One of the big challenges faced by everyone who wants to share nature with children is planning the best possible outdoor experiences.
With the right encouragement, kids are amazing at soaking up the lessons of nature, and this can have incredible effects on the emotional & intellectual well-being of young, developing minds.
But I’ve also noticed many educators really struggle to find the right balance between being exciting and fun, while also giving practical lessons that have long-term impact.
Over the years I’ve studied many different approaches for designing effective nature lessons & classes, and there are 3 components that always stand out in the best examples.
All the best nature lessons follow this 3 step formula:
- An Engaging Introduction That Activates Curiosity & Emotions
- Fun & Experiential Learning Activities Grounded In Sensory Awareness
- The Opportunity To Harvest Lessons With Language & Creativity
If you can build these 3 steps into your nature lessons, then everything you do will work 100x more effectively.
The purpose of these three steps is to maintain that extremely delicate balance of education + engagement.
Let’s take a look at how it all works…
2 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid When Planning Nature Lessons
Most nature educators make 1 of 2 mistakes:
- Either their lessons are too heavy on the side of fun and games, so they miss out on the best learning opportunities, or…
- Their lessons are so focused on learning outcomes that students end up getting bored and tune out.
Both scenarios are equally problematic and need to be avoided if you want to create the best learning experiences for your students.
The trick to sharing nature with kids is to keep them on their edge, so they feel intellectually challenged while being emotionally stimulated and engaged.
If you do this correctly, your students will feel like the whole experience is completely spontaneous, unplanned and fun… when in reality there’s a very specific sequence of learning happening.
Of course, this takes some careful planning and scheming ahead of time so everything flows naturally and effortlessly with your students.
Have no fear – I’m going to walk you through the entire process so you can apply this magic formula in your own situation.
Let’s start by looking at each component one by one, and then I’ll give you some of my best tips for planning and making it all come together successfully!
Step #1: An Engaging Introduction
The first step to effective nature lessons begins with having an introduction that truly captivates the imagination and interest of your students.
So let’s say the main focus of your day is going to be birds and observing patterns of bird behavior.
As a teacher/mentor, your goals might include things like:
- Developing practical observation skills
- Building knowledge about local birds and wildlife populations
- To understand the importance of birds in ecological health
But remember, these are kids you’re dealing with… and kids are drawn to whatever is most fun and engaging!
If you’re too direct and focused on teaching goals, you’ll lose them. You need to be fun, but you also can’t just let them do whatever they want.
Children benefit tremendously from good leadership & role modelling that helps them stay on track to learning while having fun and even believing that the whole thing was their own idea.
This is one of the toughest skills for teachers to master, but there are ways of making it a lot easier.
For starters – let’s take a closer look at what it means to be engaging, and how to measure how engaged kids are on a topic.
What Does It Really Mean To Be Engaging?
The easiest way to know what’s engaging for kids is by listening to what’s coming out of their mouths.
Have you ever noticed how kids can absorb massive amounts of information about their favorite things?
Maybe they have a doll or a toy, and they can tell you everything about it… Things that you would never know or even be able to remember in a million years.
They can go on and on about how it works, what it does, who it’s for, etc.
It’s like they’ve been intensively studying & developing their knowledge about this thing for years.
Well, this is a great example of how kids are learning machines.
And you can tell by what comes out of their mouths that they are incredibly inspired and motivated and capable of learning about their favorite things.
They can talk for hours about things that match their interests.
That’s the power of engagement!
It’s important to realize that when you’re trying to open the mind of a child to nature – you’re competing for attention with all their favorite toys, video games, television & storybook characters.
There’s no way you can compete with these things unless you can somehow make nature equally as cool.
So what if it were possible for you to harness this incredible learning potential and direct it towards the nature topics you want them to learn?
It’s pretty sneaky, but if you do this right… your job as a teacher/mentor will become much more effortless.
So how does it work?
How can you harness the same captivating, spellbinding interest as the stories & characters your students have fallen in love with?
The Art of Conversational Mentoring
The ability to truly engage the mind & emotions of young learners all comes down to something I call “Conversational Mentoring”.
This is all about how you talk to kids and engage them in a conversation by asking questions, sharing stories and most importantly – listening to what they have to say.
Kids will actually tell you everything you need to know in order to be massively inspirational and effective as a teacher.
And I want to point out that this is something you’re already doing in small ways every time you talk to kids and have a dialogue.
You’re probably already listening to kids as they tell stories, ask questions, and have little dialogues.
