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Exposure to Nature in Early Education

P.I.N.E.S. Playdate: Weekly Preschool Program

Introduction

Within recent years, some have been concerned that children are losing their connection to nature. As Richard Louv pointed out in his book Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder (2009), as generations progress less emphasis is put on quality time spent out in nature. Instead, technological entertainment and scheduled activities have become the standard. Louv termed this phenomenon “Nature Deficit Disorder”.

Indeed, it seems that recent generations have missed out on numerous learning opportunities that can be afforded by the outdoors. As children are having their time dictated for them at younger ages, opportunities for free play and self-exploration further increases the disconnect between children and nature (Bilton, 2010; Fjørtoft, 2001; Sobel, 2013; White, 2004). Experiences in nature help children relate to the world around them (Acar & Torquati, 2015), develop empathy for other living things (Chawla, 2009), and give them a sense of agency (Wilson, 2012). Furthermore, studies have also found that children growing up in urban areas tend to develop a sense of fear and feelings of disgust when asked what they think about the natural world (Bixler & Floyd, 1997). By having experiences in nature, children can gain a more well-rounded view of themselves, their world, and their place in it. Current philosophy is to allow children ample time to freely explore the natural world during what David Sobel (2008) called the “developmental window of opportunity”, understood to be during the early and middle formative years of childhood.

Yet, it’s not just urban children that can benefit from early environmental education. Regardless of what setting they live in young children are spending a majority of their time in indoors. Getting around town by car as opposed to walking is expected, and many physical activities are done indoors (Bierbrauer, 2013). Standard preschool and daycare programs (progressive and well-rounded they may be) tend to focus on indoor classroom learning and activities as opposed to what lessons can be learned out in nature (Wilson, 2012).  The result is young children may not develop positive feelings toward nature and the environment, nor acquire environmental literacy on what’s outside their front door (White, 2004). Exposure to environmental education is viewed as a viable solution to this.

Why is exposure to nature in early education important? In his 2002 writing, Peter Kahn discusses environmental generation amnesia, defined as “With each ensuing generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation in its youth takes that degraded condition as the nondegraded condition–as the normal experience” (pg. 106).  In simpler terms, what each generation perceives as “untouched nature” is progressively degraded from the perceptions of previous generations. This is an important philosophy to understand as an educator. When surrounded by a certain level of nature or pollution, people perceive that level as normal and anything less (in terms of nature) or more (in terms of pollution) is harmful. To combat this, children should be actively engaged in nature and their local environment as early as possible.

One way to do this is by bringing lessons outside. Many traditional lessons can be directly transferred to an outdoor environment, and even improved upon. In Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques (2015), Jacobson, McDuff & Monroe discuss how many different forms of learning can be utilized and encouraged in environmental education. Hands-on, experiential learning, following a sort of “learning by doing” mentality, supports sensory engagement and physical manipulation of items that can be hard to replicate in a classroom. Furthermore, following the constructivist theory, experiential learning in the natural world allows young children to form their own connections and build their knowledge in a meaningful way (Jacobson, McDuff, & Monroe, 2015; National Research Council, 2000). By supplying opportunities for children to explore and interact with nature, children will form their own (incomplete) knowledge and reasoning which can then be molded and supplemented as they age.

Program Overview

These lessons are to be used at the Pinelands Institute of Natural and Environmental Studies (PINES) during a weekly one-hour program for families with preschool-aged children. The official title of this program is the PINES Playdate. PINES is located on the grounds of Historic Whitesbog Village within Brendan T. Byrne state forest which hosts historic buildings and residences, historic and active cranberry bogs and blueberry fields, and paths through a variety of Pine Barrens ecosystems.

This PINES Playdate pilot program will run from September through November of 2017. It will feature monthly themes, with each weekly playdate focusing on a specific topic within that theme. Each playdate will feature a mixture of science discussion, hands-on activities and time spent out in nature. Concerted effort will be made to foster nature awareness and appreciation while also supporting development of age appropriate critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as inquiry.

