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Ways to teach other subjects while out in nature?

 
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I've got a 2.5 and 5.5 year old. I find there's LOTS of ways to teach other subjects (math, science, reading, even history!) when outside. What are your favorite ways?

With my little ones, we're often counting things--counting leaves, counting eggs, counting steps, etc. We also do a bit of multiplication sometimes when planting seeds (each of these rows have five seeds, how many seeds are there?) and adding (there's two blueberry plants and on honeyberry plants, how many plants are there?)

We talk about history of the landscape--who moved in when, why there's these huge cedar stumps with notches in them, how the landscape was formed by receding glaciers leaving big "glacial erratic" rocks, and how old the trees might be.

We sound out words while walking and figure out what sounds they start with and what they rhyme with, and find smaller words in the big words (blue-berry has both blue and berry! What other words have berry in them?). I need to start incorporating writing, too--maybe using sticks to form letters? Or writing with water on a dry wall or road? Or writing in the sand/dirt with sticks? We do some writing with chalk on the sidewalk. We could also look for the shapes of letters in nature!

What are ways you can think of to incorporate all the subjects with kids of all ages? What's your favorite?
 
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We just got fish for our pond and had to learn about what they need, including water within a certain pH. We had to adjust the pH, another learning activity.

We learn to recognize plants, using our scientific observation skills. Which to pull, which to eat,  etc.

When it's fall, we play a game as we look at sticks on the sidewalk: Can you see what letter that stick is making?

In the garden we label our seedlings.

We sometimes find rocks that are good for drawing and write with them on our driveway. We also have chalk because it can be used almost anywhere for writing and creative expression.

I work with elementary schools on incorporating the garden into their curriculum. I would suggest (off the top of my head) that they could observe a creature in the wild and then work with you on writing their observations about it. They can also read about the creature and then make up a story about what how the paw print you saw on the trail or the half- eaten tomato in the garden came to be.  They can also make sun dials, writing the letters or directions. They can pull out a weed and then draw it and label the parts (or just label the weed itself). They can learn more control with a pen or pencil by tracing objects they find,  like rocks, leaves, etc. You can teach spelling by figuring out where the sounds in the names you call plants come from. You can write/make the letter that begins the plant name next to it. They can keep garden journals and write what happens in the garden and draw/paint pictures to describe it.  You can use natural plants and minerals to make the ink for the pictures too...then you'll  have to have them write labels for those different colors.




 
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Nicole, I love that you search for/find teaching and learning opportunities with your children in such creative ways--math. history, storytelling. That's fantastic. Your ideas on incorporating writing and letters into outdoor are fantastic--using natural materials to form letters (and take pictures of them for later)--can provide a visceral connection for your kids. You could also work with your children to identify letters and shapes as they occur naturally outdoors.

My favorite way to incorporate multiple subject-learning into gardens and outdoor spaces is through scavenger hunts with kids. Scavenger hunts provide opportunities for wonder, discovery, and mean-making for children. I also love creating them and seeing the enthusiasm of the kids engaged during the hunt. In my experience, children love to solve puzzles and when the directed goal is to work in partnership alongside someone, in collaboration rather than competition with them, then the children have the opportunity to practice creative problem-solving, patience, and compassion. Scavenger hunts can include opportunities for reading, writing, math, science, nutrition, and ecology: from counting the amount of a certain species (conversations about population), writing or creating a poem about an insect, mimicking a bird call, turning over rocks or logs to spot diverse creatures, to taste testing foods and describing their flavor, and so much more.

 
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Whenever there are seeds involved, there's an opportunity for multiplication. Suppose you are planting beans. This Bean will grow a plant that will give us about 25 beans. Each new bean will make about five seeds just like this one. In this case we got 125 seeds from the original. Results will vary.

Seeds also give you an opportunity to teach children about saving, even before they understand money. Give them the example of the seed, and then ask what happens to the people who eat all of their beans and don't save any to plant the next year.

You could even get into Little Red Hen territory.
 
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