Nature’s Classroom

experiential learning experiment hypothesize natural nature immersions observe May 29, 2023

When we immerse ourselves in nature, our surroundings become our classroom. Everywhere we turn, there is educational potential. Fine motor skills are used to pick up tiny rock treasures. Gross motor skills are engaged to crawl over fallen trees. Mindfulness plays out from moment to moment, in the still and quiet between bursts of laughter and new discoveries. Sensory exploration occurs as palms press into tree bark, feet step on dead leaves, and bodies soak up sunlight. 

Children display their aptitude for gathering information and constructing knowledge when they engage with nature. Their curiosity leads them to find and follow any number of creatures. They observe these critters intently, and pose questions about them. Where do they live? What do they eat? Children conduct experiments to answer their questions. They will find sticks and leaves and present them to insects as homes or food. This type of exploration can occupy entire afternoons. 

Take advantage of natural learning experiences. Start by taking your students outside and letting them roam as freely as possible. Set up boundaries beforehand with brightly colored ribbons tied to branches or to sticks stuck in the ground. Pay attention to what they gravitate towards, how they explore, and what questions they ask. Take notes as you watch. Later, refer to these notes and decide how to proceed. Would more free exploration benefit them? Would certain tools, like magnifying glasses or binoculars, allow them to take their exploration further? Are they ready to take pencils and notebooks along to draw pictures in? 

Make these outdoors expeditions fun for everyone, including yourself. If your students can be responsible for a magnifying glass, let them each take one. If not, take one and supervise the student who is taking a turn with it. If your students are experienced with science notebooks, let them take theirs along. If not, take one yourself and model using it. 

Follow your own intuition as well as the interests of your students. Sometimes it is best to keep it simple and just follow nature. Other times, bringing the outdoors in can fuel a stagnant classroom. For example, if your students are entranced by ladybugs, you could start a unit on them. Study the life cycle, needs, and variations of ladybugs. List questions that students have and spend time researching and answering them. Create a ladybug habitat with your class. 

Most of all, enjoy time in nature because there is no doubt that everyone will benefit.