One of my biggest sources of inspiration for play and learning ideas is the natural environment. There are so many incredible creatures and phenomena to admire and learn about.
We love hiking as a family. Obviously the trails we take with a toddler differ significantly to what my husband and I would take as a couple, but there are still so many opportunities for learning and discussion on well-walked, kid-friendly trails. Even the short path in the reserve near our house offers opportunities to witness different insects, invertebrates, birds, marsupials, reptiles, fish and amphibians!
Ever since my son could walk, he has enjoyed spotting millipedes on the path, or watching skinks bask in the sun, or tadpoles whizzing around the creek, or birds squawking and flying through the trees. Whenever we spot an interesting creature, we stop and talk about what it is and what it might be doing. For example, if we spot a bee collecting nectar from a flower, we talk about that. We talk about it flying back to its hive to make honey with the other bees. We talk about how important bees are, not just because they make honey but because they help other flowers grow. When he is a little older, we will get into more specific details, but at his age (2.5yrs), that level of information is enough to spark wonder and awe!
I have a few rules when we are exploring nature.
- We never touch or pick up critters - no matter how cute or harmless. I’m a big believer in showing respect to critter friends, but also it serves to protect my son from picking up potentially dangerous creatures - such as mouse spiders or funnel webs. We look, say hello and never touch or move a critter from it’s natural habitat.
- Another important rule is that we watch where we put our feet. Certain venomous snake species in Australia (eg. Death adder) like to hide and wait for prey in leaf litter, so it’s very important that we are careful where we tread!
- Finally, we don’t scare our critter friends by making too much noise. Lizards, for instance, are particularly shy, and loud noises scare them away. The same goes for our beautiful native birds.
I like to extend our spontaneous learning experiences with play at home. I am always on the look out for cool resources to add to our collection. For example, figurines, specimens, kid’s reference books, story books, stamps/ tools for sensory play, or recycled materials we can use to make our own resources.
I’ll now share some fantastic pieces we have acquired recently and how we have used them.
- Insect specimens - these amazing, real life resin specimens are very special indeed. They enable you to clearly see the anatomy of each insect in three dimensions. They come with information cards describing the insect’s habitat, behaviour or diet. We used our specimens in a matching game with some insect stamps we already had. We matched cards to specimens and then stamped the corresponding insect stamp into playdough. These specimens would also be fun to view on a light table, to use as part of a treasure hunt or to take out into the garden or a park to find some living examples.
2. Butterfly lifecycle eco cutters. Is there anything more incredible than studying lifecycles!? The butterfly lifecycle is one of my favourites. These eco cutters are made locally from recycled sawdust and plant-based biodegradable plastic filament. They are a great size for little hands. We have used these with playdough to help facilitate discussions about each stage of the lifecycle. They could also be used for baking!
3. Slow Down. This is one very interesting book. Each double page provides details about one natural wonder, creature or experience. First, the detail is presented as a short factual passage. Next, the author provides a short, illustrated narrative on the topic, in a way that captures the attention and excitement of young readers. I absolutely love this book! We’ve used this book to inspire a sensory play activity of making pearls for our shell collection, a DIY lady bird anatomy card and to learn about lifecycles. The possibilities for learning are endless with this book!
How have you been inspired by an experience you had in nature to teach and play with your children? I’d love to know in the comments.