The change of seasons allows us time to slow down and reflect. Especially key as we head into Thankful Season- that’s a thing, right? Fall in Maryland is a wonderful time to get out, enjoy the weather and to explore the outdoors. Keeping the amazing opportunities to experience the outdoors in mind, we have some creative ways to weave in moments to learn and engage in nature learning!
Communication through nature learning
Encouraging kids to write can sometimes be a challenge. They may think they aren’t good at it or find it tedious. For some, it is most certainly a passion. Writing is a key element to being a well rounded student and learner. Here is why!
Writing is first and foremost an expression of SELF and a mode of communication. It allows for connection with others and to indulge creativity. An awesome book I recently read is by Pam Allyn. Allyn is a literacy expert and her book, Your Child’s Writing Life: How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity and Skill at Any Age explores how beginning to write early on for children fosters emotional growth, develop critical thinking skills, and improves school performance.
WRITE about it!
Allyn’s book (which is really great, btw) offers parents a framework of five elements to inspire kids to write using, appropriately, the acronym, WRITE: Word Power, Reading Life, Identity, Time and Environment. Let’s dig in to each piece and learn a little bit about what they mean. We’ll take these concepts and apply them to some fall specific prompts to engage our nature learning!
One of the first things children learn is how to communicate and for most, this involves using words. I think about how quickly my kids picked up certain words and phrases and how much their little minds were taking in early on. I am working right now with my first grader on sight words. We sometimes fall out of practice with the regularity of reviewing his words. When we do, he definitely struggles to remember them. So, keep it simple and keep it consistent in practicing! I love some of Allyn’s suggestions about maximizing the power of words with your young learners.
Pen letters to each other making sure to weave in new words. This one I love because my son loves to write notes to our neighbor and leave them in his door. He usually includes little pictures and I can see him loving this one.
Take some of your child’s favorite words and create a word jar. Each day, have your child share a new word or phrase and add it to the jar. At the end of the week, review what you submitted and practice spelling the words and using them in sentences. Right now, my son is into bringing home “gross books” from the school library, so our new word bank definitely includes some creative vocabulary.
Reading aloud to your child is an incredible opportunity for fostering a love of language, literature and learning. Family storytime at a young age exposes children to the structure of a story, character development and expands imagination. My daughter is almost 3 and her current favorite book is Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom. She was a bit behind in her language and communication (thanks, pandemic) and this book really opened things up for her. She runs through the ABCs on the first and last pages, reads along with me, and even points out the colors of the letters- her favorite color is, “PURPLE!”
With my son, my oldest child, we’ve graduated to reading more complex narratives and longer books (when he takes a break from his books about the development of boogers and farts). We recently read the first 4 books of Harry Potter. Rowling’s series is rich with fantastical creatures, events and people. My son loves getting lost in the million little details. Depending on your child, you have an array of books to choose from- length, complexity, format!
As parents, we know our children are their own selves right away. My son was chill and wide-eyed and pretty much liked all the things. Then we met our daughter. She is uniquely and unabashedly HERSELF. I think about the way each of my children relay stories of their day to me and how differently they narrate their experiences.
My son recently started writing books. He needs some help with the penning of his story, but he has begun crafting some really fun and unique stories. He started with The Tale of the Dorky Bird (sorry, no link, he’s searching for publishers) and most recently wrote an as yet untitled story about a sad vampire whose zombie friend stole his pumpkin.
Allyn says that when kids create their own stories, it offers a window into their personalities and spotlights their identity. Make sure to offer praise for their character’s dialogue, humor and descriptions.
Time, there is never enough of it. My hope is that exploring writing is not a chore for your family, but instead something fun to do together. The great thing about writing is that it is academically supportive and is camouflaged as something fun. (Shhh, secrets.) Make it a no pressure activity. For us, my son will do the illustrations and then ask a grown up for help with the story. Most often, he will narrate to us and we just transcribe for him. It is a great opportunity to collaborate as a family on something creative! One thing that stands out to me that Allyn says is that writing gives “your child the gift of an outlet for all of the thoughts, ideas, questions and creations that fill his or her mind.”
Last, but not least, is the space in which your child chooses to write. Keeping in the spirit of nature learning, I’d encourage you to take this outdoors when possible! Sit on the porch with a cozy blanket or go to the park and sit on a bench with a view.
One thing that Allyn recommends is to create a writing center. Having the necessary tools, materials and surface available allows for the mind to be at it’s most creative. This may work for your child, and it may not. I would counter Allyn’s stationary writing center with the idea to create a mobile one. Have a tote with a notebook, writing utensils, crayons or colored pencils available for your child to take where he or she pleases. Consider that inspiration strikes when it strikes and not necessarily when you sit at the desk to work. This could even be something your child brings with them in the car and on vacation.
Nature learning writing prompts
Now that we have a framework for writing, WHAT do we write about? Sometimes the answer is clear, the inspiration has given us an idea and direction. Other times, you may need some help getting going. Let’s explore some prompts to dive into writing.
Consider asking your child what he remembers and go from there. Bring out baby pictures, keepsakes and share your stories of when your child was a baby or from their younger years. What is observable? Look around your immediate and larger surroundings. What do you see, feel, taste, hear and touch? How do you experience your environment and how would you describe it? What do you wonder and think about? I love this one because it can run the gamut from silly to complex. This can change depending on what your child recently learned, experienced or likes/ dislikes in the current moment! Lastly, what does your child imagine? Some personalities have fantastical abilities to create and craft other dimensions (think Tolkien, Lucas, Collins) which can see a narrative begin to really take off into something grand.
The following prompts are specific for fall and nature learning as a theme. While they are geared toward younger writers, the questions posed can be answered by anyone. I am planning to do them with my son and share with one another our responses which should spark some fun discussion and perhaps even a bit of a debate in some families. I know he and I won’t have any qualms about which is our favorite fall holiday: Halloween!
Remember to approach your writing experiment with an open mind and an open heart. Use it as an opportunity to explore the outside, spend time together and to feed your creativity. Don’t have too many rules or expectations. Keep it simple, keep it fun, keep it light. I hope you have some great fun writing with your kids and blending your writing with the autumn season of nature learning.
Can’t wait to check in with your next week for Nature Learning part 2 and we’ll explore some more of the outdoors with a guided nature walk, scavenger hunt and weather tracker! Happy Friday. As always, leave us a message in the comments with your thoughts and experiences.
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD.