I had a great time last Thursday presenting my brand-new workshop, “Last Minute Lessons” at the 52nd Annual Early Childhood Education Conference. Participants were challenged to come up with creative lesson plans in response to emergency situations – all with limited materials. Check out some of the wildly creative things they did with waterlogged books, paper goods, and the contents of their pockets and purses. One thing’s for certain: if I am ever stranded on a deserted island, I hope it’s with a group of these resourceful early childhood educators!
As children’s lives become more and more defined by technology, the effects can be far-reaching. Richard Louv describes it as “nature deficit disorder” in his book, Last Child in the Woods, which presents recent research showing that lack of experience with nature is linked to higher rates of obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
In addition, we all know that young children learn through their senses. So if you’re going to talk about an apple, a young child will only truly understand if he can see, touch, and maybe even taste that apple! Combat nature deficiency disorder and bring your storytime attendees and full-sensory experience with these idea for bring nature in:
1) Incorporate natural seasonal objects into a prop story.
For example, in our “Squirrely Squirrels” Storytime Theme, our original prop story, “Sammy Squirrel” uses acorns.
2) Choose a nature craft.
Make berry ink, just like the pioneers did! Find a simple recipe here.
3) Use natural props to bring a book to life.
For example, you could pass out real autumn leaves for kids to crinkle as you read an autumn book like The Leaves on the Trees by Thom Wiley. (Yes it might get messy, but that’s nothing that a vacuum cleaner can’t take care of!)
4) Explore nature through books.
Lindsay Barrett George has created a wonderful collection of books that explore nature. For a fall theme, check out, In the Woods: Who’s Been Here? As Cammy and William walk through the woods on an autumn afternoon, they find an empty nest, feathers and more, with each discovery prompting them to ask, “Who’s been here?” Use real natural objects throughout the story to simulate interest and understanding.
5) Set up a smelly scavenger hunt:
Follow up a book like Nosy Rosie by Holly Keller or Sammy Skunk’s Super Sniffer by Barbara DeRubertis by having kids use their noses to find aromatic natural objects hidden around the storytime room. (Some suggestions: a basil or rosemary plant, roses, oranges, cinnamon sticks.) See if the kids can identify the items by smell.
6) Try mud painting!
Check out this great site for ideas.
7) Take storytime outside!
If you’ve got a good place for it, take the kids outside for a nature walk, a story or a whole storytime! Make sure you plan lots of movement activities to keep kids engaged, as it’s harder for young children to pay attention to a book when there are so many novel sights competing for their attention.
In the Snow by Sharon Phillips Denslow. New York: Greenwillow, 2005.
A child leaves seeds in the woods to encourage the animals to come out and eat. We are treated with beautiful illustrations by Nancy Tafuri, depicting the animals and their prints in the snow.
In the Snow: Who’s Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George. New York: Greenwillow, 1995.
Two children follow a trail, discovering evidence of a variety of animals on a snowy day. After exploring, they also find a treat at the end of the trail has been left just for them.
Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.
Many animals hibernate in the winter. In this gentle story, each animal hurries to tell another that winter is arriving, until the word spreads through the forest. Click here for free flannelboard patterns for this story by artist Melanie Fitz.
Animals in the Snow
Out in the wilderness, I can see (hold hand up to forehead as if looking into the distance)
So many animals have been here before me.
I refill the bird feeders and put out seeds, (mime scattering seeds)
In hopes that the animals will have plenty of feed.
I wipe off the window from inside my house, (mime clearing window)
And spot the flash of a little mouse.
Soon other animals come to eat,
and the birds whistle an appreciative tweet. (whistle)
When nighttime falls, the seeds are gone, (open hands wide)
But I’ll scatter more in the morning at dawn. (mime scattering seeds)
Winter Camouflage Song
(to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”)
Helps animals hide
Helps animals hide
Across the snow hops a white snowshoe hare
See the white fur on the polar bear
Their secret to safety is one they will share,
Winter Animal Tracker
Create your own animal tracker! Animals often leave their footprints in the snow. Using a piece of white construction paper, draw a winter scene and add a variety of animal tracks. Click here for examples.
If you have snow in your area, look for animal tracks. Observation is a key component to science. When observing tracks, see if you can distinguish between the tracks and classify them into different groups based on their characteristics. Ask questions: Do some animals have only skinny marks? What animal do you think has a footprint like that?