These lessons, and the PINES Playdate program in general, will be for parents and caretakers of young children. It is an educational family program to supplement at-home and preschool learning. After the completion and evaluation of the fall pilot program, there will be discussions regarding offering PINES Playdate-style field trips to local preschools and daycares.

The learning outcomes in this curriculum are aligned with New Jersey’s Early Learning Standards and Preschool Learning and the New Jersey Preschool Teaching & Learning Expectation Standards. Lesson assessments will be done during the nature walk for most lessons by allowing children the freedom to express what they learned through observations and activities. The New Jersey Early Learning Standards are guidelines which outline developmental milestones from birth to age three (New Jersey Council for Young Children, 2013). New Jersey Preschool Teaching & Learning Expectation Standards are guidelines for teachers and childcare providers to assist in planning thoughtful curricula and assessment for meeting children’s educational, social, and mental needs (New Jersey Department of Education, 2004).

Playdate Lesson Objectives and Alignment to New Jersey Department of Education Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards 2014

Topic Specific Standards – Birds (September)
Weekly Topic Children will be able to: New Jersey PRE-K Learning Standards
Introduction: 

What do you know about birds?

What can we learn about birds?

  • Identify and describe the main features of a bird
  • Describe that birds need food, water, shelter, and air to live and thrive
  • Relate to birds as living creatures
Science: 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4 

Language Arts: 1.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.6, 2.8

Creative Arts: 3.2

Feathers: 

Why do birds have feathers?

How to feathers help birds fly? Stay warm & dry?

  • Describe the form and function of feathers
  • Identify that feathers are the defining characteristic of a bird
  • Hands-on explore feathers and use them to create art
Science: 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.3 

Math: 3.3

Language Arts: 1.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.8

Creative Arts: 2.2

Beaks: 

Why do different birds have different beaks?

Do different beaks do different jobs?

  • Understand the different uses for different beaks
  • Discuss adaptations and how beaks fit into the definition
  • Manipulate tools and relate their use to different beak styles
Science: 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.3
Nests: 

Do all birds use nests?

Do all birds build the same type of nests?

  • Compare different nest styles and materials
  • List and investigate different places birds may nest
  • Design and build a bird nest from natural materials
Science: 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4

(Adapted from http://www.massaudubon.org/content/download/13465/209556/file/PreKTeachingUnit-BIRDS.pdf)

Topic Specific Standards – Trees (October)
Weekly Topic Children will be able to: PRE-K Learning Standards
Introduction: 

Are trees alive?

What are the two main classifications of trees?

  • Identify the two main categories of trees
  • Describe how trees are living -they need food, air, & water to grow and thrive
 
Parts of a Tree: 

What are the parts of a tree?

What purpose does each part have?

  • Name the characteristics/ parts of a tree.
  • Recognize each part’s importance for the life of the tree
Who Lives in Trees: 

What animals live in trees?

Can animals live in “dead” trees?

  • Recognize that trees are habitats and play vital roles in ecosystems
  • Name at least two animals whose habitat is a tree
Helping Helpful Trees: 

How trees help us? What do we get from trees?

How can we help trees?

  • Name two items (food, household item, etc) we get from trees
  • Identify two ways people can help trees

(Adapted from http://www.massaudubon.org/content/download/13465/209556/file/PreKTeachingUnit-TREES.pdf)

P.I.N.E.S. Playdate

September Lesson Outline../../Screen%20Shot%202017-06-19%20at%207.41.07%20PM.png

Week 1 – Introduce Theme

Learning Objective: Identify and describe the main characteristics and adaptations of a bird.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day
  • Set-up dry erase board in the classroom, draw a bird on the whiteboard
  • Prepare sensory box – Fill plastic tubs with feathers, plastic bird toys, bird seed, measuring spoons/cups, small sifters, small tongs
  • Prepare dress-up materials – felt wings, beak hats/masks, bird feet shoe covers
  • Bird Tally sheet for nature walk; Bird Chorus sheet for listening walk

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials – Bird toy or pictures of birds
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic by asking children to look around the room, to see if they can guess what the topic is.
  • Questions to ask
    • (hold up a bird toy or picture of a bird) Ask “Who knows what this is?”
    • That’s right! A bird! Birds are our focus for this month. Let’s see what new things we can learn about birds!

