Connecting our Nature Walks to the Classroom
This blog post is the second of a two-part series on how to create a forest classroom experience for your school or program. Read the first blog, “How to Create a Forest Classroom Experience,” for more insight on this project-based activity.
If the environment is the third teacher, there is no better classroom environment than the outdoors. I use our experiences and my notes and pictures as inspiration for our curriculum. Things that we discover in nature inspire whole group conversations, research committees, projects, and provocations.
We infuse our classroom curriculum with our outdoor experiences by
- Having whole group conversations about our nature walks
- Making observational drawings
- Putting a picture on the interactive whiteboard or passing around something we had found to generate theories or wonderings
- Creating representations of what we are researching using paints, clay, wire, or recycled loose parts
- Forming research committees or doing whole group research based on what we discover
- Introducing provocations in the classroom (e.g., placing pictures of what we find on the easel or by the clay table)
One of the first things we studied from our nature walks in the fall was a woolly bear caterpillar who had generated a great deal of excitement. We had a woolly bear caterpillar research committee and learned a great deal about this striking insect—including that it produces a natural antifreeze and hibernates outside during the winter! When it became spring, we kept our eyes out for its transformation into the Isabella tiger moth.
Finding sticks that looked like letters inspired us to make a whole alphabet from sticks.
We discovered elegant stinkhorns on the field as well as right outside our school. After confirming that they were not poisonous, we brought them into the classroom to look at them under the microscope.
Bringing the beautiful changing leaves back into the classroom inspired a variety of theories about where the color came from. A science experiment helped to reveal that the colors are always there.
Our yearlong exploration of trees and forests have also inspired our own forest in the classroom. We use the natural materials we find outside as loose parts for art.
One child created this “Flower Forest” by painting with clay and adding pulverized natural materials.
Meaningful Writing Opportunities
Within the committees, we would begin with observational drawings and labeling. Children used phonetic spelling to write words such as treehouse and fungus. They were excited to write because they were representing their knowledge of topics they had experienced and had a strong interest in.
Daniela Silver is a Pre-K teacher at Murch Elementary in Washington, D.C. She earned a master's degree in early childhood education at American University. She has written about her class's outdoor excursions for the Washington Post.