Monday, July 15, 2013

Bringing Nature Indoors: Lesson Plan Ideas for the Hot Dog Days of Summer

Bringing Nature Indoors: 

Lesson Plan Ideas for the Hot Dog Days of Summer

Yes, it's hot outside. So you are looking for ways to continue nature education inside.
Let's play "Mystery Animal" 

It's super simple--each child pretends to be an animal, the others guess.
Just right there you got Dramatic Play + science + some laughs.
Sounds like an easy lesson plan to me!

Dogs and cats are the most popular, so challenge the children to think of animals that are different. Maybe restrict them to:

  • only wild animals
  • or only animals that they have seen in real life 
  • or only animals that they learned about in a book that the class read together.

Add "public speaking skills"  by letting each child explain to the class:

  • why they chose that animal 
  • where they have seen that animal 
  • what the movements and sounds meant
    "Ducks walk like this." 

Gather some photos of the animals that the children chose and use those as the basis for another lesson plan.

  • Discover where those animals live--maybe in a tree or in a burrow or a nest. Build homes out of cardboard or natural materials. Make the homes big for the children to play in as they learn about how to be another animal. Or make homes for real animals. Put them out in the school yard and see if that animal comes to live there. Record wildlife interactions over time.
    Scientific studies has shown that rubbing a frog on your cheek does not turn you into a prince.
  • Discover what those animals eat and how they eat. Do they dig in the dirt with claws? Do they poke into trees with sharp beaks? Do they eat plants or other animals? Have an animal picnic!
    Water striders?
  • Need to wear off more energy? Discover how those animals move? Do they run? Do they fly? Do they jump? Put the name and photo of each animal on a card, have a child draw it from the deck--act it out. Or play "Simon Says"--"Simon says, jump like a grasshopper! Simon says, slither like a snake!"
Is it nice enough to go outside? Then go--the beauty of this lesson is that it can  be done inside or out!

Did this lesson plan spark more ideas for your students? Where did it lead them and you? Let me know and we'll feature it on facebook!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Three Sisters Garden

Who are the three sisters?

These are the traditional food crops of many Native American peoples across America. Historically each crop is an efficiently grown food source. That is true even of the harsh desert conditions of the Southwest.

Planted in the spring, this raised beds at Martin Luther King Jr Preschool in the Roosevelt District of Phoenix did a lot of growing even after everyone had left for the summer. The stalks are taller than the children!

At my house, more "Sisters" joined the garden--sunflowers and devil's claw. 

The devil's claw is native to the southwest and thrives with very little water and will continue to do well despite the heat! 

With the hot temps and dry winds of June, my corn and beans gave up the ghost...

... after giving a bountiful harvest!

And what about the squash? It was hiding in the corn and is ready to really get growing in time for fall.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plant Dissection

Children are naturally curious. 

They like to touch and, yes, they like to take things apart and see what's inside.
Look out in your play yard. Are there more flowers than children? Yes?
Then you have enough for this experiment. (Dandelions work great too!)

Here's what you need:

  • one flower per child
  • a plastic butter knife
  • magnifying glass, if you have one
  • safe space to work

Here's some fine motor skill work!
Use a child-safe knife or simply fingers to peel apart the petals. Some flowers have more petals than others. Can you find the insides?

Yes, you will be destroying the flowers but you will also be teaching--teaching science, of course: flower parts, plant parts, you'll probably encounter a bug or two. Math lessons will naturally come up as the children count and compare. Language as you talk with the children about what they are seeing. And, you'll also be teaching social studies--being a good citizen stems from caring and caring stems from knowledge, knowledge stems from active learning. Nature appreciation can come from active participation in nature, even when that active participation involves some form of destruction.

Make drawings of the flower, either how it looked in the yard or how it looks taken apart. Add some simple vocabulary: flower, stem, petal, pollen.

Flowers can also show the passage of time:

  • Today's flower is vibrant.
  • Yesterday's flower has died and dried up.
  • What is next for a flower after it blooms? 

And that begin a whole new lesson...

Worried that this will spread bad behavior of picking flowers willy-nilly? Help the children to understand that this is science. Willy-nilly science? Could be a good thing for early childhood.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Tree Farmer

The Tree Farmer by Chuck Leavell and Nicholas Carvotta
Illustrated by Rebecca Bleau

Preschoolers will be kept entertained looking for the hidden images of furniture, books, and musical instruments in this wonderful story of forest stewarship. A grandfather shows his grandson how living trees benefit the earth and how the wood will benefit people. Though preschoolers may not verbally express their understandings of the concepts presented in the written story, the effect of the story and the pictures make the love of nature immediate.

Partnering with the Maricopa Brain Builders for Life Training Institute, we asked early childhood educators to develop a lesson plan to go along with this book.



