Our family hasn’t been blessed with acres of property off in the country for our children to frolic to their hearts content. But a small city lot and many local parks have offered us tremendous opportunities for outdoor learning activities.
To make up for the lack of open natural space in our neighborhood, we go to various local parks at least two to three times per week. We don’t go to the parks for the play equipment but for the exposure to a more natural setting. We are about half-an-hour driving time from Puget Sound so we often frequent parks with direct beach access.
When the tide’s out, the kids explore tidepools, find crabs and enjoy the fresh salt air. Digging in the sand and making castles and roadways is always fun, too!
There’s a “wilderness” park in our town which has access to a river bank, several walking trails through undisturbed woods, and a big open field for frolic and running.
Last year, we started bringing the children’s Nature Notebooks whenever we went to the wilderness park (Nature Notebooks are essentially just artist sketchbooks where the children can draw whatever natural items strike their fancy).
Throughout the Fall, we revisited the wilderness park once each week and kept track of the changes we observed as the season progressed. Everything was green and full of leaves, at first. Then we saw the gradual change of colors, until finally, after an early snow storm, the trees were bare and the ground covered with leaves.
We casually discussed the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees and the kids really saw first-hand what that means. At first, the evergreens were barely visible amongst the heavy foliage. After the Autumn leaves were gone, the evergreens were the only observable green in the woods.
The kids also noticed on their own that the level of the river had gradually gone down over the several months we’d been observing it.
We watched a large group of mushrooms spring up and practically overrun a section of the park’s grass. The kids had great fun sketching the odd-looking mushrooms with their funny little caps. “They’re like little umbrellas, Mom!”
One day, my oldest daughter sat entranced by a Black-Capped Chickadee darting between the branches of an Autumn-clad maple. Although she had her Nature Notebook with her, the busy little bird just wasn’t cooperating and holding still for his portrait.
When we arrived home, my daughter ran to the bookcase and grabbed a bird identification book. After looking up Chickadees, she used the illustration in the book as the model for the sketch she then added to her Nature Notebook. She also drew in a background of various trees we had seen at the park. It was so gratifying to see her natural interest take over and inspire her to record her observations in creative ways.
So whether you live in the country or have a large yard, there are plenty of outdoor learning activities and nature study opportunities all around you.