Curiosity abounds within young children. Tapping into that curiosity on a daily basis often requires a change of pace, topic, and yes, scenery! Regardless of where you live or the time of year, nature provides learning opportunities to engage children of all ages.
Tips & Tools for Inquiry-Based Outdoor Exploration in Early Childhood
Not only can children learn about specific science content, such as weather, plant life, and insect habitats, but when combined with purposeful instruction and safe materials, children learn social skills that prepare them for a lifetime of positive relationships.
The outdoors provides children with the physical space needed to communicate and collaborate freely in outdoor learning centers. If specific directions are needed, it’s always best to provide them indoors on a group gathering space, so that the play can immediately begin once outside. With the proper furniture to spark imaginations, children are able to build friendships and learn the importance of taking-turns as they work together to solve problems through play.
Ensure that there is enough space between centers, and stock them with natural materials such as rocks and leaves, as well as authentic supplies such as cooking utensils and gardening supplies. These activities are great extensions for classroom learning.
Open-ended activities are so motivating to children because they allow for blossoming interests to develop. Make sure to have a balance of group, pair, and independent activities to choose from guaranteeing children stay excited about learning. STEM activities are particularly easy to incorporate outdoors. Supply weather-durable building materials such as blocks to develop experimentation and critical thinking.
Consider encouraging children to search and find interesting items and then have them sort by color, pattern, size or purpose. Outdoor surroundings help children gather inspiration for creativity. Position art supplies by interesting trees or habitats as models for painting or have children imagine what types of animals might live nearby.
More On Taking Early Learning Outdoors
A crucial part of learning is providing opportunities that encourage children to explore, wonder, and play. Stay close-by to offer assistance, but don’t jump in too soon to solve issues as these types of outdoor activities develop negotiating, self-regulation, and decision-making skills, all important for future academic success.
The next time you’re feeling as if your children need to see the world from vantage point other than the classroom, grab some magnifying glasses, and head outside. You never know what your children will discover!
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Tamie Pratt-Fartro, PhD
Dr. Tamie Pratt-Fartro has served the education community for over 20 years as early childhood/elementary teacher, reading specialist, literacy coach, professional development specialist, researcher, and university professor. Tamie has conducted multiple research studies on literacy, play, kindergarten transition, reflective teaching, and leadership.
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