·       Eat fruit and save the seeds! Encourage the saving of fruit seeds during food prep.
·       Sort the seeds by shape and size. Talk about what they look like and what a seeds needs to grow.
·       Plant the seeds in the fall, winter, or spring (wow—that’s the whole school year!) somewhere with irrigation.
Do not be discouraged that tree seeds take a long time to grow. The important message here is that fruits have seeds and these seeds will be new trees that will grow new fruit.

While waiting for the tree to grow, enjoy these other activities:

·       Lay down under a tree and watch the leaves and branches. Talk about how they blow around in the wind. Notice if the branches sway or the stems make the leaves shiver. How much sky can you see? Are there any animals using the tree?
·       Clean up the area where you planted the tree so that when the tree sprouts it knows it’s in a place that you and the children care about.

Did you know that Richard St. Barbe Baker is called the treeplanting saint? He began an organization named "Man of the Trees." Since its creation in 1924, affiliated groups have planted an estimate of 26 TRILLION tree seeds.  In 1952, Richard St. Barbe Baker encouraged children in England to save their peach pits to reforest the Saharan Desert—20,000 were collected and planted!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Look, Look, Look Again: Summer

Look, Look, Look Again: Summer by Claire Warden and Niki Buchan

Ages: 3-5 years

Peeking. Looking through a small frame. That's why the book series, Look, Look, Look Again is so special. The beautiful photographs show the big picture, a closer picture, and an even closer picture. Green fields, the beach, the lake, a garden all become more amazing the closer you look. This book goes even further to give the educator ideas about activities to do and conversations to enjoy while looking at the book and going outside to experience the world.

  • Make a "peeking" card by punching out a large circle from a half sheet of heavy paper.

  • Go explore. What do you see if you look out into the distance? What do you see close by? What can you see really close?

  • Have conversations with your preschoolers. Encourage and praise new words and complex thoughts

  • Do some of the activities in the book!

Look Again!
What will the children learn?
  • observation skills
  • teamwork
  • communication

Monday, May 13, 2013

"I Like Stones" Lesson Plan

From the Eyelike Nature Board Book Series comes, Stones, a book about toddlers doing great things with rocks like building, collecting big and small stones, using them for games and sharing them with friends.

   In combination with Maricopa Brain Builders for Life, another wonderful Cooperative Extension program, we gave childcare staff this book and asked them to create a lesson plan. Here's what they came up with:

“I like Stones!”

     Age range:
·       Toddlers 1-2 years old

  • ·         Take a walk around the school yard and have each child collect at least one rock.       If your school grounds does not have rocks, you can go out ahead of time and put rocks out like an Easter Egg hunt so that the children feel successful. Let them learn that nature objects are found outside in nature.

  • ·       Set up a washing station and have the children wash the rocks. You might offer an old toothbrush or washcloth to work those motor skills further.


  • Collecting stones (which to pick to suit their needs, how to carry them back, how to sort and classify)
  • Things to do with stones (without throwing)—building, water play, tapping to make noise
For the rock sorting station use trays or bowls or egg cartons.

A Sensory Experience:

  • ·      Touch: What does the stone feel like? Is it smooth, bumpy, flat?

  • ·       Sight: Are the rocks different or the same? If you look really, really close, what do you see?

  • ·       Hearing: Bang stones together or against other objects soft or hard. What sounds can your stone make?

  • ·       Taste: Can be encouraged or not depending on the children

Go beyond:

  • ·       What can we do with rocks? Read the book Eyelike Nature: Stones. What do these children do with rocks? Can we try?

  • ·       Can we build with rocks? Which rocks are easier to build with?

  • ·       Let’s take a walk and look at big rocks? Can we climb on them?
Paint your stones. Make a tower. Make a path.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Field Trip: Mercury Mines!

Mercury Mines Elementary in Paradise Valley has a natural desert area reminiscent of Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The outdoor classroom is open to all the students and the neighboring community, but the fifth grade students, "Desert Dudes," are the traditional caretakers.

Enter the site through a lush and welcoming gate boasting, from the start, the variety of desert plant life.

The maze of life, a traditional symbol in Southwestern Native American lore, was designed and created by the students.

Adobe brick making is a favorite activity of the students. There's a digging pit for clay which is mixed with straw packed into used milk cartons and cured in the sun. The bricks are then used to recreate the adobe "Indian Ruin" a little further down the trail.

Students also make, and frequently remake, a wooden structure out of saguaro ribs. The lightweight wood is easy for even young students to build with.

But my favorite spot looked the messiest--though it's not intended to be! The Zen Garden is just a nice shady spot to create simple nature poetry with rocks or words.

Before leaving, read the dedication...

With over two acres of natural area with native vegetation, washes, and shade combined with cultural replicas, the possibilities for learning through all ages and across disciplines are endless. And to think that this vacant "wasted" space was almost turned into a parking lot--thankfully the school realized they were in paradise!