How do you bring nature into your classroom? Or how do you bring your classroom to nature? Do you? More and more research shows the benefits of nature to student health and achievement (and yours, too!). Where should you start? Well, we’ve put together a list of things you can do to help connect with nature (and hint hint-they don’t cost any money).
Growing plants in your classroom is an easy way to bring nature into your class (and they are much easier to care for than a class pet). Just one plant can make a difference.
A simple plant will do the trick but if you want to up your game, getting a plant like a Venus flytrap allows students to discover how some plants have special needs. But be prepared to feed it occasionally!
Class plants are a great way to teach responsibility by having plant care become a classroom job. Students can figure out a schedule for watering, learn about the amount of water, determine light needs, learn about the soil needs, and even the temperature of where the plant will be kept. You can have students care for the plants in common areas of the school.
Caring for class plants can easily become a part of teaching about plant needs at all grade levels whether you teach grade 1 in British Columbia, grade 3 in Ontario or grade 4 in Alberta.
Have students grow a bean sprout or nurture a plant through one complete life cycle observing the life stages of the plant and the reproductive structures of the plant. Help them identify the light, temperature, water and growing medium requirements of the plant. Test different conditions to see how plants react.
Using common vegetables is a way to have students look for seeds in their meals. They can bring them to school for planting or plant them on their own at home to share the results.
We have a set of Plant Observation activities you can do with the plants you grow.
Turn the Classroom Inside Out
The schoolyard is a great place to connect with nature. Does your schoolyard have trees? Bushes? Flowers? Even one lonely tree counts! Gather around the tree to read, draw or observe the birds and bugs that call it home.
We all know of the importance of reading. Take the time to go outside and let students read independently or with a partner or even with a small group. Hold a sharing circle. This is a great alternative to having a class discussion and something about the fresh air helps keep the noise at bay.
Integrate math into your adventure outside. How do the shadows of plants differ? What is the percentage of the schoolyard that is covered with trees? How could the space be divided into equal parts? Measure angles between the tree branches and the trunk.
Don’t really have a good space in the schoolyard? Have students plan and propose ways the school and community could bring more nature in. Get planters, buy flowers, plant trees or calculate the costs of this. Check with your local gardening centre for donations. Combine math, writing, oral presentation skills to get students involved in this project.
Observing the trees and shrubs as the seasons change can be used to teach students about the life cycle of plants and adaptations that plants have to survive. Even observing weeds count! Pull some weeds and have students dissect them…why not?
Remember as a child picking a dandelion and blowing the seeds? Check if the weeds spread from seed, from cuttings, from bulbs or by runners. Use this opportunity to talk about how seeds can be distributed in a variety of ways and how seeds are adapted for these different methods of distribution. If you need more information to teach plants, we have a set of Plant Basics available.
Choose a shrub to experiment on. How does sunlight affect the shrub? How does temperature affect the shrub? How do the leaves on the shrub do their thing? Watch the shrub over a few weeks or months. The possibilities are endless. You can find a lesson about the Special Needs of Plants in our store.
Plants are important to humans and to the natural environment. We want students to recognize that plants are used as a source of food or shelter, and that they play an important role in the environment such as preventing erosion, producing oxygen and capturing carbon dioxide.
A unit about plants can be a little more challenging to make interactive as you will need to get plants to transform the unit from a fill in the blank booklet to active science. There are lots of experiments for kids about plants. What kid doesn’t love an experiment (especially instead of a worksheet)? We have an entire unit you can use to get you started, but we warn you-you will need some real plants.
Get students to identify and describe the general purpose of plant roots, stems, leaves and flowers. For example, put a leaf into a plastic baggie and observe over time what happens inside the baggie. Place carnations (or sticks of celery) in jars of different coloured water using food colouring and watch what happens.
You can also teach about plants by exploring different biomes. How do plants adapt to living in the arctic or in the dessert? What is happening to plant communities as our climate changes?
Working on mapping in Social Studies? Have students map out the schoolyard using the skills needed for mapping such as a legend, compass rose or scale.
Health, Physical Education and Art
Drawing in nature is fun and can be a great way to teach an art lesson. There are many simple art lessons that can be done outside. Photograph them to leave nature outside.
Use leaves from different plants to create an art piece.
Gather sticks and use them as paintbrushes to create abstract paintings in the sand or mud.
Using natural items found in the area to create a sculpture or flat ‘collage’.
Have students bring a sketchbook outside and sketch something they see in the natural world.
Students can use what they’ve learned about plants to Design a Plant of their own.
Combine science and art by creating tree bark or leaf rubbings.
We have created lots of different art projects inspired by plants and nature.
