Do you have fond memories of making mud pies, hotels for snails and chasing butterflies with nets round the garden? Me too, but today’s children are using their natural environment less and less as a learning and adventure playground. Numerous studies have shown that children play outside less and do not know the name of common flowers or wildlife.

The increase in technology use is usually cited as a reason for this decline and coupled with more after school clubs and activities, we sometimes forget that just being and enjoying what’s around you can be equally satisfying, educational and such fun.

The outdoor classroom

Nature is a fabulous tool for the educational setting but all too often is still just used for indoor activities.  Even when outdoors, children are so busy playing we need to remind them of what’s there. Hearing bird song is a great method for them to listen and use spacial awareness to work out where the bird is, this works for other sounds too – which direction is the sound of the cars coming from, for instance. What do the cloud shapes look like and which way is the wind blowing – so simple, yet so interesting for a child’s imagination.

Nature is perfect for maths and science learning too. Measuring, counting, ordering, sinking, floating, drawing, planting, digging – the list seems endless. With each project - whether collecting and counting leaves or size ordering sticks - there are so many more aspects to talk about with the children. Is it rough or smooth? What is different about this leaf? Do you think the stick will float or sink? What else could we do with these items?

Make it new, exciting and interactive

By encouraging the children to hunt for things and bring in what they find, the learning experience can extend beyond the childcare setting. Creating a level of understanding about helping nature is important. A good way to do this would be something like building a bug hotel together, planting flowers and herbs or creating a compost heap. Observing changes in nature over time is exciting for the children and brings a sense of accomplishment.

Let’s all get back to basic nature!

Recently I joined children doing a barefoot sensory walk at an attraction, which included mud, stones, bark chippings, grass and leaves. The most fun and enjoyment came from the mud (which looked like a puddle of melted chocolate!). Although children often run round the garden barefoot through spring and summer, the mud was a new and exciting experience for them. So, maybe it’s time to take off those shoes and feel the grass between your toes (and maybe even some mud!)

About the author

Lisa Lane launched Sensory Scenes in 2014 with the aim to provide themed bags of fun for play, exploring and learning. With three boys of her own, she is passionate about children being able to manipulate, explore and use their imagination. Sensory Scenes’ themed bags are perfect for individual play, sensory tray play and themed subject planning.

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