In today’s world of excess, global warming and other destructions of nature teaching children to conserve is vital. The series of lesson plan ideas focuses on teaching students about conservation, as well as a love and respect for nature. For after all the lesson best learned is one that has meaning to the student. These include outdoor activities that can take place anywhere you live: country, suburbs, cities, coastal regions or mountains.
Creating a Bond with Nature
Nature is all around us. Whether you teach or live in the country where natural treasure are bountiful, the suburbs that are sprinkled with nature, a coastal region or the city where nature can be less obvious – one thing is certain; there’s a bit of nature everywhere.
Another certain thing is that our natural resources are quickly disappearing due to today’s attitude of overindulgence and ignorance to the facts. It’s vital to teach our students (and children) to conserve. This first step in this critical process is a to create and nurture a love and appreciation of nature. That starts with what is around our students and children on an everyday basis.
That’s what this lesson is all about: planting the seed for a love and respect of nature and mother earth.
Select an Outdoor Area
Select an area for this activity that you can return to with your class on several occasions if not all year. It should have enough room for the class to spread out and be away from one another but close enough that you can see them all and monitor them too.
A nearby park, field area at school or playground will do. If you have the choice get as close to natural surroundings and away from the rest of the world as you are able.
(This activity can be adapted for winter or those with no outside access by finding a place near windows where your students can observe the outside.)
Students will need their nature journal (see materials list at the end of this part) and a pencil. Instruct the students before going outside that they will need to be quiet for the beginning of this activity. They will use their eyes, ears, smell and touch. Let them know that they will have the opportunity to talk later.
Take your group to the designated area and tell them that have 5-10 minutes to select an area away from others that will be their special spot. Tell them once they have selected a spot to sit and listen for further instructions. Allow the class to disperse and select their spots. Encourage those hesitant to chose on a good spot.
Once spots are chosen and any needed adjustments are made, instruct the class to close their eyes and listen for 5 minutes or until they hear your signal (a prearranged clap, whistle, etc). You should also take part in the activity by selecting a spot of your own and observing. Eyes should be open of course for student safety.
At the end of this time (5-10 miuntes) ask the class to open their eyes, turn to page 1 in their nature journals and answer the questions.
Encourage the students to take their time when answering. Offer guidance only and encourage students to find the answers in nature.
When students have completed this ask them to once again close their eyes and listen, smell and touch around their spot. Ask them to add any observations to their journal.
Next gather them as a group outside or return inside and discuss page 1 questions. Talk about surprises they had, things they expected that were different, etc.
(If you go inside this lesson can be extended to a math activity by recording tallies of how many of the same/different sounds were heard, animals same/different were seen, make predictions of sounds heard and smells recorded. Extension will reinforce both subjects being learned.)
Next ask them to turn to page 3 in their journal and write down 3 questions they have about their spot. Have them close their eyes and go back in their mind to the spot. Ask them to record something they wonder about, heard, smelled, felt, saw. Let them know that next time at their spot these questions will be answered.
Finish up the lesson by reading a story or part of a longer story for older students about nature and people interacting with nature.
Before going outside discuss how all things in nature are interdependent. How do all things in any ‘community’ living and non-living depend on each other for survival? Give examples of how a tree provides shade for plants to grow and animals to be protected from the hot sun and other harsh weather. How trees depend on soil for nourishment to grow. How birds rely on trees for berries to eat and shelter. A short story to illustrate this point would be helpful too.
Instruct your class that they will be visiting their special spot again today. They should have their nature journals (or pg 3 & 4), and a pencil. Instruct your class that once they are in their spot to close their eyes and sit quietly, listening, smelling and feeling for 5 minutes until they hear your signal.
Once the students are in their spots begin the time for about five minutes minimum, longer if they are all focused. Upon completion ask them to journal about anything new that they noticed this time at their spot. New sounds, smells. Ask them to take a few minutes and look around. Do they notice any changes? Have them record their findings.
Next have them refer to the three questions they recorded last time. Have them take the time now to answer the questions. If students hesitate or don’t know the answers assure them that if they listen and look around their spot nature will give the answers.
Once this has been completed have them turn to page 4 of their journals, the circle of life. On this page the students should record 11 things from their site in each of the circles on the page. Rocks, streams, grass, trees, animals, and insects – anything that they’ve either seen or just seen signs of.
The rest of this activity can either be completed inside or gather your class in a group outside. Instruct your class to draw lines from one circle to another one that it is connected to in some way. For instance, the bird is connected to the tree for shelter, the earth for food, etc. Discuss.
Next have the class imagine that one of the circles has disappeared from the community. For example the tree. Have them think about and record how that would affect the other circles in the community. Discuss. Cover that circle and follow the lines to each object that would be touched by this one loss.
Ask them next to find one thing in their spot that isn’t connected in any way to anything else. Discuss. (This list won’t exist; when students think they have one use the opportunity to discuss how all of the objects in their community are interconnected.)
Extend this discussion to how things in the bigger picture of the world of nature are interdependent. Use real world examples and ask students to come up with some also.
Have your students write or draw what would happen if just one item in their circles was gone forever.
Now that your class has spent some time in their spot and become familiar with it, this next activity will have them share what they’ve discovered. Have your students bring outside with them their nature journals and a pencil.
Once again ask your students to go to their spot and spend five minutes with their eyes closed, quietly observing. Ask them to record in their journals on page 6 anything new or unexpected that they have observed. Have them open their eyes and look around and record anything they see that has changed. This time ask them to record their feelings on any changes they observed.
Ask them to turn to page 7 of the journals, a prewritten invitation and complete it. Have half of the class put their invitations into a hat and ask the other part of the class to select an invitation. The person who chose the invitation should now give their invitation to their ‘partner’.
Have the students take their partner to their special spot and give a tour. Ask them to review with their partner the observations that they’ve made in their journal. Next have them go to the other’s spot and do the same.
When they have completed this activity ask the students to switch spots with their partners. Have your students sit quietly for 5 minutes or until your signal. At the completion of this time ask the students to go to page 8 of their journals and answer the questions.
Have the students meet in each other’s spots and review findings. Did their partner notice anything different? Did anything surprise them about their partner’s observations?
This is the final phase of this lesson plan. The extensions of this are endless. The more time that your students have to continue to be a part of their spot the stronger bond they will form with it and nature. If you can continue to use this spot for science lessons, reading and any lesson that you can do here.
It is essential to teach the next generation conservation if the planet is to continue. As teachers this too is our job. A lesson learned is of much greater value when it is meaningful. Let this begin the bond your students forge with nature.
As Sigurd Olson, the American Wilderness guide said, “Without love for land, conservation lacks meaning or purpose, for only in a deep and inherent feeling for the land can there be dedication to preserving it…"