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: March 2017

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families_ March 2017.jpg

Marcescent Plants

The nature word of the month is “marcescent” so your challenge is to take notice of the marcescent trees in your area.  Add some sketches of the leaves to your nature journal or take photos and display them on your nature shelf.  Don’t forget to add the date, the location you found the tree, and the type of tree (if you don’t know this would make a wonderful investigation activity).

winter shades of green

Shades of Green

Year after year my children and I are amazed at how many shades of green we notice during the winter months, even when there is a thick layer of snow covering the ground.  I shared this colors of fall color wheel as part of the October nature prompts and since it was so popular, I thought I would create one to use for a shades of green nature hunt.  How many can you match?  If you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, going on a green nature hunt is a perfect activity to tie in to the day’s fun.

Download the Shades of Green color wheel, print it on card stock (for durability you could also laminate it or glue cut out wheel to an empty cereal box), and get hunting!

Winter Tree Bud Nature Hunt

Did you know that usually by mid-summer deciduous trees have formed their buds for the following spring?  Winter is a great time to get out and observe the variety of buds as they are easy to spot on the bare branches.  You might be amazed at the variety of shapes, sizes, colors and arrangements.

You can find some helpful resources in the ‘Identifying Winter Trees‘ post but here is some terminology to know before you head out:

Arrangement

Like the branches of a tree, its buds also grow in certain arrangements:

  • opposite –  structures (branches, buds, leaves) grow in pairs from opposite sides of the twig at the same level
  • alternate – structures grow singly from the twig without another leaf directly across the twig
  • whorled – three or more structures grow from the same level on the twig

The scales of a bud, if present, also have unique arrangements:

  • imbricate – multiple scales that overlap each other like shingles
  • valvate – 2 to 3 scales that do not overlap
  • naked – there are no scales covering the leaf bud

Shape

If you’d like to learn the specific names of the various shapes that tree buds, this is an easy to understand resource with drawings and matching photos.

Once you have reviewed this vocabulary, print off the ‘Tree Bud Bingo‘ sheet (we like to laminate ours for repeated use), grab your Bingo marker and see how many different tree buds you can spot.

winter tree bud bingo

You can build on this activity by trying this longer-term tree bud observation.

First Day of Spring Sit Spot

The first day of spring is March 20th and it’s the perfect time to (re)establish the routine of visiting a sit spot.  A sit spot is simply a special place in nature where you are comfortable sitting quietly and observing the nature around you.  It should be a spot you can access easily and regularly and have these qualities.  Right in your own backyard is a good place to start.

Once you and your child have found your special sit spots, spend some time just sitting quietly and observing.  Start with at least 5 minutes and slowly increase the time each visit.  If your child is quite young, sit with her.  Ask questions like: What sounds do you hear?   Do you notice any smells?  What’s the weather like?  Is there any animal activity?  What does the ground feel like?  What do you notice about the plants around you?  With practice, your child will become familiar with making these observations for herself.

Make sure that the sit spot is easily identifiable so that your child can return to the same spot each time.  Try to visit the spot once a month.  This will provide your child the opportunity to observe the changes that occur in nature throughout the seasons.  Through this practice, your child will feel a personal connection to the nature all around, will develop a strong sense of place and will have a sense of wonder that will be carried throughout her life.

Follow on Facebook and at Instagram to see what we notice from our sit spots on the first day of spring.

Download this month’s nature prompts here and print and hang them up where you can easily see them.  We post ours on our home-school morning board and review the prompts regularly.

Have fun noticing nature!

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

NOTICING NATURE 2017: 52 weekly prompts to inspire deeper personal connections with nature

Noticing Nature 2017: 52 weeks of prompts to inspire deeper personal connections with nature

A very happy New Year to you!  I hope that you are entering 2017 with optimism for the possibilities that lay ahead.

While I don’t make New Year resolutions I do feel a renewed energy and a restored clarity after the holidays – a great time to move ahead more mindfully and with stronger intention.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do is share nature experiences with you in a more personal way.  With this in mind I have created a private Facebook group called Noticing Nature 2017.  Every week I will share one word to serve as a prompt for noticing nature as you go about your days.  My hope is that you and your children will find inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year.   My hope is that it will be a supportive community for people on the shared  journey of seeking a greater appreciation for nature and our place in it.  I hope you will join me there.

Noticing Nature 2017

Fondly,
Monique

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 – November 2016

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

Some people say that this time of year can be bleak.  The temperature is dropping.  Many birds have migrated.  Flowers have gone by.  Trees are bare.  The landscape is turning brown.  There doesn’t seem to be anything exciting happening.

Let this month’s nature prompts motivate you to get outside and notice what nature does have to offer.  There is still much beauty to be found if you shift your perspective a little.

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - November 2016

Seeds Uncovered

Bare stalks and branches mean that you are now more able to observe what was once hidden from view.  Take this opportunity to notice the variety of seeds and seed pods in the landscape around you.  You may be surprised at what you notice and once you start, you might not be able to stop.

Investigating Further

Visit an earlier post to learn about seed dispersal.  It includes a printable for an activity and plenty of resources.

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Noticing the Night Sky

It’s getting darker earlier and earlier which means it’s a good time to get out at night with the kids before bedtime.  The sky also appears clearer as the temperatures drop, making the stars seems more brilliant.  Why not bundle up and take advantage of it?

Learn to identify a few constellations.  Go on a full moon walk (the next full moon is on the 14th).  Use an app to find out which stars are really planets (we use Star Chart).

This is also the perfect time to learn more about the moon start a moon journal.  I created one for my kids some time ago that we use over and over.  If you’d like to use it, you can download the cover and observation pages (print as many of these as you think you might need).  Please note the printing directions below:

  • Cover – Print the two sheets back to back on the same sheet
  • Observation pages – Printing is easiest when downloaded and printed from Adobe Reader.  Choose “multiple” with 2 pages per sheet.  Print in portrait on both front and back sides of your paper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Symmetry of Leaves

Before all the leaves have dropped from the trees, take the opportunity to observe their symmetry.  Use this printable to practice bilateral symmetry and then collect some leaf samples from different types of trees to explore further.  Are they all symmetrical?  If not, what makes the two halves different?  Sort the leaves in to symmetrical and non-symmetrical groups to compare and contrast.

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Weather Tracking

The weather can change quite drastically this time of year and there is often a significant difference in temperature from the beginning of the month to the end of it.  Print off this weather log to record the daily weather and temperature throughout the month.  Review the log at the end of the month.  What do you notice?  Are there any patterns?  Did one type of weather occur more frequently than the others?  How much did the temperature change?  What predictions might you make about next month’s weather?

You can get the printable version of the November prompts here.

Pop over to the Green Acorns Facebook page and share your experiences with them throughout the month.  I’ll be sharing ours there too.  If you’d like to follow our other nature experiences, I post regularly on Instagram – like about the Ruffed Grouse that was in our yard or this epic find.

Have fun noticing November nature!

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