Are you worried that your children will be in the next generation of kids that didn’t play outside because their parents were too busy working?
Do you want to show your child how amazing the world is in the hopes that they will learn to respect nature and be part of the solution to preserve it?
Then this activity is perfect for your family!
This is a simple and easy activity that you can do in your own backyard, over and over again. Even the busiest parent has time for this because it requires no preparation, no supplies, and no prior knowledge. The only thing it requires is for you to get outside with your kid, even for as little as 10 minutes at a time.
Developing a Sense of Place
Some research suggests that learning about the natural environment is not enough to create lasting environmental stewardship. We must develop a personal relationship with the land, and only then will we be willing to care for it.
Research also suggests that introducing nature and nature experiences in childhood increases the likelihood that your child will be interested in environmental stewardship as an adult.
But how do we do this?
One way is to let your child find their very own “nature nook” – a special place in nature that is easily accessible for your family and has a variety of different plants within view. This is best accomplished in your own yard, but a nearby park that you can easily walk to would also suffice.
How do we pick a Nature Nook?
It’s important to let your child pick their own nook; however, it’s probably a good idea for you to suggest a few places. The key is to find a place where the child can sit comfortably and be surrounded by a variety of plants. Plant diversity is going to increase the different types of animals your child will see, in turn, helping help them stay engaged in nature.
A great place to start is your garden. Is there a rock or chair where your child could sit and observe? If your child loves to build and you have a little space around your house, let her build a fort. From this fortress they can keep an eye on everything that is happening in the natural world around them.
What do we do in a nature nook?
After you’ve had a few moments to just “be” in nature, start talking with you child about what’s around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Can you identify any of the plants you see? Do you see wildlife? If so, what kinds?
This is a place that you should return to, time and time again. Use it as your go-to spot for viewing nature. The benefit of having a single location, it that your child gets to know a very small ecosystem intimately. You’ll return to your Nature Nook every season, after a heavy rain, after a winter snow, or maybe after a period of drought. See how the plant and animal life changes over time and in different circumstances.
Seasonal and Weather Considerations
This is a great activity for all seasons and weather conditions. In fact, you’ll want to visit your Nature Nook during (or right after) these events. For example, as seasons change, so do the plants and therefore the wildlife. You’ll see some plants flowering in summer and spring, and losing their leaves or dying during fall and winter. Even conifers (evergreens) change through the seasons. You see bright green new growth in the spring and they’ll drop pine cones in the fall.
During seasons of drought, you’ll find that many plants are wilting and their leaves are turning brown. Do you see a lot of insects during this time? Why or why not? After a big rain, you may find earthworms slithering helplessly across sidewalks. Why are they not in the soil? Do you see any other animals coming out after a hard rain? What do the plants look like?
After your child becomes acquainted with their nature nook and is developing familiarity with the plants and animals, they’ll be the ones asking the questions!
Age Appropriate Modifications
If your child is young, you want to focus in on a few plants. Perhaps choose a flowering annual or perennial, a shrub, and a tree. Having only 3 plants and making them all very different allows your child to focus in on what’s happening with each individual plant as seasons change. As you spend time in your Nature Nook, they’ll begin to see that different types of wildlife use the plants in different ways and at different times during the year. They’ll see how the plants change color throughout this year. They’ll begin learning about life cycles. The concepts are simple, but also foundational to having a basic understanding of natural environments.
As your child gets older, expand their Nature Nook to include more plants and have them characterize how they are different. Which trees are conifers and which ones are deciduous? Why? How do they change as the seasons change? Maybe you could set up a game camera to see what types of mammals visit the plants at night and how they use them. The possibilities are endless! Keep the kids engaged by coming up with new mysteries to solve and give them the tools they need to solve them.
Also, as your child gets older, their Nature Nook becomes a place they can visit by themselves. It becomes a personal space where they can go to think, re-center, or relax after a long day.
Nature Nooks as Formal Learning Opportunities
If you prefer to use your child’s Nature Nook as a more formal place for learning, then consider place-based learning techniques. Place-based education is defined by the Center for Place-Based Learning and Community Engagement as an immersive and authentic learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.”
Nature allows you to integrate all educational disciplines. As you talk about the biology of flowers, you can count the number of flowers on the plant or number of each petal on a single flower. You can discuss how Native Americans used the flower in their medicines. You can use the plant as inspiration for an art piece. You’re only limited by your imagination.
Enjoy your Nature Nook!
Thanks for reading,