So you already know how to do this, but most likely you’re simply not using the dialogue to it’s full potential.
Most people are not conscious of how they engage kids in dialogue, so they miss out on the real usefulness of this activity.
Awakening Young Naturalists With Dialogue
If you want to get kids genuinely inspired to learn about nature, all you have to do is get them talking about nature, asking questions & telling stories.
Simply engage your students in a dialogue about whatever topic you want to teach them, and you will witness a profound transformation in their relationship with nature, and their ability to learn about natural things.
How can you do this? It’s actually quite simple.
Let’s take a look at 3 simple techniques to facilitate naturalist dialogue:
- Sharing Circles
- The Nature Museum
If you get this part right, it’s really the secret to activating massive interest and anticipation before heading into the actual lessons.
Remember – a dialogue is more about listening and being responsive rather than trying to force your agenda upon someone else.
Kids love to talk and share stories… so if you can harness this natural enthusiasm for communication and direct it towards the natural world… they will do all the teaching for you.
Your students will passionately ASK YOU questions and seek knowledge in ways that you never even imagined.
It makes your job easier, while helping your students discover so much more in the process.
Dialogue Technique #1 – Storytelling
Storytelling is a big part of what builds a healthy obsession for learning about nature.
One of the reasons kids get so obsessed with television shows is because they’re filled with engaging storytelling.
If you can get your kids engaged with stories about birds, animals, plants, wilderness adventures, etc… they will be much more excited to engage with the learning activities, missions & challenges you give them in the next step.
However – the type of storytelling required to generate this effect is probably quite different from what you might imagine.
Remember – our goal is light up the imaginations & emotions of our students.
So it’s very important that you’re not boring them to death by blabbing on as you “tell your story”.
Is Storytelling Difficult?
A lot of people get intimidated by storytelling because they think it has to be this really formal and memorized thing.
But even if you’ve never told a practiced story in your entire life, it’s totally okay.
The real purpose of storytelling in the introduction is simply to facilitate dialogue.
So even more important than what you say… is the ability to get your students talking and listening!
There’s always a time and place for more formal storytelling, but honestly, that skill is pretty rare. It just takes a lot of practice to develop.
If you do have the confidence and communication skills to tell engaging stories in a more formal way, it’s definitely a great thing to do.
But remember… sitting in front of a group while you blab on telling your story really still doesn’t enable you to have a real dialogue.
Instead, there are much easier ways to engage kids in storytelling without needing to memorize a single thing.
How To Facilitate Conversational Storytelling:
The trick with conversational storytelling is to keep your stories short, personal & ideally true!
I’ve demonstrated many times that if you share a story about an encounter with a wild animal… Suddenly kids will perk up.
They get all excited and almost like magic they start talking about times when THEY saw a wild animal, which then leads to more stories about other animals.
Each story sparks more ideas & interest around the topic.
You tell a story. Then one of the kids tells a story. Which reminds you of another one, etc.
And bam! Instant dialogue about nature.
Even in a small group of 4 or 5 kids. There are thousands of hours of storytelling to be had.
And the kids will really do most of the work here.
These types of stories are a lot less obvious than what most people think of as ‘storytelling’, but the effect is actually much more powerful.
From an outside perspective… iI doesn’t look like teaching, but these types of conversations will build massive interest & excitement for exploring nature deeply.
If you get can get a group of kids to take turns sharing animal stories in a really organic way… this is a recipe for instant motivation.
Then when you say, “Let’s go look for signs of animals”, they will play right into your hand and probably even think it was their own idea.
Where To Get Your Story Ideas…
When you’re deciding on stories to tell – start by thinking about what the main topic is for your lesson, and brainstorm a list of past experiences you’ve had with that aspect of nature.
For example: if you’re going to be talking about mammals – tell stories about times when you encountered a local raccoon or coyote.
If you’re going to be talking about plants – tell stories about times when you harvested plants and used them for food or running through fields of dandelion fluff.
If you don’t have any personal stories with a topic – I highly recommend you go out and create some relevant memories before you try and teach on the subject.
It’s always a good idea to choose lesson topics that are within your realm of “expertise”.
This doesn’t mean you need to be an actual expert. It just means you need to have some kind of personal experience.
If you’re doing a lesson on birds but you don’t have any personal experience with birds – Go sign up for a local birdwatching event and gain some personal experience… Then suddenly you have stories you can tell.
It’s really that simple.