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – Dry erase board, markers
  • Ask questions to get a sense of what prior knowledge the children may have. Understand that children may be shy at first and may not answer.
  • Ask the big question – “So what makes a bird a bird?”
    • “There are thousands of different types of animals in the world, but there is one thing only birds what. Can you guess what it is?”
    • Is it beaks? No, turtles and squids have beaks
    • Is it eggs? No, plenty of other animals, like lizards, fish & insects lay eggs
    • Is it wings? No, bats and some insects have wings
    • So what is it?
    • Answer – “FEATHERS! Birds are the only animal in the world to have feathers”
    • “Feather are made of keratin. We also have keratin on our bodies in our hair and finger/toenails”
  • Main Characteristics of a bird
    • Vertebrate, meaning it has a spine/backbone like we do • warm blooded • 2 wings • 2 legs/feet • beak or bill special to the type of food they eat • lays eggs/babies hatch from eggs • some have hollow bones to help with flight
  • Do all birds fly?
    • No! Most do but some don’t
    • Ask kids if they can name a bird that doesn’t fly.
    • Show pictures of extant flightless species – ratites (ostrich, emu, rhea, cassowary, kiwi), penguins, kakapo. (There are 60 extant species of flightless birds, keep it simple by naming familiar ones)
  • Fun bird facts!
    • There are around 10,000 different species of birds worldwide
    • Ostriches are the largest birds (~9ft tall), the fastest bird (running speed of ~60mph) and lays the largest
    • Hummingbirds are the smallest birds, with the Bee Hummingbird being the smallest bird species.
    • The most common species of bird is the chicken

Story (10 minutes)

  • Read Birds by Kevin Henkes
  • If there’s time, discuss things we saw or read about in the book.

Active Play – Sensory Box, Bird Dress-up (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials
    • Sensory box – plastic tubs filled with feathers, bones, plastic bird toys, bird seed, measuring spoons/cups, small sifters, small tongs
    • Dress-up materials – felt wings, beak hats/masks, bird feet shoe covers
  • If possible, do these activities outside. If any bird seed falls to the ground, you can leave it and at the end of the playdate, check to see if any birds came to visit. This also gives the children a bit of space to play pretend during dress-up
  • Bring out dress-up materials and sensory boxes
  • Allow children and parents to play freely where they feel comfortable
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids to assess the knowledge they retained during the first half of the playdate. Children tend to act out things the recently learned or read/heard about. Note any instances of this for assessment.
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute and end of play warnings
  • At end of active play time, have children help put away dress-up materials and clean up sensory box materials

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bug to use. Model proper behavior
  • Instruct children to use their eyes and ears to look and listen for birds
  • Have children look for birds on the walk. If they can, have them match what they saw to a bird on the tally sheet and make a mark for each one seen. At the end of the walk, go over the tally sheet

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path, go over the Tally sheet to review what birds were seen
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

Week 2 – Feathers

Learning Objective: Feathers are a major adaptation for survival, keeping birds warm and dry and allowing for flight.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day
  • Prepare container of feathers and hand lenses
  • Prepare feathers, paint containers and papers for art craft

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials – Feathers, close-up photos of feathers
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic by asking children to look around the room, to see if they can guess what the topic is.
  • “This week, we will be exploring feathers!”

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – Feathers, photos of different plumage
    • Ask children questions to see what they remember about feathers from last week, or what they know in general
    •  “Feather are made of keratin. We also have keratin on our bodies in our hair and finger/toenails”
  • Ask “How do feathers help birds?”
    • 3 C’s – Camouflage, Communication & Courtship
    • Feathers work like clothing, they help protect their skin, keep them cool in the summer and insulate to keep them warm
    • Feathers help a bird stay dry in rain with the help of body oils
    • Feathers are important for flight
    • Feathers help birds camouflage
      • Define camouflage – “camouflage is how animals blend into their surroundings to hide from predators”
    • In some birds, the males (boys) are more colorful than females (girls)
      • Some kids may be offended by this, especially young girls. If this happens, explain that the boys are more colorful because have to show off, because the girls do all the choosing. Then explain that mommy birds aren’t very colorful to help then and their babies hide from predators.
  • Ask “Have you have seen a bird preen?”
    • Demonstrate preening on the feather by running your feathers from bottom to top. Have children copy your movements
    • “This is an important thing that birds do all the time”
    • “Birds will preen, which is like combing their feathers like you comb your hair. It helps make sure the feathers are all lying flat to help a bird fly, stay warm and stay waterproof”

