Mark Making in the Outdoor Classroom

Are you looking for new ways to add mark making, writing and drawing to your outdoor classroom?! We can bring out paper and pencil and keep things same as usual. Or we can try out a variety of other ideas that might just spark some of our reluctant writers to begin mark making!

  • Cardboard “clipboard” for each child – these are made from recycled cardboard with a binder clip to hold the paper on.
  • Clipboards (regular sized or half sized) – attach pencil with string so it’s easy to manage outdoors.
  • Nature Journal – seasonal/ monthly, easier to manage – Check out a video about my process with tips & tricks in our “Nature Inspired Teacher” Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/april.benzzajko/videos/317045453779607?idorvanity=1843474542616408
  • Fall Nature Journal – https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1jLb5f4DzvsgWr8FaMlhZJban8mlPhk5ppHGNIKhMePI/edit?usp=sharing
  • Wooden leaves (see picture above) or tree cookies – draw on with markers. Somehow this project is more magical outdoors!
  • Small chalkboards
  • Chalk – onto rocks, lumber of raised beds, or sidewalk
  • White boards & markers (better in warmer weather as the markers don’t write well in cold temperatures)
  • Pencils and other writing instruments (have a management plan)
  • Paper
  • Paint pens on rocks or tree cookies
  • Observation sheet for children to use
  • Ten frames (poster board)
  • Tally sheets
  • Graph paper
  • Large easel pads when just a few sheets left so if it gets wet, no big deal

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Pinecone People

“Pinecone People” – Today I made “Pinecone People” with a group of 20 preschoolers out in the forest. I wasn’t sure how the natural materials would stick because everything was wet from two days of rain. I sort of cheated and pre-glue beads to the pinecones so there would be some level of success, even if the other bits were falling off, at least the heads would stay on! I also had some plain pinecones so children could create whatever they wanted.

Pinecones are challenging in that they tend not to stand up on their own and have very little flat area to glue onto. So this led to exploring the following ‘adhesive materials’ and I share some thoughts on how it went.

The next picture shows the art materials I gathered that I thought might be useful to adhere natural materials to the pinecones. I wasn’t sure how these would work but I wanted to have a variety of options to test out. (If I was making these indoors I would have used my trusty low-temp glue gun since it makes things stick even if the surface isn’t flat.) But that’s a challenge of being outdoors is figuring out how to make it work even in damp weather! Listed below are some thoughts on these materials!

Liquitex Acrylic Medium – I read about this in Sally Haughey’s book, “Wonder Art”, and thought I would give it a try. It’s much more expensive than glue but so worth the investment. A little bit goes a long way and it seemed to work well with a wide variety of textures. Obviously the drier the material the easier things seemed to stick, but even with some damp materials it all stuck really well. So I would definitely suggest adding this to your teacher art supply kit. I used a popsicle stick to get a little out at a time and kept it in a little scoop so I could keep track of it.

Glue dots sort of worked especially if stuffed into the pinecone. If the materials were lightweight and dry, they seemed to hold fairly well. Today with the damp though, wet materials did not stick well.

White glue was all but useless since pinecones have very little flat surfaces and take way too long to dry. This was frustrating for some kids and though they can be independent with the glue it really didn’t work well.

Twine & yarn was woven into the pinecone independently as decoration and with adult support the yarn was used to tie the leaves on like a belt or scarf.

Fuzzy sticks (pipe cleaners) ended up being a great tool. Many preschoolers could independently twist them onto the pinecone and have their people holding acorn babies or used to hold on their wings.

Air Dry Clay was not really great to get the materials to stick together but some enjoyed squishing materials into the clay and squishing small bits into the pinecones.

Wool roving wasn’t in my materials bag today but in hindsight I could see the kids enjoying weaving it into the pinecone, creating hair, or making arms with it.

Moss also wasn’t in my materials bag today but would have been fun to add for hair or decorations.

Milkweed Pods all the little pinecones became ‘babies’ and I was wishing I had some little pods to use as cradles!

A related discovery was that using washable markers on wooden beads led to smears and bleeding. I discovered that the wooden beads and colored pencils worked well though the color was light. I was tempted to use a permanent marker but knew that many other aspects of the projects needed adult support.

Have you ever made “Pinecone People”? Any tips or tricks that you discovered?!

Featured

Setting Up a Quiet Space Outdoors

Often we see quiet spaces or calm down spaces indoors in early education programs, but what could it look like if created a similar space outdoors? I believe children benefit from having a similar structure in their learning environments, both indoors and in their outdoor classroom. Here are some tips to get you started!

(Do you have pictures of your outdoor quiet space? I’d love it if you share them so I can add a variety of pictures to this blog post!)

Tips on creating your Outdoor Quiet Space:

  • Establish a space in your program as a “quiet” place and teach that this is a place a child can go when they need to relax, reset, and calm down. 
  • In one program they had designated spots outdoors as “Quiet Zones”. They used rope and triangle cloth flags to indicate these spaces (see picture above). This could be an easy way to create multiple areas and children could even help with the creation of flags so they had some feeling of ownership or belonging to the space.
  • I often establish a bean pole trellis (see picture below) that is easy to create and affordable. I just set up five bamboo poles that are 6 feet tall. Tie the top and create a trench around the base to plant bean seeds. This is a small enough space that creates some privacy and feels cozy. This same structure could be covered with cloth for similar privacy earlier in the season or when the plants have died off.
  • Another affordable space would be to build a simple fort structure. My son built the photo below for an outdoor program in my area. He built a solid main structure and the children added pine branches, other sticks, and leaf debris to create privacy.
  • Maybe the space is mobile ~ What about establishing a special “Quiet Chair” ~ perhaps tucked away in the garden or in an area of the Outdoor Classroom that tends to be less busy. Having a folding chair makes it mobile and could give children the options of moving their space or having multiple spaces.
  • Reinforce that this is a safe and cozy space that helps us feel calm and safe and that children can choose to go to this space to play alone for a while
  • Offer calm down materials, which outdoors might look like a bin that you bring out from storage with a few board books, a non-breakable sensory jar, and various loose parts to explore. 
  • Post a visual of the calm down technique you use in your program. To make this work outdoors, I laminate the visual and post it on the storage bin so it’s protected from the elements. In my preschool classroom I use the Tucker Turtle Technique. (see resources below)
  • Create a durable mini version of books that you use to teach social emotional skills. Lamination can help them last longer and you still may need to replace them yearly. 
  • Introduce the space during outdoor circle time and model how it is used. For our indoor “Tucker Turtle’s House” we only allow one child to be in the space, but I find this harder to manage outdoors. I would decide with your teaching team if it’s an ‘alone space’ or if a pair can be in there together. 
  • I tell a lot of social emotional stories with my turtle puppet. There are many life lessons that we can
  • Reinforce with simple tales of how turtles see things differently. Moving at their own pace, taking time to tuck & breathe, resting when they need to, have calm and confidence to race a speedy Hare, and the list goes on. 
  • Work with small groups to practice using the space and revisit it often so children remember why the quiet space is there. 
  • Reinforce the quiet place when you see them experiencing strong emotions or if a child seems like they need to regroup
  • Reinforce to staff that this space is NOT used as a punishment.
  • What if your group is on the go? Instead of a designated spot for the quiet space, maybe have a piece of cloth or small portion of yoga mat that serves as a spot that children can go to be alone. 
  • Our space indoors is a wooden cube, and using more durable materials I can imagine creating something similar outdoors though I have not yet created that myself. (If you have, I’d love to have additional pictures to add to this post!)
Affordable & easy quiet space ~ bean pole trellis!
Simple fort structure & kids add pine branches or leaf debris

Related Resources:

“The Quiet Chair” ~ tucked away in the garden

Resources for teaching “Tucker Turtle” from the Pyramid Model / Challenging Behavior 

https://challengingbehavior.org/?s=tucker+turtle

Check out Susan Cain’s Ted Talk and Book – “Quiet: The Power of Introverts”

Read more thoughts on my blog post ~ “Private & Quiet Spaces”

Children’s Books to Inspire Collecting & Playing with Natural Materials

Thanks for dropping my April’s Teaching Tree. I am April Zajko, M.Ed. and I am nature-inspired early childhood educator. Through my blog, writing, and professional development offerings I aim toward ‘growing a holistic view of childhood’.

Children need nature now more than ever ~ fresh air, freedom, movement, and play….all important parts of raising happy and healthy children. Please subscribe to my blog by putting your email address in the top right corner!

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Books are perfect way to inspire children and families to collect and play with natural materials. Loose parts are open ended play materials foster children’s creativity and imagination!

No book list is ever complete but here is a start. I’d love to hear about books that you like to read aloud to children to inspire playing with natural loose parts! I have tried to create categories…but near the top of the list is a new book I added this year to my book collection called “Anywhere Artist” and an old favorite “Hannah’s Collection”. 

 

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” ~Simon Nicholson

 

 

 Collections:

Collections by Margaret Ballinger and Rachel Gosset

Hannah’s Collections by Marthe Jocelyn

Look What I Found! By Deborah Schecter (Level A Reader)

Small Treasures by Akimi Gibson

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert (collection of good snowman making things)

When This Box is Full by Patricia Lillie

 

Nature:

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by LeUyen Pham

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco & Steve Jenkins

Discovering Nature’s Alphabet by Krystina Castella and Brian Boyl

No One But You by Douglas Wood

One Little Balsam Fir: A Northwoods Counting Book by Lesley A. DuTemple

Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II

 

Rocks:

A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian

Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans

Stone Soup by Jess Stockham

Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smooth, Rough

On My Beach There are Many Pebbles

Elizabeti’s Doll

Rocks, Fossils, & Arrowheads (Take Along Guides) by Laura Evert

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

 

Sticks, & Bark:

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

Trees, Leaves, & Bark (Take Along Guides) by Diane Burns

Clay:

When Clay Sings by Byrd Baylor

Clay Boy by Mirra Ginsburg

 

Leaves:

Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber

Leaf Man – Lois Ehlert

Leaves by Violet Findley

Leaves on the Trees by Thom Wiley

Leaves! Leaves! Leaves! By M & G. Berger

Look What I Did with a Leaf! By Morteza E. Sohi

Make a Leaf Rubbing by M. Ballinger,Gosset

The Leaves are Falling One by One by Metzger

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by S. Metzger

When the Leaf Blew In by Steve Metzger

Why Do Leaves Change Color? By Betsy Maestro

Acorns & Squirrels

Acorns Everywhere! by Kevin Sherry

Busy Squirrels by Melvin and Gilda Berger

Chipmunk at Hollow Tree Lane by Victoria Sherrow

Earl the Squirrel by Dan Freeman

Just One! by Sam McBratney

Nuts to You! by Lois Ehlert

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith

The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri (board book)

The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose

Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin

 

Pinecones:

Evergreens are Green by Susan Canizares

The Pinecone Walk by Barbara Springfield

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

Shells:

What Lives in a Shell? By Kathleen Weidner Zoehfelf

Seashells, Crabs, and Sea Stars (Take Along Guide) by C.K.Tibbitts

Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes