Scientific activities are great ways for kids to build analytical and creative thinking skills, and the great outdoors offers all kinds of opportunities when it comes to children’s science. Making predictions, testing out hypotheses and experimenting with ideas and objects all stimulate natural curiosity, leading children to a better understanding of both the scientific method and the world around them. As spring approaches and warmer weather coaxes you and your children outdoors, put these strategies into action for moving your science lessons outside and using the outdoors.
Exercises in Perception
Exercises in perception are a good way to put kids in the right frame of mind for scientific activities. Outdoor science is all about observation, and stimulating young minds to see things from other perspectives is a great way to start any outdoor exploration. Begin by pointing out any particularly interesting-looking object in nature. Then invite the children to look at it from a different angle. Let them choose their own perspective, but at the same time suggest lying down to look at it, or looking at it from the opposite side. Then discuss whether anyone noticed anything they hadn’t seen before and have them share.
After focusing on sight, move to the other senses to introduce even more perspectives. Have the children close their eyes and listen, smell and imagine. Then have them recount the noises they heard and the scents they smelled, and where they think those things were coming from.
Once you’ve explored a range of different perspectives on the different aspects of nature, try categorizing everything you’ve discussed. This is another opportunity to observe and examine perceptions. Classifying objects is a good way to stimulate this sort of thinking, so ask your kids what is different about the objects and what is the same about them. Have everyone contribute to thinking of different ways to categorize the things you’re observing.
If you’re performing scientific experiments, you can also incorporate classification. When you’re setting up an experiment or discussing the objects you’re observing, encourage your kids to examine things a bit closer and think of different ways to categorize objects.
A good categorizing exercise can help get kids thinking from a scientific perspective, but it can also get them thinking mathematically. Any opportunity to count, combine, match and compare can help create the foundation of understanding for scientific predictions, hypotheses and experiments. Always keep your eyes open for an opportunity to utilize math skills, and incorporate these skills when you’re observing, reflecting and classifying.
Create Art that Reflects Nature
A great way to stimulate the scientific minds of kids once you’re exploring in nature is to encourage their creativity. Have your kids paint or draw what they’ve seen, heard or smelled, as well as what they’ve observed in their experiments. You could also collect materials — such as leaves — to create collages. Creating art that reflects nature is another way to get children to view things from different perspectives, and to draw different conclusions from their various experiments.
Summer Field Journal
Now that you’re successfully counting and categorizing items as well as creating pieces of art, encourage everyone to make these things part of a summer field journal. It can be a place to keep your art, but it is also a great place to keep notes on all of your scientific experiments and exercises in perception.
Create prompts to write about that emphasize reflection and critical thinking, but also let everyone write whatever they please. This will create a more thorough understanding of what’s going on, and build upon the foundation you’ve built with all the rest of your exercises.
Most kids will be pretty quick to spout out what they’ve learned, especially when they have “ah-ha” moments. Make sure you ask questions that foster discussion about what you’ve learned and what remains to be seen. It doesn’t hurt to know what your kids would like to learn.
From observation and exploration to predictions, hypotheses and experiments, the outdoors offers a spectacular place to instill the principles behind scientific thinking in your children. When the weather is warmer and you’re itching to get out, move your science lessons outdoors and have some fun learning, thinking critically and creating.
About the author:
David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Superior Playgrounds in Carrollton, GA. Playland Inc., is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase commercial playground equipment, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities.