Examine items carefully and draw what you see. For example, find flowers of different colors and point out the petals and other parts. Or find a variety of leaves and observe the different shapes, colors, textures, and veins. You and your child can imagine you are scientists, observing and documenting what you see.
Look up and look down, look all around, and feel free to crawl on the ground. Place a small piece of food nearby and watch what happens.
Watch for leaf and flower buds bursting in the spring, insects buzzing in the summer, and leaves changing colors in the fall. During all seasons, watch for visitors to the tree—birds and small animals looking for food or a resting place.
Look for places to explore near where you live. Nature can hide in the cracks of a sidewalk, under the stairs, in abandoned lots, or on the edges of manicured lawns. Don’t worry if you don’t live near an open field, a forest, a desert, or a seashore.
Find flowers and let them dry, pressed between the pages of a heavy book. Once they are dry, use them to make crafts. For example, put clear contact paper over the flowers to make a placemat. In the fall, try the same activity with leaves. Find orange, yellow, purple, red, or brown leaves. Find a dry leaf and crunch it!
In an out-of-the-way corner, dig a hole and pour water in it to see what happens. Ask your child where she thinks the water goes. Play with the mud, squish it between your toes, and jump over or in the hole. When you are done, fill the hole with dirt again, and check it later to see what’s growing there.
Find some weeds! How are their seeds dispersed? Do the seeds cling to your clothes, are they carried by the wind, or are they flung when the seedpods are touched? Ask your child what he discovered during this investigation.
Discuss collecting with your child. If the ground is carpeted with acorns or flowers, it’s probably okay to take one unless it’s on a refuge where collecting is prohibited. Examine something for a few hours and then let it go again. Keep fireflies in a jar and release them the next morning. Transfer fish, turtles, or frogs to an aquarium for a night. Some fish will survive in an aquarium if you transfer them with the same water from where you found them.
Donna J. Satterlee, EdD, teaches child development in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She has collaborated with Grace and Matt Cormons since 1999 to implement the successful nature-based family learning program Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge (SPARK).