Nature’s Classroom

Written by: Sherrie Ripple, Director of Education

The weather’s warming up, flowers are blooming, and animals are becoming more active. It’s the perfect time to gather your family, go outside and enjoy the best classroom of all – NATURE!

We know playing outside in nature is good for us physically, mentally, and socially. According to one study published in 2019, spending just two hours a week in nature is correlated with significant increases in health and well-being (White et al., 2019). So, imagine if you spent even more time outdoors! Here are some fun family activities to plan for the next time you are outside and there’s even a bonus – these activities all promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) concepts:

● In your backyard, put some water in a plastic container to let your children explore with different materials (a penny, foil, a Lego, a cup, a plastic spoon, a metal spoon, or a leaf). What makes some materials sink in water and others float? Ask them to make a prediction about some of the
materials, then follow up with questions about what happened and why? Most children, and even some adults, are often surprised by the outcome!
● Start a garden. Discuss what you are going to plant and why. What do plants need to grow? Encourage your child to keep a journal along the way. Does it look, smell, feel or taste different?
● Go on a nature scavenger hunt (you can find some on our @riverlegacynatureschool Instagram Story Highlight – Activities). This is such a fun way to explore STEM concepts!

  • Look for a bird’s nest. Birds are expert engineers. Their ability to build nests that support and protect their eggs and chicks is an adaptation that has helped them survive and thrive within their habitat.
  • If your hunt leads you near a playground, look for a see-saw (a simple machine called a lever) or a ramp (a simple machine called an inclined plane). Both are very basic mechanical devices used to multiply force. If you ride bikes during your scavenger hunt, you can also mention gears and how they help you get to where you’re going faster and easier.
  • Make sure to add rocks to your scavenger hunt. Stop and examine them. They are one of the first known technological inventions!
  • Lastly, clouds! Find a great place to lie down in the grass and observe them. What are clouds? Discuss the water cycle and how water is essential to every living creature. Relax for a while and let nature take its course.

If you enjoy these ideas and want more, stop by the Nature Center from 9 am-5 pm Monday through Saturday. Our wonderful group of educators is happy to help you discover more ways to spend time in nature!

White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019).