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.
For the last eight years 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 and people flock from all over to come ‘leaf peeping’. Children also love to 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.
I love having the students bring nature materials into our classroom. It helps them to have ownership and increasing their sense of belonging. I do not like to 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 Table all year. Children love visiting this part of our classroom and spend lots of time investigating the treasures we bring back from our walks and the looking at the materials classmates have found on their own journeys in nature.
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 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!
Homework: Fall Nature Collection
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!