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Nature-based education for kids

Ideas for using the great outdoors as a learning tool

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Computer screens are increasingly becoming the focus of education, but nature has always been our teacher. offers these suggestions for activities that will teach kids botany, biology, ecology, observation skills, research methods, patience, and a host of other lessons.

Hiking – Whether you choose a walk around the block or a wilderness trek, hiking is a fun family activity that provides a changing assortment of stuff to notice. Point out creatures and plants to your kids and stop to observe or examine. You might do a bit of research before starting out, so you can also talk about the history of the area or facts about the predominant plant and tree species.

Birding – Birdwatching provides a great focus for a hike, but it's most easily done in your back yard, especially if you have a bird feeder. Even a city fire escape offers views of birds. Kids will learn a lot just by observing and differentiating one species from another. You can bring in information such as what various birds eat, nesting habits, migration patterns. Practical lessons will also be stirred up, from the use of binoculars to how to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder. 


Gardening – It's healthy to get hands in the dirt, and what a tremendous satisfaction it is to harvest vegetables we've grown ourselves! Kids can get exercise by helping out with digging beds. They'll learn about plant life cycles by planting seeds, watching them grow, and learning when to harvest. Watering teaches responsibility, judgment, and details of the water cycle. Weeding teaches how to identify different species, especially if you show them the edible weeds that can go into salads.


Rock hunting – Kids who are interested in rocks and fossils will enjoy trips to investigate creek banks, stream beds, and rock walls. The Hudson Valley has old quarries that are fun to explore, providing lessons on the history of the local economy. Bring along a rock and mineral field guide and do some research on the geological formation of the region. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I remember when my kids had to find fossils for an elementary school class, sorry I forgot the grade. We looked for stone walls and were almost always successful in finding fossil imprints.)

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