Nature Study for Young Learners

The NSTA position statement on science learning for elementary students states that learning is best if its hands on, inquiry based, and thematic.  Nature studies are one way to meet these requirements for young learners.

Nature studies can, of course, be formal.  But they don’t have to be.

Right now here in the Midwest, it is Spring.  Its the time for germinating plants, and birds of all sorts.  Bulbs are popping up, trees are leafing out, and worms crawl on the sidewalk after the rain.  I can’t really help myself – my daughter (aged almost 4) is getting quite a bit of exploring time outside whenever the mood strikes.

For instance, today is trash day.  The day that I have to force myself to drag the can and the recycling out to the curb.  Today, no doubt due to the interesting weather, my little shadow followed me.  Shoeless.  I turned around from the curb to see her standing completely still, staring at the ground. “Mama”, she loudly whispered, “there’s a WORM!”

So we counted the worms, and looked for different colored ones.  She ran through the puddles (yes, barefoot).  She jumped and splashed.  We looked for more worms.  And slugs.  And the birds that were singing.  And checked on the plants we potted on Saturday.

Do you notice these things?  It would be possible for me to get in my car (in my garage), pull out, and never notice them.  I could have insisted my daughter go inside, get out of her pajamas and into real clothes, put on shoes and a jacket – but what would we have missed then?  Do you ask your students to notice these things when they are outside?  Maybe they can even see things through the windows of your classroom (my last few classrooms haven’t had windows, and I miss them).

Later today I’m hoping the sun comes out, and we will go out again.  We will see if the worms are still there, and if the plants have changed.  What do you encourage your students to do outside?

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