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December 21, 2011

Great nature activities all year long!

Winter is upon us, it’s cold outside, and I’m sure teaching about nature is the last thing on your mind for your weekly curriculum themes in your Pre K – 1st grade classroom. It’s just too cold to go outside and experience nature! That’s something better left for the spring and fall, right?

I’ve worked in preschool, kindergarten and first grade classrooms in Michigan, and nature was never a topic I felt I could cover during the winter months. What can you observe or experience in the winter anyways? Just lots of snow, dormant trees and grass, and no animals, since they are hibernating or have migrated. Plus it’s so cold, gray and gloomy outside. Spending 15 minutes to get 20 children dressed to go outside just doesn’t seem worth it.

It’s been my experience too, that most nature activities are geared toward the fall and spring and seeing the changes during these seasons. So, even IF I could convince myself that we can bear the cold for 15 minutes, what would we do??

Well, I’ve found some easy answers. I’ve been exploring the bookshelves at the USEE office, and acquainted myself with the Project Learning Tree activity guide: Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood. It is NOT a full curriculum, but rather a collection of hands on exploration activities geared to pre k-1st grades. Not only are there spring and fall activities, but they have a grouping of activities geared for the winter! Many of their other activities can easily be preformed any time of year and inside as well. There is no longer a reason to forget about nature when it’s cold outside!

The guide is easy to use and reference. The book is broken into 3 sections and the sections into activities. Each activity is really a grouping of activities focused on a more specific topic. For example, “Evergreens in Winter” is the activity title, however this activity is composed of separate activities to do as a large group or to include in learning centers. The activities range from suggested read alouds, art projects, snack ideas, writing projects, music and movement, math manipulatives, and discovery table ideas etc. They have really covered all aspects of a pre-school/kindergarten classroom.

Visually it’s very easy to find an activity or topic to match your needs without reading the whole book. That’s always a must when I’m looking for a good activity guide.

Many activities are things you may already use in your classroom, like the song “Going on a Bear Hunt.” I know my students love singing this song and doing the movements. However, now thanks to this activity guide, I can amend the song to talk about textures while teaching about the 5 senses.

There are also simple new ideas you might never have thought of. I personally loved the winter art project idea of painting using small spruce branches as paint brushes or drawing with cinnamon sticks. They also include a list of things to observe if you do actually decide to take a winter nature walk. There is actually a lot to more to observe and describe then I thought!

It’s these little add ins and twists on favorite activities that make it so easy to incorporate nature in any part of the curriculum without feeling overwhelmed with trying to fit in new separate activities.

I would really recommend taking the Early Childhood workshop and buying the book and audio CD. It is a great reference to have.

Please visit the Project Learning Tree page or USEE.org for more information.

Click here to see a calendar of the upcoming workshop.

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