temperature, bird or bee activity, etc.) that you can observe or visit easily and regularly. Track the changes it goes through during the month. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce the use of charts (like this one for tracking weather), graphs and other recording tools.

Tracking Observations

Choose a route that you can walk several times throughout the month (your daily walk to the bus stop, a walk around your neighborhood, etc.). Begin each walk with the intention of noticing something different in nature from the time before. Be sure to walk the same exact route each time.

Before you go, download the prompts so you can print them and pin them up where they will remind you to get out and notice nature.

“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”

– Thomas Berry

Fondly,
Monique

NOTICING NATURE : Nature prompts for January 2017

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families: January 2017 via Green Acorns

It can be a challenge to get out and notice nature during the colder months.  Frigid temperatures may zap motivation to get outside.  A decrease in plant life and animal activity may make it seem like there’s not much exciting going on.  Even so, getting fresh air and a dose of “Vitamin N” is important for our health.  Once you accomplish the hardest part of getting out the door, engage your senses and practice your skills of observation for “Learning to value even the most commonplace activities – and finding the teachable moments in each of them – has the potential to make the ordinary quite extraordinary” (Daniel Siegal, MD: 10 Mindful Minutes)

I hope the following prompts provides some inspiration…

Winter Buds

In late summer deciduous trees produce buds that will open the following spring.  Winter is the perfect time to take a closer look at some.  You might be amazed at the variety.  With a little practice you will be able to identify a leafless tree in winter by just its buds.

See more of our winter tree study and a list of resources here.

Winter Tracks

Winter can be a fun time to notice animal tracks.  When there’s snow on the ground, you may notice tracks that you wouldn’t otherwise.  We would never know about the opossums visiting our yard if we hadn’t seen it’s curious tracks in the snow.

If you would like to identify who made the tracks, this article has some good tips.

Resources to Inspire

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Winter Birds

As a fun family activity, try making your own bird feeders.  Peanut butter pine cone feeders and bird seed cookies are good choices for young ones to make for feathered friends.  Another  wonderful option is decorating a tree outside with feeders and edible garland.  Check out Rebecca’s post about her family’s After-Christmas tree tradition for ideas.

If you do choose to feed local birds, make a commitment to feed them all winter.  Birds need the extra calories and nutrients during this time of year when finding food can be difficult and they may come to rely on the food source you offer.

Winter Dwellings

Did you know that there are animals living in the snow during the winter?  There are hidden habitats in what’s called the subnivean zone.  You may have walked right over some without realizing it.

Why not take a cue from these snow-dwelling animals and build  your own winter fort.  Perhaps an igloo or a quinzee.  If there’s no snow, maybe a lean-to covered with branches and dead leaves.  My kids like to create habitats in the snow for some of their toy animals too.  It’s a great winter activity that utilizes creativity and problem-solving skills.

Resources to Inspire

Download and print your copy of the January prompts here.   Pin it up where you can easily see it for when you and your children need a little extra nudge to get outside and notice nature.

Have a wonder-filled week!

Fondly,
Monique

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.

Fondly,
Monique

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.