Another thing you can try is rather than thinking about a specific nature topic – just look for a good feeling:
- What are the moments when you felt most connected and alive in nature?
- Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing?
- What did you love doing when you were a kid?
Maybe you loved building sand castles. Or maybe you had a fort out in the woods.
Maybe you remember a trip to the zoo and how you felt watching the otters swim around.
If you can identify these moments when you felt emotionally alive and inspired in nature – these are great material for your own stories.
Then as much as possible, always focus on harvesting stories from the kids themselves.
Always remember that their stories are more important than yours! (So don’t overthink this)
You’ll notice it usually just takes one 30 second story to get kids talking, and then you’re off to the races.
Dialogue Technique #2 – Sharing Circles
Sometimes the best way to get kids engaged in a topic is by making them do all the work.
Sharing circles make things easier for you, and more engaging for them!
It’s a win-win.
This technique works especially great for teens because they have the verbal skills to sit quietly, listen and reflect on a much deeper level than younger kids.
The sharing circle technique has the added benefit of building bonds between a group, while facilitating connection to nature.
You’ll notice that groups who engage with sharing circles are much better at resolving conflict and being inclusive.
Here’s how to facilitate a sharing circle:
Simply sit in a circle and invite everyone to speak their thoughts one-by-one about a question while everyone else listens… that’s it!
The goal here is to strike a good balance between questions that engage internal reflection, while staying relevant to nature exploration.
For example: The first time you do this – you might invite the group to share on 2 things:
- Who are you? (Tell us a little bit about yourself)
- What is your past experience with nature?
Now, these might sound like simple questions (and in some ways they are).
But it also leaves lots of space for creativity… You’re leaving it up to them how much they want to share, which is very non-threatening.
You always want to keep things fairly simple & general so they have lots of options about how to respond.
Then all you have to do is listen deeply.
You might be surprised by the level of depth that some young people will produce when you give them the opportunity to speak honestly and freely.
Some students will find this activity more natural than others, but it’s a skill that everyone will develop with practice.
Tips For Running Effective Sharing Circles
It’s important to realize that the first few times you do this might take a bit of getting used to, both for your students and for you.
Speaking your truth into a circle while everyone listens can be an extremely intense experience for adults let alone teens… but the effects on a group are very transformative.
Many young people have simply never had an adult who really wants to listen respectfully and without judgement.
You want to encourage them to dig beyond the surface, and really share from the heart.
- Make it clear that there’s no rules about how they respond to the questions.
- They’re not being marked or judged on what they say.
- You simply want them to be as authentic as possible, while going beyond the surface-level response.
With repetition you’ll be amazed at the wisdom and depth that comes from young minds.
They really are capable of reflection and thoughts far beyond what most adults give them credit for.
They will become very curious, eloquent and wise, and these qualities will transfer over to how they explore nature.
Should You Use A Talking Stick?
If you ever notice the group is having trouble listening to each other, you might want to practice with a talking stick.
A talking stick is just a symbolic stick or object to facilitate deep listening.
The rule is that you’re only allowed to talk if you have the stick. If you don’t have the stick then your job is to listen.
This encourages the group to drop in more during their sharing.
When the stick comes around to you, make sure you add your own voice too.
Use this as an opportunity to model the attributes of honesty, vulnerability and deeper reflection. The kids will look to your behavior for guidance about how to share when it’s their turn.
Share your response to the question and then do your best to say a few words that tie the group reflections together as a jump-off point for the main activities.
Now that everyone has had a chance to share about their relationship with nature… let’s go make more discoveries!
As I mentioned before, this technique works best with teens & adults because they just have more capacity for sitting still, listening deeply and being reflective.
For younger kids, I prefer using the nature museum technique that I’ll explain next.
Dialogue Technique #3 – The Nature Museum
So what if you’re not a good storyteller?
What if the kids just cannot sit still long enough for a talking circle?
If you’re working with kids between ages 4 & 12, I usually find the nature museum is a much better way to create an engaging introduction.
This technique works for all ages, but it’s especially effective at getting around the common challenges that young children have (like sitting still, staying focused, holding in their enthusiasm).
The nature museum will actually harness that insatiable curiosity and inability to sit still or stay focused… and use it to your advantage!
Here’s how the nature museum works:
Before you give a lesson on any topic… go outside and gather a collection of natural items related to that days topic.
Young kids really benefit from having props and actual physical things you can use to stimulate dialogue.
