By Piper Sallquist, Early Elementary Classroom Teacher
How has your child experienced a connection to nature? At UCDS, our playgrounds and classrooms are designed to provide a sense of wonder in connection with nature: the striking moment of creating a waterfall in Crocodile Cove, the discovery of an insect (“coooool!”) on the slide, or the pride of crafting a structure from leaves and twigs in Tinkertown. Engaging, even casually, with nature is intentionally and thoughtfully part of the everyday routine.
Connection to the physical place we live in is an important part of feeling grounded, calm, and safe. There are many ways to foster a sense of connection to place—thoughtful observation, enjoying recreation, and relaxation in outdoor spaces are only a few of the multitude of possibilities. In the 1st and 2nd Grade, students practice observation and adding detail to writing through “Explode the Moment” exercises: what do you hear, see, smell, feel, when you are observing a scene in the outdoors?
Connecting to natural places can also increase kids’ investment in the health of both their community and of natural places themselves. Before teaching at UCDS, I was an educator at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site where I facilitated the “Good Neighbors” field trip. Over the course of multiple school days, park rangers engaged elementary students in discussions and activities about the connection between a healthy community and access to public green spaces. The most impactful moment was when the students spent nearly half a day in the park—reading, sketching scientific drawings of plants, and most important, playing outside! At the end of the field trip, students left feeling deeply invested in the landscape and as new stewards of public park spaces.
Outdoor time has been a way we can safely engage with our surroundings while practicing social distancing, especially for those able to travel to uncrowded public parks or utilize yards. While summer is in full swing, here are a few ideas for activities that can foster kids’ investment and enjoyment in nature:
Build with a natural material
How can you create a house for a squirrel (or any being of choice!) using only what you find outside in the yard? Will your house have a roof? What did you notice about which materials work best for building?
Use leaves, bark, sticks, or other found natural items to create patterns and pictures outside! Leave them for a day or two and see how they change over time.
Find a “Sit Spot”
Choose a spot outdoors to sit for 5-10 minutes. This should be a quiet time, and make sure to stay mostly in one spot! However, you can read, draw, observe, build, or quietly play during this time. Try this every day for a week. What do you notice about your spot? What lives there? What can you see? How does the spot make you feel?
Run and play!
If you have safe access to larger outdoor spaces, playing hide and seek, tag, or other games in natural areas is a great way to enjoy natural surroundings. See how different trees and shrubs affect play!