This post was written for Preschool Inspirations by my cousin, Marta. She is a homeschooling mom of two sweet boys and has a passion for all things nature and science. She is my “go to” science guru, and I am so grateful for the insights she offers us all. Take it away, Marta!
Winter. Brings to mind cold, doesn’t it? And in my case, being stuck inside with 2 very active little boys. But winter does not necessarily mean spending all your time inside – winter does provide unique nature opportunities. If you are willing to expend a bit more energy and bundle up, you can introduce your littles to nature in the “off” season.
We often think of winter as a bland time in terms of nature and the outdoors. But in reality, nature hasn’t left –it’s just different. So use this time to point out differences and introduce the littles in your life to the changes that come with the changing seasons. Much of science is observation, and you can begin to teach observation skills to the littlest of persons.
So just how do I incorporate nature into our life this winter, you ask? Well, I suggest adding winter nature walks to your schedule. Even once a week. Fresh air, even cold fresh air, can make such a difference in focus, attentiveness, and release of pent up energy. Encourage kids to use their 5 senses and begin simple comparing/contrasting during winter nature walks:
What can you SEE?
What colors do you see?
Which colors are natural and which are man-made (cars, houses, landscaping, etc.)?
Look for evergreen plants – point out, observe, and describe the difference between the evergreens and deciduous plants. Break a twig and describe it – does it “snap” easily (dry) or bend but not break (wet)? What are other indicators of “dry” or “wet” environments? Describe the leaves of the evergreens and compare – how are they different from other leaves that are green in the summer?
Birds – Are these birds different from birds in the summer? How?
Bugs – Some bugs do hang around during the winter in the more temperate climates, but you may have to hunt for them (in sunny, warm, sheltered spots).
Other animals – Cats? Dogs? Deer? Rabbits?
Can you see any clouds? Which type?
If there are clouds, can you make a weather prediction based on what you see (ex. snow or rain clouds?)
What can you HEAR?
Wind? Birds? Bugs? Man-made noises?
Do the sounds differ from those in the spring/summer? If so, how?
What can you SMELL?
Smoke from burning firewood? Exhaust from cars? “Wet” or damp smells? Farm animal smells?
What can you TASTE?
Is there anything you can safely taste? Snow? Lick a rock? Nibble a plant or herb (pleasebe careful and make sure you as the adult is familiar enough with plants/herbs/minerals to be able to distinguish what is safe to digest and what might be harmful)?
What can you FEEL?
The sun or wind on your face? Is it relatively warm or super cold? How does the temperature change on your skin if you are standing in the sun or in shade?
Pick up leaves, sticks, rocks, snow – rough? Smooth? Bumpy? Warm? Super cold? Hard? Soft? Crunchy?
Favorite Spot — Find a favorite spot (pond, vacant plot of land, ditch bank, etc.) and visit it often. Observe how it changes each time and over time.
Nature journal — For older kids (or younger kids interested), encourage them to start a natural journal. Draw observations and if appropriate, write simple descriptor words.
If you are able, take digital pictures. Print and allow your kids to cut and paste the photos into their journal. You can use magazines to also cut and paste pictures to reflect what you observed on your walk.
(This nature drawing includes winter trees with bird nests, yellow/golden dead weeds and grasses, a roly-poly on the sidewalk which was “relocated” to a more sheltered spot, and a green weed that was located under a tree.)
Interact with nature — Feed the winter birds. Observe if they have a favorite food from the different choices you offer. Have a daily bird “count”. Observe if the number of birds goes up the longer you feed them.
If you live in a rural area (and it is ok with your local ordnances and/or property owners and/or mom and dad) put out salt blocks or hay for deer.
Use binoculars to search fields for rabbits, squirrels, deer, foxes, raccoons, birds, badgers, porcupines, mice – any animal that may stay awake during the winter.
Hopefully this little list of suggestions will empower you and your littles to get outside and start observating (my own word; we use it a lot). Also, we at Preschool Inspirations would love to hear if you have other winter nature suggestions or ideas to share.