When teaching anything it is important to have everything planned out and all preparations made. The faster and smoother the program runs the more fun the kids well have, and the easier it will be on you. As the saying says “control through activity”, which basically just means if you give them time to tie there shoes, you also give them time to get into mischief. You also need to remember th KISMIF rule, Keep It Simple and Make It Fun. Lastly always remember “Safety First – Safety Always”!!!
The first thing to do is get outside, doesn't matter if its just for a few hours in the park, or an all day hike. But to make learning about the outdoors fun, you must be in the outdoors experiencing all it has to offer. Learning about the outdoors is as much experiencing it as it is learning about it.
There are so many things that could be taught that there is now way I can go into detail in this article, but what I can do is help you get your creative juices running. Here are some ideas...
Digital picture treasure hunt … remember “Leave only foot prints, take only pictures and kill only time”. The act of collecting leaves, rocks, sticks, etc breaks this outdoor rule, but taking pics of what you find doesn't. Also this allows you a way to look up that plant or what ever when you get home to identify it.
Observe animals, and maybe photograph them. Find a quiet out of the way place to hang out. Keeping some what still and very quiet as movement and noise could frighten animals, birds, etc away.
Arrange with a local park to plant a few small trees. Over a period of several years you will be able to watch the tree grow.
Arrange with someone to plant seeds, and over a growing season you can witness the plants growth but also the animals that plant helps.
Go on a hike and collect trash you find along the way. Recycle the trash also have photos handy to show what some of the trash can do to the animals. For example a bird with its head stuck in a 6 pack of soda plastic rings. Also you could use this time to go through a list of how long it takes things to decompose, you refer to this post for some ideas http://insanescouter.org/blog/138/How_long_do_things_last.html
Do crafts like create Christmas trees out of pine cones, or rock pets
Arrange with a local astronomy or bird watching club to come give the kids some hands on experience. The astronomy club for example might be willing to meet you in a local park, and sit up some telescopes etc.
Lay down on the ground and only examine things that your arms can reach, below you, above, or next to you, but only what you can reach when laying down.
The above list is just the tip of the ice berg, what you can do is virtually unlimited. Just make sure you check in with who ever runs the land. For example public lands often have rules about digging, removing rocks, artifacts, etc. I even know of a Scout Troop that once got heavily find for working on the Paul Buyune award and cutting down living trees, the fine was something like $2,500 per tree.
Some other things to ponder...
According to the American Hiking Society, hiking lowers our blood pressure, strengthens our hearts, and helps us lose weight. Hiking clears our heads and relieves stress. Hiking is good for the environment, and possibly even more important for the health of the environment, hiking adds to our awareness of it.
Playing outside is natural exercise, which reduces obesity and diabetes. Playing on fields or in woods stimulates cooperation, creativity, and problem-solving skills more than playing on asphalt. “Kids who play on naturalized schoolyards tend to have fewer antisocial interactions,” says David Sobel, director of teacher certification programs at Antioch University New England. Outdoor settings and green environments also have a calming affect on children with attention disorders; children as young as 5 showed a decrease in ADD symptoms when they were engaged with nature.
According to a 2005 study released by the California Department of Education, children who learned in outdoor classrooms increased their science test scores by 27 percent. The gains also extend to reading and math. “If you use the environment as an integrating theme across the curriculum,” says Day, “test scores go way up.” It’s reading about the environment and then exploring it that makes a difference. “It’s not merely the act of going outdoors,” says Day, “but if you tie it back to the curriculum in an applied way, then things start to happen.”
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like falling leaves.” --John Muir
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.” --Audubon
Capture their hearts and imaginations. Show them how to love being outside. How to love seeing animals and birds. How to interpret sounds and smells and textures — and how to love them!
Last, as you head out the door grab a simple first aid kit for those bumps and bruises, a child safe sun screen, and bug spray. A few other things which might add to the adventure are a magnifying glass, plastic bags for treasures collected, notebook, snacks, water, camera, etc.
Please feel free to post your thoughts, ideas, comments, etc below... thanks!