I have been reading a book that has really opened my eyes on the importance of nature in my boys’ life. Learning Is in Bloom: Cultivating Outdoor Explorations (here) taught me that the comfort, learning, sensitivity for life, sense of wonder, and calming influence that can be gained from teaching our children about nature and encouraging them to play outside is one of the most important things I can do for their childhood.
An easy way to start teaching children about nature is by getting them comfortable in their immediate surroundings and exploring it with them. Children love to collect things and have a wonderful end goal for all the outdoor treasures they find. This easy activity may be the best go to for tiny nature builders or older toddlers.
- Play dough (optional but great for the young ones)
- A bucket
- Nature treasures
- **Newspaper strips, strings, or ribbons are optional
Start off with a fun conversation about birds. Ask them questions like, “Where do birds live? Where do they sleep? What do they like to eat? Where do the baby birds live?” Teach them a little bit about nests and show them a few pictures of different nests. Tell them that birds love to find treasures and take them home just like they do. Birds use them to build beautiful nests that are comfortable for their baby eggs.
Give your kids a bucket and let them go find treasures to build their own bird nests. As they search, you can help them become more interested and notice more detail in nature by using the phrase “I wonder…” “I wonder what will be under that big rock when you pick it up. I wonder why some birds like to use colorful items. I wonder if birds can carry heavy things.” Learning is in Bloom introduced this to me, and it seems to give Boston “thinking power.” Instead of him assuming Mom has all the answers, I feel like it helps him feel in control of the answers. I am not straight out asking him a question that he can easily answer, “I don’t know, tell me.” It is almost like I am turning on his imagination and collection of facts to come together and make the most beautiful and sweet assumptions about his world around him.
After they have collected a bucket full of treasure, you can start nest building. My boys loved the play dough because it gave them a way to stick all the little things they found easily together. However, if you have an older child you could encourage them to wind long pieces of grass and sticks together just like birds do.
As you build nests together, continue to help your children notice the details in the things they have found. “I like to smell the flowers you collected. This blade of grass feels smooth. I wonder why this grass is brown and this grass is green.”
**Some fun extensions would be to make eggs out of the play dough, go inside and find some ribbons and strings to hang on the trees to help the birds have more for their nests, make a BIG nest out of piles of grass or sticks and pretend to be birds yourselves, try to make nests out of different categories (all green, only flowers, only sticks, etc).