In the book The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv (2005) links the lack of nature in the lives of children to being part of a “wired generation.” He says attention disorders, depression (yes, in children), and obesity are all due to a “Nature Deficit.” This is an amazing book and a great resource for teachers. I encourage you to read it and bring more nature into your work with children
Kids love to dig and what’s more exciting than finding a Roly Poly? Supply the kids with shovels, magnifying glasses and bug containers and let them go to work. I purchased all of my supplies at the Dollar Store making it very reasonably priced. You could use recycled food containers and spoons found in your kitchen if you don’t have access to these materials.
Here are some fun facts about roly polies that you may not know:
- They are found in most regions of the world and live in moist dark areas, under rocks, bark, leaves and logs.
- They like to eat decaying plants or other vegetation. (What other creatures eat this type of food? Extend your science activity by setting out a fresh carrot with a rotten carrot and see which one the Pill Bugs will eat.)
- Pill bugs have three body parts, seven pairs of legs, two antennae and two eyes. They are ¼ to ½ of an inch in length and can roll into a ball when frightened. These are great facts to discover with your children. Bring out the magnifying glasses!
- Pill bugs are actually not bugs, they are crustaceans. They are related to shrimp and crayfish, breathe with gills, and need humidity or moisture to survive. You can explore other types of crustaceans with children as well.
- The pill bug goes through two stages of development: egg and adult. The female can lay up to 100 eggs, which are held in a pouch (like a kangaroo). After about two months as an egg, they hatch and emerge as a tiny adult. They grow by molting (shedding their skin) and can live up to three years. Good information to research with children. Try checking out a book about pill bugs.
You can explore habitats of all kinds of animals, bugs, or crustaceans. Try creating a roly poly habitat with children out of found materials. However, you also want to help children respect animals and their natural habitats. So make sure they know you ALWAYS put animals back in their natural habitats at the end of every day.
You may have heard about the idea of loose parts and how wonderful they are for encouraging children’s exploration and play. This handout created by Penn State Extension offers tips for using loose parts, examples of types of loose parts, and outlines some of the benefits of play with loose parts. Chances are you have several loose parts for children to explore already in your home, so get them out and get ready to play!
Looking for a new way to support outdoor play? Chantelle Simmons, owner of Under the Oak Tree, sent these ideas for organizing natural materials and creating a play kitchen outside.
“We placed small metal buckets in plant pot holders on the railing to organize our natural materials. We change what are in the buckets quite often. In the picture, there are different types of stones. We also use them to hold acorns, pinecones, seed pods, as well as a variety of other natural materials. We also re-worked an area making it into a kitchen-like environment. We have more plans to extend this area. We have hung garden hose baskets on the wall to hold watering cans, tools, and kitchen items.”
I recently visited the Botanical Garden near Chicago with my children and also participated in a Nature Workshop, which has left me amazed at the calming and restorative power of being in nature. It is something I know as a parent of two active young boys is of utmost importance as a part of our every day life. And it is something that I think I just know, in my bones, from my childhood. Nature is really powerful for uncluttering the mind. Maybe it is the air, or the activating of the senses, or the feeling of sharing the experience of nature (even if you are alone) with humankind.
It also recently dawned on me that these nature experiences appeal to my senses in an aesthetic way and I feel a sense of inner calm with its beauty. The grounds at the Chicago Botanic Gardens are almost overwhelmingly beautiful and the amount of care put into making them so healthy and vibrant and beautiful is also overwhelming. The workshop was a science and nature workshop, but was equally an aesthetic experience, and placed in the more organic and natural forest setting of the North Park Village Nature Center. It was a day of serenity and beauty that was restorative to my spirit and energy.
This is as true for young children as it is for adults. I love taking children outside and into nature areas. They immediately seem to slow down. They begin to look intently for insects and they make new discoveries. When I can finally convince them to leave they are calmer and more focused at the same time. For some, art can bring about the same experience of calm and focus. By combining the two we can tap into the inner calm of children and provide an escape from the sometimes overbearing, overwhelming, and demanding world around them.
We encourage everyone to get out and experience more nature with children and bring drawing materials. You will be amazed at the change in behavior, mood and focus that comes from experiencing art and nature together.
A container garden can be a great way to garden when space is limited and also a great way to get children started with gardening. Taking part in the process from seed to plate is a great learning opportunity for children, and might even get picky eaters to try something new that they have helped to grow themselves! This resource gives tips for how to create a garden of edibles, from choosing containers to selecting the kinds of edible plants you would like to grow. There are links to many other resources to support this activity.
Celebrate Earth Day by doing something good for the earth with the children in your care. These Town Square resources are some possibilities for using recyclables or taking advantage of nature.
Nature Explore is a collaboration between the Arbor Day Foundations and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. They support the development of outdoor classrooms and nature play for schools, centers, and family child care homes. They also have materials to support outdoor play for families which is appropriate for family child care providers. Check out their free Nature Explore Families’ Club Kit. You can see all the Nature Explore resources for families here.
This space is used for a gathering area for the kids (or a fort/playhouse).
I went to Menards to look for ways to create a natural play house (since I gave away my two plastic little tykes houses). I originally planned to do an arch hut that I saw on Pinterest using a garden arch but when I saw the prices, I just kept walking. I then came up with the idea of using garden trellis, stakes and bamboo fencing. The garden trellis was an accordion type (pictured below), so it can expand to whatever size you want. I already had the rubber pavers, so decided to make it around those and that’s how I determined my size.
Step 1: Hammer the stakes into the ground. (I purchased 4 foot stakes with the rubber coating so they wouldn’t rust). If your sides are long, you would need a stake for each corner and then a stake for each wall for support.
Step 2: Zip tie the accordion fence to the stakes
Step 3: Zip tie bamboo fence on three sides of the structure.
Step 4: Trim off excess bamboo to the height you want the structure to be.
Step 5: Place garden stakes on top to support the bamboo roof. Make sure to measure the width of your structure to know what size stakes to get. I rested them on top of the accordion fence and zip tied them in place.
Step 6: Lay the bamboo fence on top and zip tie it down.
Tip: Measure your space first so you have an idea of how many materials you will need.
Tip: You will need a lot of zip ties to make it sturdy. I purchased natural colored zip tie.
Tip: I did purchase an outdoor rug to place on top of the rubber pavers. This gave them a little bit cozier area and makes it easier to sweep rocks off of.
Going outside is actually very beneficial to your health and the health of children in your care–especially during the winter. So, you should make time to go outside everyday. Check out this article to read about what research says and get some fun ideas for outdoor winter activities.