With children stuck indoors more than ever before, getting outside, when it is safe to do so, is more important than ever. After a few days inside adjusting to an entirely new routine, most parents are probably well aware of just how much extra energy their children have. Fresh air and sunshine are essential to helping lift our children’s spirits and keep them healthy, both mentally and physically, during this time. In addition to physical activity; running, biking, and playing outside, this is an ideal time to tap into your child’s natural curiosity to explore and identify the abundance of nature that surrounds them.
Explore nature in your own backyard or neighborhood and create a Nature Science Journal. The simple act of taking a walk and observing the natural life that is all around us is a perfect way to actively incorporate science into your child’s daily schedule. We live in the midst of our unique surroundings every day but we don’t always have the time to truly examine and appreciate all of the amazing facets of nature that live here alongside us. Now is a perfect time to discover what kinds of plants, trees, and animals are living in your neighborhood with you. You can do this as an unplugged activity or with the help of an app like iNaturalist’s Seek app.
Have your child create their own journal to identify the kinds of plants, trees, insects, animals, and birds they see around them. Think of it as a nature scrapbook, where they can name the plant or animal, describe its characteristics, and draw pictures of what they see. Prepare your observation gear. Bring your magnifying glass and binoculars if you have some, or make your own binoculars out of some recycled toilet paper rolls. Bring a notepad to record your notes and a bag to collect natural samples like leaves, feathers, flowers, acorns, or small pieces of bark. Collected leaves can be taped into the book or used to trace or create leaf rubbings. Dip acorns, stems, or other findings in paint to make colorful stamp prints in the journal.
Many times adults and children may not know what type of plant they are looking at or animal sound they are hearing, so research will be an essential part of this experience. Take a photo of the tree or plant and look it up. Record the sounds of birds and animals you hear. The iNaturalist app (and website) can help you identify your findings. It is one of the most popular nature apps in the world featuring a community of over 750,000 scientists and naturalists. When you share your photos and observations you will be contributing to help create data for real scientists to help them with their work. Additionally there are great apps that are more focused, such as Plantsnap and Leafsnap that can help us to identify and learn more about plants, bird watching and insect field guides and apps, and even apps that can help you identify bird songs.
If you are using the iNaturalist SEEK app, you can take a photo of what you see and upload it to the app to help you identify it and also see what others in your community have spotted in their observational walkabouts. Children can also earn badges which is a great way to inspire them to continue their natural science exploration and inspire a generation of future Botanists, Entomologists, and Animal Scientists.
Record Your Findings
Ask some questions and have your child record their answers in their journal. Is the plant native to your area? If not, where is it from? Does it need a lot of water? Does it produce flowers? Is the tree deciduous? In studying insects, animals and birds; what do they eat? What is their habitat? Do they come out in the day or only at night? Bird watching books or apps are a great way to learn all about birds, their migratory patterns, and the different sounds that they make with their bird calls. For your child’s journal, have them try to describe the different bird or animal sounds that they hear. What is the pattern of their call? Is it a high or low pitch? What do they think the animal or bird is trying to communicate?
Additional Projects to complement your child’s Science Journal Project:
Create a chart and identify the parts of a plant
Create and color a life cycle of the plant chart
Create a list of nature related vocabulary words
Learn about different animal habitats and what kind of habitat your neighborhood is for the animals that live there
Choose a neighborhood animal and build a habitat for them, include a shelter that will withstand the elements and keep them safe
Create a chart of all of the animals, insects, plants, trees, and birds you discovered
Create a landscape drawing or painting that incorporates several of the native plants and animals that you have observed
Nature is full of wonder and beauty. For our children, the natural world is brimming with learning possibilities. Just the simple act of slowing down and paying attention can help contribute to an overall sense of well being and contentment. During this time of additional stress, it is the perfect time to go outside (observing the 6 foot distancing rule), behold, and explore the natural world in our own neighborhood.