Music & Movement (10 minutes)

  • Dance to “Shake Your Tail Feather” video by DanceandBeatsLab on youtube
  • Have children think of and act out other bird movements. Guide them into movements that involve feathers, such as preening, soaring, peacock/turkey tail display, hummingbird “figure 8” movements, etc

Active Play/ Art – Explore Painting with Feathers (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials: Splat mat/ tarp, plastic plates, washable paint, different types of feathers, paper
  • Set up art space with tarp and all materials
  • Paint should be dispensed onto plastic plates. An assortment of feathers should be placed near each plate
  • Place a piece of paper in front of each child
  • Explain that they will be using the feathers to paint with. If needed, demonstrate how to use the feather to paint, but emphasis should be on letting kids explore and try as they see fit
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids. Ask open ended questions. Examples are: How is painting with a feather different than painting with a paintbrush?” “Do stiff feathers paint the same as or differently than soft feathers?” “Can you think of other items we can use to paint with?”
  • If there are children who don’t want to paint, allow them to explore feathers with hand lenses
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute, and end of play warnings
  • At end of art time, have children help clean up. Place artwork on a table to dry. Children will take their artwork home at the end of the playdate

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior
  • Instruct children to use their eyes and ears to look and listen for birds
  • Children should look for signs of birds, especially feathers, birds flying/soaring and preening
  • Children can continue imitating bird movements. Assess if children remember movements that involve feathers.

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

Week 3 – Beaks

Learning Objective: Understand that different beaks do different jobs. Discuss adaptations and how beaks fit into the definition.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day
  • Set-up dry erase board in the classroom, draw a bird on the whiteboard
  • Prepare beak tools and model foods for Beak Toolbox activity

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials – bird skulls/replicas, photos of different birds eating/foraging
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic by asking children to look around the room, to see if they can guess what the topic is.
  • “This week, we will be exploring beaks!”

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – bird skulls/replicas, photos of different birds eating/foraging
    • Ask children questions to see what they know about beaks in general
  • Ask “What do birds use their beaks for?”
    • Eating, cleaning their feathers (Remember what that’s called from last week? Preening!), taking care of their chicks, building nests, protection
  • Ask “What part of our body are bird beaks like?”
    • Mouth! But also hands, bird will pick up and manipulate items with their beaks like we do with our hands and fingers
  • Ask “Do all birds have the same shape beak?” “Why do you think they have different shapes? What are these shapes for?
  • Different beak shapes are a type of adaptation. Adaptations are ways animals are able to live where and how they do. Many species can only do or eat certain things because of their specific adaptations.

Music & Movement (10 minutes)

  • Sing and act out “Busy Beaks” song by National Wildlife Federation

Active Play/ Art – Beak Toolbox (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials
    • Beak Toolbox – sifters/strainers (waterfowl), chopsticks (herons), scissors (raptors), tweezers (small seed-eating birds), tongs (plovers/ sandpipers), eye droppers (hummingbirds). Multiples of each item is best
    • Pretend foods – pondweed in water (waterfowl), foam fish floating in water (herons), skinny cylinder of water (hummingbird), toy worms in dirt (plovers/sandpipers), birdseed/rice (seed-eating birds), playdough wrapped around a stick (raptors)
    • Bowls or other containers for pretend foods
    • Photos of each bird/beak type
  • Set out tools near photos of bird with beaks the specific tool represents. Have multiples so more than one child can try a tool at a time
  • Set out pretend food (and any needed containers)
  • Allow children to try different “beaks” at different food stations
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids to assess what they’re learning. Ask them about their experimentation and about which beaks work be with which foods. Ask which “food” was the easiest to pick up with that beak/tool. Which one was the hardest? Discuss with the children which real bird species has a beak that matches that tool
    • Children tend to act out things the recently learned or read/heard about. Note any instances of this for assessment.
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute and end of play warnings
  • At end of active play time, have children help put away dress-up materials and clean up sensory box materials

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Bring some of the tools and bird photos with you for today’s walk.
  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior
  • Instruct children to use their eyes and ears to look and listen for birds
  • Find something a bird could use for food (either found naturally or planted beforehand)
  • Ask the children which one of the “beaks” would be best to use on this food. Which beak wouldn’t work?

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

Week 4 – Nests

Learning Objective: Discover that birds make and use nests for shelter and to protect their young.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day
  • Set-up dry erase board in the classroom, draw a bird on the whiteboard
  • Prepare container of feathers and hand lenses
  • Prepare nesting materials, clay/play-dog and bowls for nest-making craft
  • Build giant nest along nature trail for story time (build out of what it available)

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials – gathered old nests, pretend birds in nests
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic by asking children to look around the room, to see if they can guess what the topic is.
  • “This week, we will be exploring nests!”

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – gathered old nests, photos of different types of nest
    • Ask children questions to see what they know about nests in general
    • Ask “Why do birds make nests?”
      • Many birds make nests to lay their eggs in and raise their babies in
      • (Opportunity to create empathy by asking if their parents/grown-ups do/make anything that make them feel safe/loved)
    • Do all birds make the same nests?
      • No! There are many different types, shapes, and sizes of nests
      • Some birds put a lot of time into their nests, making them very large (show photo of an eagles nest)
      • Some make small bowl shaped nests (show robins nest)
      • Some nest in holes in trees (photo of woodpecker cavity nesting)
      • Some barely make a nest at all (show seabird scrape)
    • Many nests are made from things the bird finds in it’s environment. What sort of hard things do you thing a bird builds its nest out of?
      • Twigs, sticks, rocks, grass, mud/dirt
    • Do you like to sleep on a hard bed? No! Neither do birds. Mommy and daddy birds will add soft things into the nest to make their babies comfortable. What do you think they use?
      • Answers may include blankets/pillows, etc. redirect towards natural things like moss, hair, down/freathers, etc
    • Do you know any other animals that make nests?
      • Answers can include lizards, alligators/crocodiles, rodents, gorillas, etc.

Story (10 minutes)

  • Read Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward
  • (Will be done during nature walk)

Active Play/ Art – (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials: plastic bowls, clay/play-doh, nesting materials (twigs, cotton balls, yarn, leaves, moss, dried grass, etc)
  • Now we’ll make our own nests!
  • Lay out nesting materials, ensure all children have access to a variety of materials.
  • Place a plastic bowl infront of each child. Demonstrate how children should mold the clay/play-doh into the bottom of the bowl
  • Have children stick their nesting materials into the clay/play-doh
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute, and end of play warnings
  • At end of art time, have children help clean up. Place artwork on a table to dry. Children will take their artwork home at the end of the playdate

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Bring the story book with you for the nature walk
  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior
  • Instruct children to use their eyes and ears to look for a good nest to roost in
  • Lead children towards giant nesting pile. Instruct and allow children to help “build” the nest
  • Have children setting in/around the nest, then read Read Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

P.I.N.E.S. Playdate

October Lesson Outline

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Week 1 – Introduce Theme

Learning Objective: Identify the two main categories of trees

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day
  • Set-up dry erase board in the classroom, draw 2 trees on the whiteboard – one coniferous and one deciduous

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials –
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic by asking children to look around the room, to see if they can guess what the topic is.
  • Questions to ask
    • (hold up a toy or picture of a tree) Ask “Who knows what this is?”
    • That’s right! A tree! Trees are our focus for this month. Let’s see what new things we can learn about trees!

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – Whiteboard; Photos of different tree species; Leaves, cones, needles, acorns, barks from a variety of trees
  • Ask children to name as many trees as they can. Write them down on the whiteboard. Then ask if they can think of ways to classify trees (ex – size, height, color, etc).
  • Trees are the largest plant in the world!
  • Trees are “perennial” plants, meaning they continue living year after year
  • “All of the trees we know fall into two categories, or groups – Deciduous trees and Coniferous Trees
    • Deciduous Trees:
      •  Lose their leaves at the end of their growing season (during the fall/dry season)
      • have leaves that will turn colors before falling off
      • Produce all different types of nuts, fruits and seeds
      • (A few deciduous trees have needles instead of leaves)
      • Examples of deciduous species – maple, oak, sassafras, birch, cypress (a “deciduous conifer”, a deciduous tree with needles)
    • Coniferous Trees:
      • Produce cones as seeds (Cone < – > Coniferous, “like pinecones!”)
      • Most have needles instead of leaves, which stay on the trees through winter. The coniferous trees with leaves have stiff, waxy leaves (because of this, coniferous trees are also called evergreen trees)
      • Though they look very similar at first, they are different shapes, sizes, colors, smells, and even their cones look different from each other!
      • Examples of coniferous/evergreen species – pine, cedar, rhododendron (evergreen with leaves).

Music & Movement (10 minutes)

  • Sing along to and act out “If I Were a Tree” video by Jason Mesches Music on youtube

Active Play/ Art – Name That Tree Investigation (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials: Leaves, cones, needles, acorns, barks from a variety of trees
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids. Ask open ended questions. Examples are:
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute, and end of play warnings
  • At end of activity time, announce to children that we’ll be continuing our investigation on the nature walk

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior
  • Remember to bring “Deciduous” and “Coniferous” tags and a marker on the walk
  • On the walk, have children point out trees. Ask them if it is deciduous or coniferous
  • After correct identification, name the tree, write the name on the correct tag, and have a child hang the tag on the tree
  • Put emphasis on species not already identified/tagged

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

Week 2 – Parts of a Tree

Learning Objective: Name the parts of a tree and describe their purpose.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day
  • Prepare “Journey Sticks” for nature walk by wrapping double-sided contact paper onto a stick or empty paper towel roll

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials – Whiteboard,
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic by asking children to look around the room, to see if they can guess what the topic is.
  • Questions to ask
    • We visited many different types of trees last week. Who can tell me some features or parts of a tree? (ex – leaves, bark, branches, roots, etc)

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials –Leaves/needles, cones/seeds/acorns, bark from a variety of trees
  • Ask children what parts of trees do they know
  • Parts of a Tree
    • Seeds – All trees begin life as a seed! Seeds contain the food they need to start growing already inside! Seedlings are the small sprouts that come out of the seed, and seedlings turn into “saplings” (baby trees!)
    • Roots – Grow underground, collect and store water and nutrients from the ground. They support the tree and help keep the tree from tipping over. The root system of a tree is usually as big as the tree’s canopy!
    • Trunk – Supports the crown of the tree, and gives the tree is shape. The trunk also stores water/nutrients from the soil and food from the leaves.
    • Bark – The outer, protective layer of the tree. Bark covers the trunk, branches, and twigs. There are 2 types of bark – inner and outer bark. Inner bark is soft and living, outer bark is hard and dead.
    • Crown – All of the branches and leaves at the top of the tree. Also called the “canopy”. Different species of trees have different crowns, giving us many different shapes and sizes of trees.
    • Branches – Support the leaves and create the crown of the tree. They also transport and store food and water to and from the leaves.
    • Leaves –Leaves are super important! Leaves help make food for trees, and help the tree transpire (breathe/sweat). Leaves are green because of “chlorophyll”, a biomolecule that makes leaves look green. Leaves collect energy from the sun using chloroplasts and through a process called “photosynthesis, turn that energy into sugar, food for the tree.

