Top 5 Ways to Engage With Nature

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April 1, 2020

Year in and year out, our education team provides more direct teaching than any other museum in the city of Chicago. We used that experience and expertise to discover their top five ways for kids and students to engage with nature, and explore some support tips for caregivers and educators.

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1. Make observations!

Take a little time each day to do some noticing. Whether you take a walk around the block, observe something in your yard, or look at the tree out of your window, there is so much to observe! What changes do you see from day to day?

Tips for Adults/Educators:

A naturalist is a scientist who studies nature through careful observations and asking questions. Encourage your scientist to see, hear, smell, and feel. Ask them questions like “What do you notice?”

You can help focus your scientists observations by using a small things finder (a popsicle stick with a dot on it) or a focus frame.

Take it a step further and add observations to an online community science database! There are many platforms that you can contribute your scientist’s observations to. Some suggestions to get you started:

Welcome to Budburst | Budburst | Budburst – record and share your plant observations!
eBird from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
– record and share your bird observations!

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2. Record your noticings!

Make the most of enjoying and sharing all of your observations by keeping track of them. Make a “nature notebook” to use pictures and words to record all the cool things you’re observing. Practice a scientific skill by doing some scientific drawing. Be sure to look closely to draw what you see–include details and use labels. Drawing is a great way to solidify understanding!

Need an idea to get started? Try a nature window – pick a spot to record some observations each day and see what changes over time and what stays the same. Or pick a plant nearby to observe and notice seasonal changes.

Tips for Adults/Educators:
A scientific drawing is a record of all of the great observations your scientist is making. Remind scientists that they don’t need to be a ‘good artist’ to do a scientific drawing, but rather a careful observer. Be sure to include details they are noticing and use labels.

Check out this video to learn about the incredibly powerful effects of drawing on learning: 

Scientific drawings can be done by scientists of all ages!

  • Early elementary: scientists focus on recording things they can see or feel.
  • Upper elementary: scientists may include things that they can’t see or feel but can see evidence of (observe plants grow, what do they need?)
  • Middle school: scientists may observe to understand interactions between living and nonliving things.
  • Young adult/Adult variation: scientists may look at a larger scale by comparing and contrasting interactions happening in different ecosystems, or look closer in and add ideas to explain the function behind the interactions.
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3. Ask questions!

We are naturally curious, so embrace all of those questions. Put them on a wonder wall to come back to later. It’s okay not to know the answers to all of your scientists’ questions–take the opportunity to explore alongside them and ask your own questions to inspire more wonderings.

Tips for Adults/Educators:

Use open-ended questioning techniques to help young scientists think and make connections. Open-ended questions: Require an explanation that doesn’t have one “correct” answer – (e.g. what do you notice about insect bodies vs. how many legs does an insect have?) Close-ended questions: Can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or one specific answer (do insects have eight legs? No. How many legs do insects have? 6)

Gather your scientists’ questions on a wonder wall–post questions on post-it notes or jot them down on a piece of paper…capture them somewhere! And then group them together to help think about the types of things we’re wondering about the natural world around us.

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4. Embrace the social emotional power of nature and wonder!

Nature is a powerful tool in our social and emotional wellbeing! Take advantage of all it has to offer for us. Take some time outside each day–or bring nature indoors by bringing in natural objects and plants inside to explore.

Tips for Adults/Educators:

Utilizing nature, whether going outdoors or bringing natural objects inside is a great way to provide some whole child learning while at home.

Child-led play and cooperative learning activities are important for our students, too. These activities help students learn 21st century skills like collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. They also stimulate social-emotional growth by providing opportunities for scientists to set goals in their child-led activities and build positive relationships. Playing outdoors can solidify STEM content and practices by providing context for their learning.

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5. Create a nature model

Inspired by your exploration of nature? Make a model of something that intrigues you. Get your craft supplies – some paper for drawing or look for odds and ends in your recycling – to recreate and showcase all of the things you are noticing around you. Be creative and share what you’ve discovered!

Tips for Adults/Educators:

Making models allows students to communicate what they have learned and make sense of their observation. A model doesn’t require any special tools or materials – a model can be a drawing that showcases close observations, or a 3D model that helps scientists think about different parts and their functions, or how parts interact with one another. Scientists can also revisit their models and continue to add or modify as they discover more about their topic of interest.

We hope these tips will come in handy as you help your young scientists learn all about nature and science while at home. We know homeschooling is a new world to navigate for many families, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have great science lessons at home.

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