Children are fascinated with the natural world and gladly spend hours watching (and trying to play with) the creatures and environments around them – usually when we least have time! By creating opportunities for children to explore insects, plants, and animals around them, we allow them to discover their own hidden interests and abilities.
The ways that we can explore nature includes recognising the similarities and differences between the natural world and other environments. Natural changes include the colour changes of leaves from green to orange to brown, showing the change of seasons, as well as the changing states of matter, like ice to water to steam. Songs and musical games are great ways to remind children of the natural phenomenon that they find.
Kellert (2002) found that despite occasional references by biologists and poets to the wonder that children experience in nature, actually, very little had been studied on the experience of children in nature. Instead, “ecology” referred to the immediate environment, e.g. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) Ecology of Human Development, where ecology referred to the increasing influence of relationships on children.
Kellert suggested that interactions with nature could affect children’s:
- Emotional and feeling capacity
- Thinking patterns and problem-solving skills, and
- Development of values, beliefs and moral perspectives
The extent of the impact that nature had on children depended on whether they learn:
- Directly, though spontaneous physical contact and play
- Indirectly through organised activities, like museums, farms and zoos, or
- Symbolically/vicariously, through pictures, cartoons/films and books
Preparing children for their encounters with nature helps to reinforce their experiences, from singing “rain, rain, go away, come again another day”, through to “Incy Wincy Spider”. Here are a few more ideas for songs about nature.
When the wind blows we
All stick together
This lovely wintry song could be played as simply as walking in a circle for the first three lines and all coming together to the centre of the circle for the last line. Older children may like to stand opposite each other, and have one person walk around the other (do-si-do) for the first line, the other walks around the first for the second line, and then link arms, walking around each other in the last two lines. Light-weight, transparent scarves would be a nice touch!
Over In The Meadow
Over in the meadow in the sand, in the sun
Lived an old mother tiger and her little tiger one
“Roar!”, said the mother, “I roar,” said the one
So they roared and they roared in the sand, in the sun
Over in the meadow, where the stream runs so blue
Lived an elephant mother and her little calves two
“Stomp!” said the mother; “We stomp!” said the two,
So they stomped and they stomped where the stream runs so blue
Over in the meadow in the sky near a tree
Flew an old mother bluebird and her little chicks three
“Fly!” said the mother; “We fly!” said the three
So they flew and were glad in the sky near the tree
Over in the meadow in a hive near a door
Lived an old honeybee and her little bees four
“Buzz!” said the mother; “We buzz!” said the four
So they buzzed and they buzzed in the hive near the door
Over in the meadow in a warren so nice
Lived an old mother rabbit and her little bunnies five
“Hop!” said the mother; “We hop!” said the five
So they hopped and they hopped in their warren so nice
Over in the meadow in a shed near some sticks
Lived an old mother cow and her little calves six
“Moo!” said the mother; “We moo!” said the six
So they moo’d and they moo’d in their shed near the sticks
Over in the meadow, where the grass is so even
Lived an old mother mouse and her little pups seven
“Squeak!” said the mother; “We squeak!” said the seven
So they squeaked and were glad in the grass soft and even
Over in the meadow by the old mossy gate
Lived a brown mother fox and her little cubs eight
“Hunt!” said the mother; “We hunt!” said the eight
So they crept and they hunted near the old mossy gate
Over in the meadow where the quiet pools shine
Lived a green mother frog and her little froggies nine
“Croak!” said the mother; “We croak!” said the nine
So they croaked and they splashed where the quiet pools shine
Over in the meadow in the stream near the bend
Lived an old mother fishy and her school of fishes, ten
“Swim!” said the mother; “We swim!” said the ten
So they swam and they swam in the stream near the bend
This song can be explored with younger children all acting out the actions and voices of the animals. Older children may have the patience to begin with one child and gradually add more children to their number as they act out each animal.
Spontaneous experiences of nature continues to massively decline with each generation. This is because of the increase in population, buildings and infrastructure, as well as changes in family traditions and recreational activities. Kellert found that indirect and vicarious contact did not produce the same experience as direct contact. Forest Schools have come some way in returning children to natural environments, with varying levels of freedom, depending on the school context. Songs about nature not only help to reinforce learning but often stay with people well into adulthood, with fond memories.
- Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Harvard University Press.
- Kellert, S. R. (2002). Experiencing Nature: Affective, Cognitive and Evaluative Development in Children. In Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations (pp. 117–151). MIT Press.
About the author:
Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.
She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.
Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.