Noticing Nature – Nature Prompts: June 2017

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families_ June 2017

Each month here at Green Acorns you can find simple prompts to encourage you and your child to find your unique connection with nature.  They could be done while on a hike, right in your backyard, and even amidst the busyness of everyday life.
Taking the time to notice nature builds on your child’s natural curiosity and nurtures a sense of awe and wonder.  It provides unlimited opportunities for further exploration and cultivates an attitude of inquiry.  Personal connections with nature get woven in to one’s sense of place and can lead to stewardship of the natural world.  The list of benefits goes on an on…  And this all can be accomplished in little time with only a little effort.
You’ll find the link to download this month’s prompts at the end of the post.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Listen

The variety of sounds in the environment and how sounds effect the way we experience natural settings often go unnoticed. Take time to slow down and tune in to your sense of hearing.

Find a comfortable sit spot in nature, have a seat and close your eyes. Listen carefully. Notice all the sounds around you. Record at least five in your journal. Don’t forget to include where you were sitting, the time of day, and the weather.

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Smell

Although we are primarily visual creatures, smell is quite a powerful sense for us.  Some scientists estimate that we can detect at least 1 trillion different smells and that our connection to certain scents begins in utero.  Because of our brain anatomy, sense of smell is strongly linked to emotions and memory.  It can also help us navigate the physical environment.

Strengthen your sense of smell by taking some mindful breaks to notice the scents around you.  Whether you stop to smell some flowers, notice the briny scent of low tide while at the beach, or while out for a walk get a sudden whiff of a new scent carried by the breeze, pause and take it in.

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Touch

So much information about the outside world can be learned through our sense of touch, which most children are naturally compelled to do.  We’re putting a fun twist on this prompt and going bareFoot!

There has been much research in recent years about the benefits of letting children go barefoot and there’s even a book about it.  Our goal is to focus on the sense of freedom and the sensory stimulation it provides.  It’s also one more way to feel more closely connected to nature.  So go for it… Free your feet and explore at least three natural surfaces (sand, grass, smooth rocks, puddles, etc). How does it feel? Soft? Prickly? Tickly? Warm? Rough? Record everything you felt and noticed in your nature journal.

P.S. International mud day  is June 29th.  Try stomping in mud puddles barefoot to celebrate.

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Observe & Move

With this prompt, children can imagine taking on the qualities of animals in the natural environment and in doing so, deepen their connection to it.

Spend some time observing a few different animals (bee, frog, squirrel, bird, etc). How do they move? Are they fast or slow? What parts of their body moves when they make a sound? How do they position their bodies at rest? What are they busy doing?

Now use your whole body to move like each animal. Record what you noticed in your journal.

Download a printable version of the prompts here.  Enjoy!

Fondly,
Monique

P.S. If you’d like to join an friendly, supportive group where you will find weekly inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year, join me over at Noticing Nature 2017. And feel free to invite some friends.

NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – December 2016

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - December 2016

December can be an extra busy month and making the time to appreciate nature’s gifts, large or small, can be just what we need to create some space and enjoy some mindful moments connecting with our children.  I hope these nature prompts will help…

Noticing Evergreens

Conifer trees aren’t the only plant that is an evergreen.  There are many shrubs and smaller plants that keep their green leaves throughout the winter.  Wintergreen is a common one here in Maine.  How many different evergreens can you spot this month?

Finding Frost

While snow crystals form in the clouds, frost crystals form on solid surfaces near the ground when it cools past the dew point.  Like snow, frost is made up of tiny ice crystals and comes in a variety of structures.

When the conditions are right, bundle up and go in search of frost.  How many different examples of frost can you find throughout the month?

Seasonal Senses

A change in season is signified by so much more than rising or dropping temperatures or the sights of the transforming nature.  Each season can have its own smells, sounds, tastes, textures and more.   I love how quiet it is during a snow and how the fallen leaves feel extra crunchy underfoot.  My family and I also enjoy noticing the patterns and textures in frost and ice.  How about you?  What special sensations mean winter to you?

As we approach the next solstice, mindfully engage your senses while you are out in nature.  Pay close attention to what you notice.  Give some thought to what you experience.  Perhaps make a list of descriptive words or write a few notes on a calendar to record your observations.

Did you know?

Brain research confirms that combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more connections made within the brain.   The result is a more thorough, meaningful experience that can be recalled more easily and with more detail.

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - December 2016

Practice Stillness

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

– Mother Teresa
What is stillness?  It is basically the act of doing nothing.  It’s quieting your mind and sitting in silence.  It’s making space to connect to your essential self, to God, to nature.  It’s cultivating an inner calm and serenity.  It’s simply being.

 

In our modern, over-scheduled, media-driven world, stillness and silence are more crucial than ever for our  well-being.  Even young children need this.  For most of us, life is noisy and we are constantly processing information.  This causes fatigue, stress and tension.

 

This month, I’m requesting that you and your child follow nature’s example.  Let go of what is not serving you, send your roots deeper so that you may find connection and strength, and be still.  Try it for at least five minutes a day.  Sit in silence.  To get the most benefits, take it outside.  Dress appropriately and sit in silence with nature.

Download and print your nature prompts here.

I am also including another weather tracker this month.  I heard from so many of you that you enjoyed the simple log (found in November’s prompts) and would like to continue the routine.  You can get a December copy here and a blank version for use any time here.

Wishing you and your family a joyous, wonder-filled holiday season!

Fondly,
Monique

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts – July 2016

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

Hello again.  Happy July!  I hope you are enjoying the season so far.  We’re loving the summer weather and enjoying every moment.  You can check out some of what we’ve been getting up to on Instagram.

