Studies show that spending unstructured time in nature has a host of health benefits, such as relieving symptoms of ADD and depression, as well as developing our next generation of naturalists. But if you would like a concrete reason to get your class outside, here are some lesson ideas.
- Make maps: Have students go into a neighborhood or park with a clipboard or notepad and some colored pens and pencils. Tell them to fill out a map of the surroundings and label everything by designing some different symbols. Remind them to draw a key in the corner of the map to explain everything. If you have access to one or more compasses, have them add the bearings to the map to show which direction to go.
- Do outdoor treasure hunting: Also known as “geocaching”, this is hunting and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates. Your students can hide their own treasures in teams, or look for a geocache which is already nearby (there are millions around the world). Check out Outdoor Treasure Hunting on the Outdoor Classroom Day website, and Geocaching.com for links to the official geocaching app (which is free) and for finding geocaches.
- Do pond-dipping: Check out Dr. Forsey’s Pond-Dipping – Teacher Pack for instructions on running the activity, and search for pond-dipping on TES.com for a selection of downloadable worksheets.
- Do a nature mini-hunt. Give each child a hula hoop or a loop of string and a bowl or bucket. Tell them to place the loop on the ground, and ask them to collect and/or identify the different types of plants, bugs, and rocks within their loop. Find a plant website through this link, bugs through bugguide.net, and rocks through geology.com/rocks.
- Go on a listening walk. Tell the class to be very quiet as you go for a walk outside or in the park. Listen for the different types of bird calls and other sounds of nature. Ask the students to each memorize a different sound. When you get back to the classroom, compare the sounds with recordings on the following sites:
For other lesson ideas, see the resources listed at the end of the article “Improving student mental health by providing access to nature.”