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How many times do you come back from a walk to school or a stroll to the park and find your child holding leaves, twigs, and muddy grasses? ...or how often do you find rock and pebbles in trouser pockets (or in the bottom of the washing machine!)? Nature is wonderful; it's ever changing and it's all around us - children can enjoy nature in so many ways no matter where you live.
Here are some activities to encourage an appreciation of nature... and help with some other areas of development too!
1. Nature Bowl: Whenever your child hands you an acorn or a pine cone to look after, ask instead for it to be put in the special "nature bowl". Have any old bowl or basket and keep it in an accessible place so precious treasures can be stored and appreciated. Encourage counting by each time more things are added (or taken away!) count the bowlful together. Encourage sorting by sorting the items into sizes, or shapes or colours. Encourage naming by finding out the name of each item and what it is/does?
2. Practice finding and looking: Collect some nature items (pine cones, acorns, twigs) and hide them in a sand pit. See how many the children can find again in one minute. Use a stop watch to time and count the items together. Ask the little ones to hide the items next time and see if you can find any more quickly. Encourage Problem Solving.
3. Birds: put out a bird bath (shallow bowl of water!) and see if any birds come to have a dip! Go out and choose a bird feeder. You can get some very reasonable ones at shops. Make sure the children choose it. Get them to help put it up and fill it and encourage them to keep an eye on it so it can be refilled. Try to make it their responsibility. Encourage problem solving, and self confidence.
4. Tent-making: give the children some blankets, branches, old boxes and see whether they can build a den in the garden or park. Leave them to it and see how they get on. If they need help, guide rather than take over. Just show them how to balance things and give some tips. Encourage creative thinking, physical movement and problem solving.
5. Mud pies: make some mud pies together with wet mud and allow it to dry. Roll the mud into shapes and place on an old try in the sun to harden. Use twigs to stick into the pies and leaves to decorate. Encourage creativity and problem solving.
6. Name all the insects you can: bee, spider, ladybird, butterfly, caterpillar etc. and as you call out each one, try to move like they do. Wriggle like a worm, glide like a moth, dart like a wasp. Encourage understanding of the world problem solving and physical movement.