SCHOOL OF NATURE: 8 Ways to Jumpstart a Great School Year with a Dose of Vitamin N

Tue, 08/30/2016 - 11:15am
Last updated
6 months ago
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Nature Play

A Natural Teacher is anyone who uses the power of nature as an environment for learning — not only about nature, but about any subject.

Professional educators, parents, grandparents, librarians, park rangers, the good folks who operate outdoor programs — can all be Natural Teachers. Here’s a sampling of ways to get going this year, excerpted from “Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life.”

1. Give or assign books for nature inspiration. The books most likely to inspire children to head outdoors aren’t environmental sermons (plenty of time for those later), but about adventure and wonder. Such inspirational titles include Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, Tom Sawyer, The Jungle Book, and The Curious Garden. Read about nature together or encourage 
solo reading outdoors. Emphasize books specific to natural history — especially the natural history of your own backyard, city, and bioregion. Writer Sara St. Antoine, writing for C&NN, offer this all-ages list of recommended books for kids and young people.

2. Spend a half hour outdoors; write an instant nature essay.
 Parents, teachers and other adults can do this as well, but it can be especially effective with young people. A California high school biology teacher asked his students to spend a half hour outside — anywhere that they considered part of the natural world, whether it was an urban park, a yard, or a stream outside of town — and then write about their experiences. Recommended book: Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie.
Move the classroom outside. Learn how just about everything can be taught outside. Recommended book: Moving the Classroom Outdoors by Herb Broda. Create a sensory garden, using natural elements to stimulate the basic senses and other, lesser-known senses, including vestibular, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic senses. See the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide. Learn about school gardening projects at Tap the knowledge of programs such as the Natural Learning Initiative. Check out the Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities initiative, a C&NN partnership with the National League of Cities.

3. Study bird behavior. Learn about bird language. Nature connection educator Jon Young’s book, What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World, explores the ancient discipline of deep bird language, perfected by indigenous people around the world over, and science is finally catching up. Learn and practice bird calls. Recommended regional book series: The Backyard Birdsong Guide, by Donald Kroodsma.

4. Hold a scavenger hunt. You don’t need Pokémon GO to know which way the wind blows. Scavenger hunts require no special materials – not even a smartphone. They’re fun and they can amplify concepts being taught in school. Ask kids to use their senses to find a soft object, something that makes a sound, something that smells good. Gather seeds, plant them later to see what grows. Look for a squirrel nest or insect home (but don’t disturb them). Find ten examples of weathering or camouflage. Scavenger Hunt Guru and the Nature Conservancy offer lists for urban nature hunts. Recommended: Leopold Exploration Cards from the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

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Richard Louv nature play

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