Nature Notebooks: Take Learning Outside

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

One of the joys of homeschooling is the luxury of extra time to spend with your children during the day. This includes getting to enjoy all that the Gainesville area has to offer each and every day. We are blessed with many parks, trails, and even our backyards that provide us with fun, engaging, and educational opportunities in the outdoors. Some parents may feel guilty about spending so much time out of the “classroom,” but the truth is that kids can learn much about art, science and writing through these non-traditional learning opportunities. So, bring some supplies with you the next time you head out and see what you can learn. 


Science is an obvious subject to teach outdoors. Visit Devil’s Millhopper and learn about sinkholes and how they form. Visit the trails behind the Florida Museum of Natural History to see different Florida ecosystems. Make sure to notice the labels around the trails that identify specific plants and trees. Visit Sweetwater Wetlands Park to identify even more flora while you look for different bird species, insects, and of course, alligators. Simply talking about what you see and read is a great way to teach your kids and learn a bit yourself, too. 


Whether you have a budding artist or just want to encourage your kids to express their creativity, art and nature are a great combination. Bring paper, regular pencils, colored pencils and even watercolors with you when you head out. Teach your kids to create leaf rubbings then label the parts of the leaf. Prompt them to draw pictures of plants, trees and animals they see while they label their names and parts. Look for footprints, take photos and try to identify them. Share your phone with your kids and ask them to create a photo collage of your outdoor adventure. You may even stop and set up a space to paint or draw pictures of what they see. Create your own versions, too, and point out how people sometimes see and interpret things differently. 


Give your child the freedom to express themselves in writing about what they’ve seen and experienced. Kids may keep a journal with an entry for each outing. Ask them to write a narrative about their experiences on a trail or in a park. Your kids can even write stories or poems about what they’ve seen. Imagine the story your child may come up with about two squirrels chasing each other around a tree, a spider slowly building its web, or a flock of birds flying overhead. 

Combine all three subjects into a scavenger hunt for your kids. Give them a bingo-style paper with specific plants, animals or footprints they should look for. As they find each one, they should write its name or a sentence about a feature that stands out and draw a picture of it. 

So, what will you do? The next time we have one of those beautiful fall mornings, take the kids out, visit one of our county or state parks, and learn more about and in our beautiful community. 


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