Can you provide examples of outdoor learning activities to do with a group of second graders?

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paula coomer, Author, background in higher ed, nursing, and early childhood ed

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Any learning situation is enhanced by incorporating creative processes--especially those that encourage children to engage with nature--and gross motor activity. Creative outdoor activities suitable for even second graders can be more complicated than you might think if broken into components over days or weeks. All require a degree of planning, but this series of connected activities having to do with earlier human technologies can actually be the focus of an entire school year:

  • gathering found items from the outdoors such as leaves, flowers, small sticks, feathers, etc., to create individual collages that juxtapose found items against photos of nature with discussions about the different between the nature world and the world we create;
  • using straw and mud to create "bricks" in large paper cups (begin with a discussion and about how straw is grown, it's various uses in the past; bricks can later be used in to build a wall as part of the house activity below);
  • measuring and outlining a house or building that might be built with their mud bricks using stones and string (students gather the stones first); students can imagine and discuss where various furniture might be placed, where they'd want their rooms and why;
  • planting and maintaining a small flower or vegetable garden
  • using child-safe "cement" to create stepping stones embedded with small stones and gathered items to lead from the garden to the "house";
  • making simple vegetable dyes from beets, turmeric, tea, etc., for painting large fabric mural of their imagined "house" outside on the ground using the dyes (these will stain hands) and "brushes" made from shredding sticks;
  • if your school will allow it, pit cooking underground using heated stones
  • drying fruit on screens.

Use these occasions to teach spelling, language, mathematics, art, creativity, culture, science, cooperation, responsibility, and community.

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Yamini Pathak, Yamini Pathak is co-founder of K-12 Education resources website Schools 'N More

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All great ideas above. Here are a few more:

  • Go on small hikes in a nearby park or in the school garden. Look out for various types of leaves, flowers and insects and record them in observation notebooks for a demonstration of the scientific method. Journal about the activity afterwards.
  • Take art supplies outdoors. Drawing and painting from nature is a wonderful experience for any age group.
  • Outdoor read-alouds can be fun and engaging.
  • Planting a garden from seeds, observing and recording its growth can be a practical science and math lesson.
  • Create a compost bin for a lesson on recycling and to feed the garden.
  • Make a sundial using sticks and chalk in a sunny patch of the school yard and learn to tell time. Similarly, you can use an outdoor thermometer to learn about temperature measurement and measure rainfall using graduated cups left outdoors.
  • A walk to pick up trash and clean an outdoor yard teaches kids the value of contributing to the community.

Hope this helps!

Jennifer Oleniczak, Artistic Director and Founder of The Engaging Educator

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I'm a big fan of movement (clearly) activities!

  • Have them examine shapes in trees, leaves, plants - and then move their bodies to mirror the shapes and things they see.
  • Let them recreate a 'view' and bring the nature to life by giving them personalities...what would the tree say if it could talk?
  • Create a story using a basic Story Spine
  • Have them collect objects from nature and 'sort' or group them into an art installation.
  • Use the outdoors as a background for a short play from the story developed from the Story Spine, and put on a short play

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