Plan a scavenger hunt through the schoolyard with students finding as many natural items as they can. You want to avoid having students collect the items (how many sticks, rocks and leaves do you really want to have to hang on to – or dandelions). You can get a copy of a scavenger hunt already made in our Resource Library or we can email one to you when you sign up for our email list.
Listen to nature. Find a safe place in the schoolyard for students to sit or lay down with their eyes closed. We say safe because you don’t want to do this where other students are running around or there is traffic. Listen to the sounds of nature. What do they hear? What do they NOT hear?
Play outdoor games in the natural setting of your school. Possible games might include: a game on food chains or webs, animal tag, who am I guessing game or I Spy.
Neighbourhood Nature Walk
You would be surprised at how much nature there actually is in the neighbourhood of the school even when located in an urban area. It might be worth driving around the neighbourhood one day after school to scope out potential natural areas for your students to explore.
A variety of plant communities can be found within a local area. Students can explore how differences in plant communities are related to variations in the amount of light, water and other conditions. If you would like to learn more about Plant Communities we have a lesson in our store.
Take the same walk more than once but have students make observations on different things each time. For example, the first time have students watch for flowering plants, the next time have them observe animals, the third time have them observe how nature and human infrastructure work (or don’t) together. There are many possibilities and every time will be like a new adventure.
Students can write about what they experience while walking in the neighbourhood. They could write an expository text about what they saw and the science behind it. They could write a poem using nature words. They could write a simile or metaphor that captures the experience.
Don’t have much nature in your neighbourhood? Have students propose a project to the community to increase access to natural settings. So many skills, across a variety of curricula, would be needed for this project and it would be a real-world application. Let students experience how they can participate in changing their community.
Nature Activities for Winter
Not a winter person? Think you can’t bring nature into the classroom in the winter? Well, it can be much easier to observe birds in the winter without all of the foliage on trees and shrubs. This is the reason that bird counts are often done in winter!
Start with bird identification, which is a great tie-in with science. Have students learn about colour, size, wing shape, beak, flight patterns and sound. Your school librarian might have some great bird books and there are plenty of resources online.
Doing a bird count is a great way to incorporate math as well by graphing the data of the count. You can also do the bird count again in the spring and compare the data.
Walking in the woods in the winter makes it easy see the different layers of the forest.
Create a Community Garden
If you are very ambitious and have a great team, start a community garden at your school. Your local greenhouse or community league might be able to help. The main thing to keep in mind is who will care for the garden when school is out. This is where including your neighbours and community can be very helpful.
Maybe you are lucky enough to have a garden already established in your neighbourhood. Find out how you can participate. Your participation can be as simple as going for a tour of the garden or learning from one of the gardeners.
For decades, children as young as three have been going to kindergarten where trained teachers develop programming. Children spend a large part of their time outdoors in nature. They are often called forest schools however, it doesn’t have to be in a forest.
The learning is centered around experiences in nature and any kind of natural area is used. The children are given the opportunity to play and discover through nature. Nature is used as a learning resource not just a space where kids go to play.According to Danish Forest Kindergarten
Easy Ways to Make Animal Observations
There are many opportunities to observe different animals even in the schoolyard. Birds, squirrels and bugs are probably the easiest to observe. Students can observe physical characteristics of animals easily.
Observing behavioural adaptations, although will take more time, makes students slow down (so they don’t scare off the animal). How do the animals behave? Why do they think they behave a certain way? What is the adaptation? This could even be a starting off point for a research project on animal adaptations.
Listening to nature can have students paying attention to animal sounds, the sound of the wind, the sound of snow crackling in the winter or leaves rustling in the spring or leaves falling in the fall.
Find the Indigenous Connections in Nature
Invite a local Elder or Knowledge Keeper to your class and have them teach students about the connections between Indigenous knowledge and nature. Explore with students the role nature plays in Indigenous ways of knowing. Research traditional plants and how are they used in ceremonies or every day life. Combine this research with the study of geographical regions as part of Social Studies. There are so many possibilities!
Nature-deficit Disorder is a belief that the lack of time people, especially children, spend in nature affects our health. This idea was coined by Richard Louv in 2005 with the publication of his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Louv is quoted as saying: “It’s a problem because kids who don’t get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit.” In the last decade, more research has been done on nature-deficit disorder and the link between the disconnection with nature and behaviour and well-being.
Although this is not recognized as a medical condition think about how you feel when you spend even fifteen minutes in nature. It may feel like one more thing but the benefits of taking your students outside can only be positive.
If you’re looking for more eco-friendly options to bring nature into your classroom, you might want to check out Earth Day Activities as it has many more ideas.
On days we go outside we find students are able to better manage their behaviour, stay on task longer and according to their parents, they sleep better. Sounds like that is the perfect way to grow healthy students!
How do you connect nature with your teaching and student learning? What tips do you have? We’d love to hear your ideas. Leave us a comment below.