You really can’t argue against the mountain of research that proves direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, both physically and emotionally. Knowing this is one thing, but actually finding time in our over crowded class routines for our children to connect with nature is increasingly tricky…
As much as we’d all like to be roaming free with our class exploring ‘Bear Grylls-style’ (well, maybe not to that extreme!) the practicalities of our school environments are probably not allowing such intimate experiences with nature….. we need to grab the small moments and make them count.
My Little Grub out ‘sploring’
This post includes a range of ideas to meet the needs of teachers who have regular access to the outdoors with their class…… as well as for the teachers & children who are stuck indoors all day in a classroom with no windows (gulp!) The benefits of being in nature are beneficial to every part of a child’s well being, and so much about the big wide world can be learnt through little observations and quick discussions. I’ve included 20 practical suggestions below to help incorporate nature into your daily routine (plus a little freebie containing some ‘nature snack’ prompt cards further down the post). The suggestions below are ranked in order of worse case scenario (you’re stuck in a windowless classroom with limited access to the outdoors) through to the best case scenario (your classroom has bi-fold doors overlooking lapping waves and a sandy shell covered beach ha ha ha!)
Nature Snack Suggestions:
 Seize the teachable moments and ‘roll with them!’ This is increasingly difficult for some teachers within the heavily structured school systems they work in, but if at all possible, try and follow the children’s curiosity and wonder when it comes to nature (Case in point – the ant swarm that takes over one of the many coffee cups you have lurking on your desk…. take some photos, try and identify the species, follow the trail to work out where they’re coming from and where they’re going etc.)
 Think about adding some green to your room. Use some soothing green tones to cover the backs of your bulletin boards or include some natural textures and plants. Take a ‘leaf’ out of the pre-school classroom and try to include more tactical and hands on activities.
 Be prepared to embrace nature FINDING YOU! (e.g that big hairy spider or cockroach that pops up in your classroom (probably just when you’re trying to calm your class down after one of THOSE wild days) Over the years I’ve personally experienced the following creatures appearing unannounced in my room: multiple flying birds, 1 frog, 2 ducks (they just waddled in!) 1 hedgehog, countless mice & insects, and one dog that wondered in and ate the children’s packed lunches out of their school bags! If you’re not a fan of being in such close proximity with the above mentioned creatures, try and fake a calmed and interested demeanor…..at the very least snap some quick pictures before you send for someone else to remove it – think of all the amazing writing that could be inspired by your surprise encounter!
 Consider keeping a nature table – children can take turns to bring a small object that they’ve collected or from their garden (or on their way to school) to share and place on your table. Keep your nature table well stocked with magnifying glasses and containers for sorting objects into.
 Make sure your nature table or classroom library are packed with nature themed non fiction books – don’t forget to include a local ‘bug identification guide’ as well as the ever popular “top 5 grossest slugs” type of books that the kids love!
 Keep a jar of flowers on your desk that reflect the seasons (seasonal twigs or weeds are just fine – unless your other half wants to step up to the task of stocking your vase….?!) Nothing ‘shop bought’ allowed!
 Have a special daily nature item for your early finishers to study and sketch (Keep a tray of scrap recycled paper and lots of pencils on your nature table ready to go) Your special nature item could be a shell, flower, crystal, insect, pebble, leaf etc.
Special Nature Table treasures – stacked leaves, sycamore seeds arranged into a pattern and a dead cicada!
 Even if having natural materials is not a practical option in your room (which would be rather tragic) you can still have a ‘seasonal’ or ‘topic’ corner that contains pictures and appropriate learning activities.
 Get YouTubing. Playing nature based clips on your projector is a great way to set a soothing tone during quiet times or when the children are entering the classroom in the morning. I’m not suggesting a David Attenborough documentary (although if you’ve got lots of time, dive right in!) but non-narrated looping tracks of thing like underwater scenes, fish swimming, wind blowing ripples across the grass etc. These are perfect for lowering the teachers blood pressure (so must be good for the kids…!)
 Find some relaxing desktop pictures for your laptop and classroom computers. Use the computer settings to organise a selection of these on automatic slide show for both your desk top and screen savers. Even better, take some pictures of your local flora and fauna and use them. (Or maybe just use some snaps of you relaxing in a hammock with a cool beverage during your last summer holiday?)
 Download some soothing ‘sounds of nature’ soundtracks to play at appropriate times (if the ‘trickling brook’ track sends too many of the kids running off to the restroom, you might want to consider changing to rain forest or bird sounds). These are especially effective during silent reading, or other times you require a low noise levels – the occasional “I can’t hear the ocean waves” from the teacher is normally enough to get the chatter boxes to lower their volumes.
 Open your curtains or blind, fling your doors open and let some fresh air in (again, so, so sorry if you’re in one of the a fore mentioned windowless rooms). There’s nothing better than fresh air for blasting the cobwebs out of little brains!
These little cards are great prompts for getting your students thinking about and engaging with nature…
 Keep a daily ‘outside temperature’ graph that the children are in charge of updating (this is especially important if you can’t actually get outside). Find a way of recording the daily weather as part of your morning routine.
 Use the internet to find your nearest outdoor ‘live-cam’ that you can go online to actually view the weather outside (these are often used on TV weather bulletins and weather stations). Find a live cam on the other side of the world – what’s the weather like there?
 Make explicit the connections to nature through your curriculum areas as appropriate (art, math, science, poetry, discuss the origins of their lunch etc.)
 Keep a wall calendar that links directly to the seasons as well as the months.
 Keep a class or pet or grow something. Even if your seeds don’t survive to adulthood, the kids love watching seeds sprout. (Hopefully your pet survives to adulthood!)
 Tack 5 minutes of UNSTRUCTURED time onto your scheduled outdoor activity (e.g. “You’ve got 5 minutes to roly-poly about on the grass – GO! Or “Here are the boundaries of where you’re allowed to be, you’ve got 5 minutes – have fun!”
 Respect your class’s need for a few minutes here and there to just burn off some energy, run bare feet and feel the wind in their hair……. in fact, why not take your shoes off and join them?
Rosie is a Kiwi, who after 10 years teaching ‘down-under’ in NZ is now working part time and enjoying spending time with her beautiful wee son. This also gives her time to indulge in her passion for all things green and grubby, which includes creating specialized resources to support nature based education! Fresh air, bare feet + grubby hands = active learning. For more Grubby goodness pop over and visit her blog and TpT Store, or find the her on Pinterest, Facebook andInstagram.