Out Teach fan and supporter Jenna King shared these outdoor learning ideas with us so that parents everywhere can continue students’ learning and exploration from home.

Nature Learning Activities You Can Do Anywhere
By Jenna King

The education of American children faces an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted learning as usual, keeping kids away from their familiar classroom routines. Online learning at home has served as a Band-Aid while school districts struggle with long-term solutions to a crisis whose end is not clearly in sight.

One solution is to connect children to nature. The safety of the Great Outdoors is a natural laboratory for learning and gets kids away from the confines of the house. You’ll need to take along a few things to ensure the fun gets a good dose of learning, such as paper, pencils, and markers for drawing and numbering. Smartphones or tablets are excellent for connecting with today’s tech-savvy youngsters. Resources are available to help teachers, parents and children transform observations into lessons.
Here are some ways to turn those outings educational experiences:

Nature By the Numbers
The outdoors offers unlimited possibilities for learning and practicing math skills. For small children, this can be as simple as counting – leaves on a stem, rocks in a pile, etc. By adding or removing, you can teach the basics of addition and subtraction. And nature offers an abundance of geometry lessons. Teach children to identify the symmetry in leaves, the concentric circles produced within tree trunks, or a rock thrown into a stream. Pinecones are a lesson in spirals and spiders spin webs that are radial masterpieces.

Go on a Safari
You don’t have to go to Africa in search of lions or elephants. A park or backyard will do just as well to teach the basics of ecosystems. Explain how all forms of life are dependent on one another in the food chain. Show how bees pollinate and tell why that’s vital for the survival of plants. All living things require water and trees and shrubs provide shelter for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife. You don’t need a huge plot of land to start a garden. A small patio or balcony will give kids a great hands-on experience in the workings of nature.

From Whither Comes the Weather?
Most smartphones and devices come with weather apps. Allowing children to look at these apps while outdoors gives them a chance to relate maps and radar and satellite images to what they actually see in the sky. If a storm approaches, count the number of seconds between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Divide by five and you know how many miles away the storm is. That’s real distance learning!

Find your Way Forward
A compass is a simple and inexpensive tool to teach children science and navigation (and you can find free compass apps for most smart devices). Explain to them that because the North Pole is magnetic, a compass needle always points north. Then set off on a hike using the compass to chart direction. Tell them a compass enables today’s GPS apps to map locations.

Keep a Record
Encourage children to take pictures or videos and incorporate them into a journal of things they’ve learned from nature. This not only helps them retain what they’ve learned but keeps their writing skills honed. Encourage them to expand their knowledge by reading related articles and/or watching videos online.

In addition to learning, time outside keeps kids healthy. The National Wildlife Federation in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents to see that children spend an hour a day outdoors. Outdoor activities also promote exercise, which not only develops healthy bodies, but increases brain functioning, and bolsters mood.

With effort and ingenuity, you can help children get through trying times with activities that are educational, healthful, and productive.

This article was written by Jenna King, a fan of Out Teach and independent outdoor learning. Jenna is a writer, avid hiker, and survivalist. She spends most of her time backpacking and using organic elements within nature. This article is made possible by lawnstarter.com.

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Out Teach, formerly REAL School Gardens, provides professional development for elementary school teachers. Out Teach prepares them to use school gardens, outdoor classrooms, and green schoolyards to improve instruction through three-dimensional project-based learning, and outdoor experiential inquiry-based education. Professional learning with Out Teach improves hands-on science and STEM education through instructional coaching and digital education resources and improves 21st Century skills.