Some of this month’s prompts are related to a couple of global citizen science events – National Moth Week and World Listening Day.  All of the following prompts are meant to encourage your children to notice the often unnoticed – the variety of sounds in our surroundings, how sounds effect the way we experience our environment, and the variety of life that exists right in our yards.  Whether noticing nature is a part of your everyday life or you seek to get started, these simple nature prompts will provide some fresh inspiration.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Soundscape Inventory

Our experiences in nature are greatly enhanced when we tune in with all of our senses and there is growing research on the health benefits of listening to natural sounds.  But perhaps listening is becoming a dying art.

Kurt Fristrup, a senior scientist at the US National Park Service reports that “There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to.” (ref)

Help your child practice listening skills and deepen experiences in nature by tuning in to the sounds of nature and creating a soundscape inventory.  It’s as simple as finding a comfortable place outside to sit quietly and paying attention to what you hear.  I found that sitting with eyes closed can be very helpful for focusing auditory attention.  This takes only a few minutes and can be done in your yard, during a hike, or while visiting a park.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Who’s There?

The other day I went to the backyard to photograph some feathers (more on that soon!).  I lay down a white poster board and before I could pick up the feathers at least four different little critters had hopped or crawled aboard.  A couple were so tiny that I don’t think I ever would have noticed their existence in the lawn.  You may have experienced something similar if you hang your laundry out to dry.  I have brought in many accidental hitchhikers this way.

Head outside, lay down a white poster board or large piece of paper, and see who shows up.  Notice how many different critters appear and how long they stay.  What if you used a different color paper – say blue or black?  Try it and note any differences.

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

Silent Sharing Nature Walk

This activity is adapted from Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.  Walk silently with your child through an area surrounded by nature.  When one of you notices something of interest, find a non-verbal way to share it with the other. Continue for as long as your child is engaged, staying silent the whole time.  Walking and noticing in silence will promote a sense of calm and allow you and your child to be fully present in the moment.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Meet Some Moths

National Moth Week takes place July 23rd through the 31st and it’s the perfect opportunity to gain a better appreciation for this cousin of butterflies.

I grew up thinking that all moths were brown and nothing but a nuisance at night when trying to get in the door. But since having children and spending time noticing nature with them, I have discovered so much more about them.

For this prompt, you’ll be attracting moths with moth bait.  You can find a recipe and tips here.  The most important thing to keep in mind with the bait is that it should be paste-like and not runny.  Try painting the bait on trees in your yard during the day to observe any diurnal (there’s that nature word of the month!) moths that may want a free snack.  Head out just before it gets dark to see crepuscular moths and again once it’s dark to see the nocturnal variety.

Resources to spark interest:

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Don’t forget to download and the July nature prompts before you go.  Print and hang them up so they’ll be easy to find whenever you need a little inspiration for noticing nature.

Fondly,
Monique

Nature Word of the Month – July 2016: DIURNAL

Nature Word of the Month | July 2016: DIURNAL

Wow!  I just realized that I started sharing our ‘nature word of the month’ almost one year ago.  It was last August that we learned the new-to-us word, crepuscular.  Do you remember what it means?   It’s a word that my children have remembered because they use it quite regularly when referring to animal behavior. If you need a refresher, you may want to review it with your child when you introduce this month’s word.  We’ll be revisiting ‘crepuscular’ in the July nature prompts.

So, we’ve learned the word for being active at dawn or dusk and most children know what  word means being active at night, but what word refers to daytime activity?  This month we are learning ‘diurnal‘.

Introducing the word…
When introducing new words to your child, keep these simple tips in mind.  After defining the word give an example or two.  Spend a few moments together naming animals that are active during the day and brainstorm how that may be of benefit to them.  Do they need more light for improved vision?  Are their prey available during the day?  These books will help provide some inspiration

Reinforcing its meaning…
To help your child become more familiar with this new vocabulary word, use it as often as you can.  Set up a simple activity such as sorting animal figurines into baskets  with diurnal and nocturnal labels (or night and day pictures paired with labels for the pre-reader child).  Create a poster on which you could paste a picture on to the appropriate section.  Designate a page or two in your nature journal to keep a record of your diurnal and nocturnal related observations.

We’ll be playing with this word again as part of the July nature prompts.  Be sure to keep a lookout for them!

Fondly,
Monique

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Fondly,
Monique

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

—Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

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:

Fondly,
Monique

Nature by the Numbers – Nature Journal Prompts: December 2015

Nature by the Numbers - Nature Journal Prompts for Children and Their Families: December 2015

My children love being outdoors and even on days when they feel like they would rather stay inside, all it takes is a gentle nudge out the door and then I usually have a hard time getting them to come back in.

They also have enjoyed nature journaling since they were wee ones.  After I had spent time marveling with them over something that had caught their attention, I made the simple suggestions that we might draw it so that we can always remember it.  That was all it took.  After that they wanted to bring their journals whenever we went on a nature outing or visited the botanical gardens.  Although they still enjoy it, it does not happen as often as it use to and some months only with some gentle suggesting on my part.

I never want nature journaling to feel like a chore to them.  It should be something that they are motivated to do on their own and for their own reasons.  But we all need some encouragement from time to time.  Even for things that bring us joy or help us relax or that fill us up in the best ways.  Right?

December Nature Prompts

That what our monthly nature journal prompts are meant to be – gentle suggestions to get us out the door and noticing the nature that surrounds us everyday.  No pressure.  No right or wrong.  No deadlines.  And for this month, no numbers.  December can be a hectic month and making the time to appreciate nature’s gifts, large or small, can be refreshing in so many ways.  I hope these suggestions will help…

Nature Prompts - December 2015

I wish you all a holiday season full of love and laughter and a child-like sense of wonder!

Fondly,
Monique & family