Music & Movement (10 minutes)

  • Sing along to and act out “The Green Grass Grows All Around”

Active Play/ Art – Name That Tree Investigation (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials: Leaves, cones, needles, acorns, barks from a variety of trees
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids. Ask open ended questions. Examples are:
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute, and end of play warnings
  • At end of activity time, announce to children that we’ll be continuing our investigation on the nature walk

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Materials – prepared Journey Sticks (one for each child)
  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior.
  • Hand each child a Journey Stick. Tell them to collect one of each type of tree part that we discussed (leaf, needle, bark, twig, root, etc)
  • Pick a piece of bark off a tree. Show children the dead outer bark and the living inner bark
  • If possible, find a tree releasing sap. Ask kids to describe how it feels (sticky!). “Sap is sweet; it is the sugar we talked about. Which part of the tree creates sugar? (leaves!). Does anyone remember the name for the process how it creates this sugar? (Photosynthesis! May need to help kids with this question)”

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

Week 3 – Who Lives in Trees?

Learning Objective: Identify species that live in trees and what characteristics help them to do so.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials –
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic – “We talked about what makes a tree a tree, now let’s learn about who lives in trees”

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – felt board with animals who live in and around trees
  • Who lives in trees?
    • Children will name animals who live in trees. Can be native (squirrels, opossums, birds, insects, spiders) or exotic (primates, exotic bird or rodent species, etc)
    • Animals who live in trees are called “arboreal”. Even animals who don’t live in trees use them for similar things we do – shade, shelter, food, nesting/building material.
  • What physical characteristics help animals live in trees?
    • Examples include claws (for climbing), tails (for balance and support), sticky toes (for climbing), and wings (to get up to the treetops).
    • Show photos or animal toys of animals who live in trees

Music & Movement (10 minutes)

  • Read The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward
  • If there’s time, discuss things we saw or read about in the book.

Active Play/ Art – Where Do I Live? (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials: Cardboard tree, animal toys (possum, bird, bat, frog, spider, etc)
  • Build a tree out of cardboard boxes with hollow spaces where children can place animal toys. Attach velcro to tree and to toys for animals that would hang on as opposed to cavity nest.
  • Let children place animals where they think it will live in/on the tree.
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids. Ask open ended questions. Ask them why they think certain creatures live where and why.
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute, and end of play warnings
  • At end of activity time, announce to children that we’ll be continuing our investigation on the nature walk

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior.
  • Have children point out places where animals can live and what animals would live there.
  • If possible, look for animals and have children list what physical characteristics they have to help them live in trees.
  • Find a downed tree/rotting log and point out the creatures who use that as a home.

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

Week 4 – Helping Helpful Tree

Learning Objective: Understand how people and trees are connected by how we use and what we get from trees. Discuss ways we can help trees.

Pre-Playdate Set-up

  • Gather all necessary materials for the day

Greeting (5 minutes)

  • Materials
  • Sing welcome song
  • Introduce topic – “We talked about what makes a tree a tree, now let’s learn about who lives in trees”

Science (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials – felt board with animals who live in and around trees
  • We learned about types of trees, the parts of a tree, and what animals live in trees. But what do we get out of trees?
  • How do trees help us?
    • Let children list what they think/know we get from trees.
    • Trees provide wood for lumber/building materials and wood pulp for making paper. How can we help trees that provide these items? By reusing and recycling, and buying items made from recycled paper/wood.
    • Last week we learned that trees proiovide habitat for many different types of animals
    • Many foods that we eat come from trees, including many fruits and nut. Can you name some foods we get from trees? Examples include apples, oranges, pears, peaches, cherries, almonds, walnuts, etc. We even get syrup from the sugary sap of trees!
    • Trees help us breathe by helping to clean our air. They do this by taking in carbon dioxide (what we breathe out) and putting out oxygen (what we breathe in).
    • Trees give us shade in the summer to help keep us cool.

Music & Movement (10 minutes)

  • Read A Tree is Nice by National Geographic Learning
  • If there’s time, discuss things we saw or read about in the book.

