Sometimes it’s the simplest of ideas that spark the best learning opportunities for young children. Inspiring children to create their own nature collections is one of those simple ideas that can be revisited throughout the year. On our fall walks I often bring a large under the bed type storage bin and we gather treasures to bring back to our classroom.
For the last decade I have had the pleasure of teaching preschool in Vermont. And if you know anything about Vermont (or New England) one of the most beautiful times of year is autumn. People flock from all over the world to come ‘leaf peeping’ so it’s fun to show children this beautiful display of color that is unfolding right in front of our eyes!
1. Go for “autumn walks” to gather treasures from nature. These first walks of the school year are memorable because the children are just getting to know our outdoor space and beginning to find all the JOY that is waiting for them to discover among the trees. Bringing nature into our classroom is a great way to all nature to take ‘center stage’ of our curriculum and having an ongoing nature collection is wonderful way to offer natural loose parts for children to explore in an open ended way.
2. Invite the children to bring nature materials into our classroom from their own backyards at home. It helps them to have ownership and increasing their sense of belonging to the classroom. In my classroom I no longer do a traditional ‘show and tell’ because it quickly turns into ‘bring and brag’. Instead, I like to suggest that children bring in items they have found in nature and invite them to add to “Nature Collection Table” all year. Children love visiting this part of our classroom and spend lots of time investigating the treasures. They recognize materials that THEY brought back from our walks or that they brought in from home.
3. Take photos of your “Nature Collection Table” as well as pictures of the children gathering materials on your walk. Keep a sort of scrapbook either in the that area or in the classroom library. The children can see the changes in the themselves and the seasonal changes that occur throughout the year. By the end of the school year, compare the fall photos and the spring photos ~ what changes over time have occurred in the children and in outdoor space. This is building in a love of nature and helps children connect to their own journeys in nature.
No outdoor space nearby to walk children to? No worries…below is a sample handout that I print out and send home with my students. I attach it to a small brown paper lunch bag, and give the family about a week or two to return it filled. Again, a simple idea but one that encourages families to put down the cell phone and to head outdoors! Children beam when they bring back their filled bag, and are eager to spread out the treasures and chat about what they found!
No indoor space to have an ongoing “Nature Collection Table”? No worries…consider keeping the collection in a tote that has a lid. Children can request to get it out during free choice time and to add things whenever they find a treasure they want to add to the collection. For mixed aged programs, a nature tote can help make this project more manageable.
Not interested in clean up for an indoor “Nature Collection Table”? No worries…have your collection stay outside. Perhaps incorporate it into a mud kitchen or make a special ‘museum’ for children to add to!
Homework: Fall Nature Collection
Dear Preschool Families.
We would like to give our students some outdoor ‘homework’ this week. We hope this encourages your whole family to go outside in the fresh autumn air to explore nature together.
Please take this bag along with you as explore so you can collect a variety of fall treasures to share with friends at school. Be sure to talk about the changes you see in your backyard and talk about how things look different from the summer. Point out the many colors of leaves, and smell the aromas of fall.
We will explore these treasures during the next few weeks, so please return their filled bag by _______________. We will gather all the materials together to compare and contrast what all the children found. We will use the ‘loose parts’ to build, explore, and play with by doing a variety of activities during the week. (NO MUSHROOMS PLEASE!)
Thanks for participating!