Forest Lessons: Learning from Nature Activities
Nature Activities Inspire Learning!
"We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist." -Richard Louv
Connect with Children through Outdoor Learning and Nature Activities
I love this time of year, the valleys are verdant, the temperature is just right and the forest is ripe with new life. When Layton was a little boy we spent many spring mornings playing in the woods enjoying a variety of nature activities. We searched for animal tracks, we played listening games, we collected and identified plants and mushrooms and we observed the delicate ecosystems that exist in the creek’s pools.
Those experiences have resulted in a boy who loves and appreciates the forest and it’s treasures. As a big kid he is able to identify several edible plants, he understands the interconnectedness between the forest and humans, he can build a makeshift shelter and he takes great joy in playing in the woods.
As our children’s schedules become more and more busy with structured activities, they are missing out on the many lessons the forest has to teach. Not only is playing outdoors therapeutic, it also provides a vast array of learning opportunities. It’s a science lab, an art emporium, a natural playground where kids learn to cooperate, self govern and have fun. It’s the stuff of childhood, at least it should be.
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Here is a list of 6 nature activities that we play in the woods.
We loved finding our own special spot in the forest, one we would always return to. Layton first marked his space by encircling it with pinecones, later he added rocks and twigs. The natural decor changed seasonally but the spot was always the same. He would often take a sketch pad and doodle or just sit. Sitting with our thoughts is something we rarely have time to do, the sit spot created a great opportunity for Layton to learn the value of just being while observing the world out in nature. It's a good way for children to learn how to be in the moment and practice mindfulness.
You can encourage children to write or draw about their observations by making a DIY nature journal. Have them share what they drew or wrote and talk about what they decided to put in their journal.
Forest Hide and Seek
This is a lesson in how important camfouflage is for wildlife. Find a nice forested or woodsy area. Choose one person to be "it" and have the other players hide while the person who is "it" turns their back so they can't see where people hide. The person who is "it" turns around to see if they can spot any players hiding. If a player is seen they are out of the game. The person who is "it" turns back around and the people hiding change spots. The person who is "it" turns around again to look for the other players. Repeat until one player remains. That player is the winner and "it" for the next round.
Nature Sensory Activities
Natural Face Paint
Find soft rocks in the river/creek beds. You can easily figure out which rocks will work by "drawing" with them on another rock. If they leave a mark they will work for face paint.
If you rub them together while they are wet it will create earth tone paint. You can also use burned wood from trees that have been struck by lightning to create a blackish/gray. We had so much fun doing this and would regularly walk out of the woods completely covered in natural face paint.
Sit with your child and tell him/her to raise a closed fist up in the air. Everytime they hear a distinct sound i.e bird song, will rustling the tree leaves, babbling brook etc… they should raise a finger. The first one to get to 5 wins
Nature Activities about Birds
The Chickadee Game
This game is to teach children about how much energy it takes for birds to forage for food.
To set up the game collect a bunch of natural items. In our area acorns and pinecones are plentiful so the kids collected a pile of acorns. Put the pile of bird food in a central area. Split the children into teams. Each team needs to find a nesting spot, this is their team base. The object of the game is for each team to try to collect the most food. The teams start at their base and try to steal the food from the central pile without being caught. The teams can also steal food from the other "nests". Play for 20-30 minutes and then gather to see which team collected the most food. Was it difficult to collect food? What tactics worked? Can the children imagine how much energy it would take for them to gather enough food for the day?
You can also try another game called Chickadee Chatter to experience more nature studies about birds.
Make a Bird Nest
Challenge the children to make a bird nest using natural materials. Have them collect materials and use mud to construct their nests. When they are done have them share and talk about what worked. You can extend the activity by putting the nest in a tree branch and then knocking it to the ground and see which nests survive the fall.
If you are interested in more nature lessons about birds, check out our comprehensive Bird Unit Study.
More Nature Activities
- A Better Hike with Butter: Explore food science while going on a hike.
- Nature Treasure Hunt Mandala: Make a mandala with natural items. A fun Scavenger Hunt & Visual Processing Activity
- Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt!
- Make beautiful Journey Sticks.
- Lesson Ideas from Outdoor Classroom Day
- Nature Activities & Nature Experiments from Education.com
Our children went to traditional schools but we thought seriously about homeschooling. We found forest schooling particularly interesting. The forest school movement has a philosophy of child-led learning, with a focus on all the senses. This certainly fits with our child rearing philosophies. Whatever schooling you decide is right for your family all of our children benefit from spending time outdoors. Using their senses to explore their environment while they develop independence, confidence and learn nature science and more. Go outside and play!