Active Play/ Art – (10-15 minutes)

  • Materials: Tree part building blocks
  • Use natural materials for constructive play – tree branch/cookie “building blocks”
  • Walk around and have discussions with the kids. Ask open ended questions. Discuss how these toys came from trees. Ask if they can recognize which parts of the tree specific “blocks” came from. What other toys do they have they know came from trees (other toys made from wood)
  • Give 3-minute, 1-minute, and end of play warnings
  • At end of activity time, announce to children that we’ll be continuing our investigation on the nature walk

Nature Walk (15-20 minutes)

  • Take children on nature path. Remind children to respect nature. Be mindful of trees, leave the branches and leaves on the trees/bushes for birds and bugs to use. Model proper behavior.
  • Pick out a specific tree with the children to “adopt”. We’ll mark it with special ribbon so we know which one it is. Let children explore their tree, and let them offer suggestions on ways to care for “their” tree. Invite children and their caregivers to come visit the tree and care for it.

Closing (5 minutes)

  • Gather at end of nature path
  • Discuss any important reminders for next week
  • Sing goodbye song
  • Chat with parents if time allows

References

Acar, I., & Torquati, J. (2015). The power of nature: Developing prosocial behavior toward nature and peers through nature-based activities. Young Children9(1), 62-71.

Bailey, D. B. (2002). Are critical periods critical for early childhood education? Early Childhood Research Quarterly17(3), 281-294. doi:10.1016/s0885-2006(02)00165-5

Bailie, P. E. (2010). From the one-hour field trip to a nature preschool: Partnering with environmental organizations. YC Young Children, 65(4), 76.

Bierbrauer, Andrea Joy. (2013). Early Childhood Nature Curriculum for the Formal Preschool Classroom. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://hdl.handle.net/11299/187545.

Bilton, H. (2010). Outdoor Learning in the Early Years (3rd ed.). London: Routledge

Bixler, R. D., & Floyd, M. F. (1997). Nature is Scary, Disgusting, and Uncomfortable. Environment and Behavior29(4), 443-467.

Bixler, R., Floyd, M., & Hammitt, W. (2002). Environmental socialization – Quantitative tests of the childhood play hypothesis. Environment and Behavior, 34(6), 795-818.

Chawla, L. (2009). Growing up green: Becoming an agent of care for the natural workd

Fjørtoft, I. (2001). The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education, 29, 111-117.

Jacobson, S. K., McDuff, M. D., & Monroe, M. C. (2015). Learning and teaching with adults and youth. In Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques (pp. 35-62).

Jacobson, S. K., McDuff, M. D., & Monroe, M. C. (2015). Making conservation come alive. In Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques (pp. 132-173).

Kahn, P. J. (2002). Children’s affiliations with nature: structure, development, and the problem

of environmental generational amnesia. In P. J. Kahn, Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations (pp. 93-116). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: save our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel

Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Luken, E., Carr, V., & Brown, R. (2011). “Playscapes: Designs for Play, Exploration and Science Inquiry.” Children, Youth and Environments 21(2): 325-337.

National Research Council. (2000). How children learn. In How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition (pp. 79-113). National Academies Press.

New Jersey Council for Young Children. (2013). New Jersey Birth to Three Early Learning Standards. Retrieved from http://www.nj.gov/education/ece/guide/standards/birth/standards.pdf

New Jersey State Department of Education. (2004). Preschool Teaching & Learning Expectations: Standards of Quality. Retrieved from http://www.state.nj.us/education/ece/archives/code/expectations/expectations.pdf

Reichel, A. G. (2017, June 29). Learning to Care: The Promise of Experiential Learning in Nature for Young Children. Retrieved from http://www.childrenandnature.org/2017/06/29/learning-to-care-the-promise-of-experiential-learning-in-nature-for-young-children/

Sobel, D. (2008). Childhood and nature: Design principles for educators. Stenhouse Publishers.

Sobel, D. (2013). Beyond ecophobia: Reclaiming the heart in nature education. Great Barrington, MA: Orion Society.

White, R. (2004). Young Children’s Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s

Development & the Earth’s Future. Retrieved from childrenandnature.org: http://www.childrenandnature.org/uploads/White_YoungChildren.pdf

Wilson, R.A. (1994). Environmental education at the early childhood level. Washington, DC: North American Association for Environmental Education.

Wilson, R. A. (2012). Nature and Young Children: Encouraging Creative Play and Learning in Natural Environments. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.



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