If your kids are anything like mine, they live outside in the summer as much as possible. Due to this, I don’t worry too much through the school year about science. We do use a formal science curriculum that we do occasionally, but we aren’t consistent with it. The teacher in me never thought I would be so loosey-goosey with something like this, but as I have stepped away from teaching in the traditional school system, I have changed my mind and had my eyes opened to all the learning that happens around you. I know now my kids are going to learn more about science when they experience it in life, especially when they experience it during play in the great outdoors.
To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little story about Walter. Walter is (was?) a frog. Walter lived in our yard, and for some reason, he did not feel the need to hide himself from our daughters. He would hop right up to them. Walter became a great hit, and my youngest daughter considered him a pet.
Walter lived a really exciting life in our yard. He drove around in the back of a dump truck, he caught a flight in a Barbie helicopter, he was pushed on a swing (and somehow managed not to shoot off), and he enjoyed swimming in a little plastic kiddie pool. In the pool, he even took a leisurely float in a Littlest Pet Shop toy yacht. When it was determined that Walter was not able to get himself out of the pool, my daughter determined she was going to build him a ramp. She used trial and error to figure out what method worked best to let Walter get himself out of the water in the pool.
Walter eventually made his way into our house, in her little cupped hands. “Mom, can’t Walter be inside for a little while?” Now let me tell you, I’ve said no to my fair share of requests for critters to come inside. The little snake that was brought in was immediately sent back to his outdoor home.
Because of all those no’s, this seemed like a time I could and should answer yes. So I found a nice big tupperware container and let her build a little home for Walter in it. We covered it with plastic wrap so he wouldn’t escape and punched holes in it so he could breathe. We had been learning about ecosystems so I told her she needed to look in some books and find out what frogs needed and build him a little habitat.
My little girl took this task very seriously and created a lovely home for Walter, and he stayed inside with us for a couple of days. She even wanted Walter to sleep with her! (We compromised by letting his little habitat be on the floor beside her bed, but he had to stay in it). It was neat to see her little mind work and problem-solve how to make sure he could get into and out of water in his habitat and other such details.
She was out digging up worms and bringing them in to feed him. The biggest trouble was that she wasn’t able to catch many insects for him. After about 3 days, it seemed like Walter wasn’t eating enough to safely stay inside with us. It was decided it was time to let Walter go. My poor little lover of critters cried and cried when she released him into the wild. That night at bedtime, she cried that she couldn’t go to sleep without Walter.
But bless that little frog, he stayed around our yard all summer and would hop over to them when they were outside. He still went for rides in the pool and swings on the swing and still created lots of enjoyment for my girl and her friends all summer long.
I am sure that she learned more about a habitat and about a frog through building Walter a home than she would have through any lesson on frogs I could have taught.
So that very long, and very true, story is to remind us that kids are inquisitive. Our kids have an innate desire to learn and to understand the world around them. If you don’t believe me, just count how many times a toddler asks “why?” in one day! Setting them free to explore outside is one of the greatest ways for them to learn science!
What things your child can observe naturally around you will differ depending on where you live, but here are a few suggestions.
The Tides and Tide Pools
If you live near the ocean, your child will have knowledge of the tides. Any true coast dwelling child will know the difference between high tide and low tide! Creatures that live in a tidal area have to have various adaptations to survive at low and high tide. Just let kids play in the tide pools when the water is at low tide, and they will experience these creatures first-hand.
Observing the trees around you can help you see that there are different kinds of trees. Your child will notice some change colours and some don’t. Some trees have leaves, and some have needles and cones. What colour is the bark on trees? I bet there is a downed tree somewhere if you live near a forest. What an awesome opportunity to look at the roots of a tree! It leaves kids awestruck to see how big those roots are.
What animals live in the trees near you, and what makes it a good home for them?
Let your kids have a notebook just to record what they see outside. Don’t make this too instructional. Just let them record however they like. They can glue or tape in things, do leaf rubbings, draw or paint what they see, or jot notes.
Let them bring some neat things inside that they find. Appreciate their wonder and see things through their eyes. It is fun to see what intrigues them. I like to grab small glass bowls when I am at a thrift store and put them around the house to hold outdoor souvenirs. We are lucky enough to live near the ocean so we have a few vases full of sea glass, shells, and sea urchins. One daughter loves to collect pine cones and unique rocks so she adds them to our display.
I have also seen some families have a display tray on their coffee table that would hold their children's nature treasures. Be creative with it and see what your children find.
This butterfly was beautiful but had to stay outside
If your family has a vegetable garden, let your kids help with that. They can learn about what to plant together, and they can see how plants need sun and water to grow. The damage is visible when they get too much sun or too much water. If you have enough space, you could even assign them part of the plot to plan and take care of themselves. I have a daughter who loves flowers so I’ve got two flower boxes on my front porch that I am going to let her have for her own this summer. She can decide what to put in there and take care of it.
One of our guest writers, Katherine, also has wonderful suggestions on how you can teach your kids to garden even if you live in a city.
These ideas are just a small sampling of what your kids can experience and learn in nature. God is so good and so creative to have given us so many beautiful things on this earth to enjoy. I am always in wonder of how animals live in the correct climate and ecosystem they need to survive. It is amazing to me how polar bears have adaptations for the cold, camels for the dry desert, and ducks for the water. Those pieces of information have always helped me know that God exists and is Creator. Who knows what wonderful parts of nature and science will stick in your child's mind and continually point them to belief in God? Open the doors and set them free to experience it!
Thanks Walter the Frog for reminding me learning isn’t only in a textbook!
Written by Kristin Stewart
This article has been written by homeschooling staff writers of The Canadian Schoolhouse (TCS). Enjoy more of our content from TCS contributors and staff writers by visiting our themes page that has a new theme topic added every month!