Since I posted Getting Outside in Hot Weather, I’ve been enjoying this focus on outdoor play and casual nature study with my little ones. We LOVED “Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors”, which I found at our library! The book has so many gorgeous and inspiring pictures of children having fun outside: climbing tress, hiking, playing in the mud, catching bugs, building natural forts, lying in tall grass. The pictures alone launched my 4 1/2-year-old on a verbal monologue about the grand hiking trip she will do someday. Since then, she and daddy have visited a local forest for her first hike.
Besides pictures, the book has a ton of ideas for neat ways to play outside with nature. We took a jaunt down to our almost-dry pond bed to wade through the mud (I really just watched that part). We’ve caught more bugs, frogs, and spiders than ever before. Most of the activity ideas are really ideal for the 6+ crowd. I plan on holding off on purchasing the book for a few years, for that reason.
Besides enjoying “Nature’s Playground”, I’ve found a few more ways to enjoy the outdoors with my kids. I purchased a spiral bound, blank notebook for our “nature journal.” Last week we visited the botanical gardens armed with a few ink pads and our journal. Aria and Liam both enjoyed stamping various leafs and blossoms to our pages. I wrote the common species name under each print. Now that’s one way I can actually learn plants – just 6 or so at a time. We left with inky hands, as I’m sure you guessed. I plan to add pressed flowers to our book soon, and to let it continue to evolve, adding whatever nature-oriented observations or mediums seem right.
Since my children are young, the idea is not to cram their heads full of information, but to nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about nature. To that effect, we aren’t running around reading lots of children’s non-fiction for our homeschooling “science”. Instead, we have a Waldorf-inspired nature story as my daughter’s focus story every few weeks, we play creatively outside and – hopefully – I share my genuine interest and knowledge about nature in ways that are spontaneous and real.
Trouble is, I’m not all that knowledgeable about nature. In fact, I’m probably more interested in nature study now than I have ever been before. To equip myself, I’ve purchased a series of pocket field guides for familiar trees, wildflowers, insects, butterflies, etc. I discovered a great series published by Audubon that’s geared towards children. That’s just what I need! (I checked out many complete field guides from the library on wildflowers and felt like I was reading a foreign language). On Amazon, many of these guides are available used for pennies, plus shipping. Here’s the National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians, as an example. Every spread has a full, page-sized picture and a simple description with all the key details that you’d actually want to know. My whole family (even dad) has enjoyed paging through these! Just this weekend, we discovered a Red Velvet Ant, Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Northern Tooth Musrhoom and Wolf Spider. Good times!