Think of it like a collection of conversation starters that you can use to direct their stories & interests without telling them what to do.
If you’re doing a tree day – go out and gather actual leaves from every different type of tree that grows in your bioregion.
Gather seeds, seed pods, nuts, bark, branches & twigs, leaf galls… anything you can possibly find that relates to trees.
Try to find as many diverse and unique objects as you can… focus around your daily theme whether birds, or trees, or plants, etc.
Lay the items out on a table or a blanket that you spread on the ground.
Then all you have to do is invite the kids over and they’ll take care of the rest.
This gives the kids something to get their hands on… It’s a recipe for instant curiosity & stories.
A Recipe For Instant Engagement…
Even if you’re a horrible storyteller… the nature museum will accomplish the main introduction goal and get some dialogue happening.
As the kids gather around it gives you the opportunity to help them explore the items one-by-one.
Maybe you notice one of your students is taking an interest in a bird feather.
This is all it takes to create an opening where you can very subtly begin to test their knowledge & awareness by asking little questions.
- Do you know what that is?
- What part of the bird do you think that comes from?
- Any ideas what kind of bird it might be?
- What kinds of birds do you know?
- Have you ever seen a Robin?
The point of these questions is not to judge or evaluate your students, but rather to find out where to start the dialogue.
You want to start the dialogue by focusing on things they already know. Then gradually move towards things that are new.
You’ll find that some kids already have a lot of knowledge about the things in your nature museum, while other kids don’t.
The goal here is to create a feeling of open discussion rather than a formal lesson. Seek an organic dialogue that just feels like a normal conversation.
Some questions will be directly related to items in the nature museum, and other times you might venture off into indirectly related stories.
You might work in a story about a recent experience you had while looking for birds in a wetland.
Or if you know a particular kid has bird watching experience – you can call them out and ask them to share.
Has anyone here ever done any bird watching?
Nathan, I know you’ve done some bird watching with your parents – what have you seen while watching birds?”
And here’s the real magic… All throughout this shared observation of things in the museum, stories & questions, you’re priming the pump and engaging the imagination…
So that by the time you say “Let’s go find some birds” – They’re already 100% onboard with the mission and you can lead them to new discoveries.
A Few Tips For Using The Nature Museum:
- Prepare your collections ahead of time so you’re not rushed to collect things when the kids arrive.
- Use different items every time so the kids don’t get bored with the same materials.
- This technique works best with small groups. Chatty kids might need smaller groups, while quiet kids can manage a bit larger, but I wouldn’t go larger than 8.
- If you’re working with more than 8 kids at a time, it’s better to split into multiple groups, each with a facilitator who can engage stories & questions.
- Observe body language & awareness. Work with the most engaged and talkative kids first, but then make sure you give attention to the quiet ones too.
- Don’t have a set time limit for this activity. You can keep going as long as the kids are engaged. But if you notice the energy waning, then it’s time to move on.
Step #2: Fun & Experiential Learning Activities
Okay take a deep breath and relax…
Believe it or not, at this point – most of the hard work is already done!
Even though your introduction will typically require the shortest amount of time… it’s probably the MOST important step to get right.
So don’t skip that intro!
If you ever find your activities spiralling into mad chaos, it’s probably because you didn’t quite engage the kids effectively in the introduction.
The good news – If you have succeeded in getting your students engaged in the lesson topic verbally through stories & questions, now it’s very easy to lead them into more focused learning activities.
You can choose pretty much any activities you want as long as it stimulates the senses and gets your students to observe nature.
For instance: If you want to teach about local mammals, you might start by playing a game where you have all the kids pretend to be squirrels making nests and gathering food while avoiding cats & hawks.
Then you might follow that up with a mammal wander where you quietly walk through the forest and look for sign of animals.
If you see any live animals, you can stop and quietly watch as a group.
In your introduction you already had a bunch of cool conversations about squirrels, deer, raccoons & other mammals. So now the opportunity to actually see these things in real life will be much more enticing.
You’ll notice the children will be capable of sitting still to watch & listen much more carefully than normal because you primed their brains with dialogue.
Their senses will be fully engaged in whatever you do, and rather than having scattered energy, the group will be much more unified and easier to manage without having to “police” the group and use a bunch of boring rules.
There are literally hundreds of great activities you can do for any given topic.
Here are some different activities to choose from:
- Scavenger hunts. Themed hunts & checklists that help kids to interact, explore and make guided discoveries.
- Free exploration. Hikes & slow wanders with awareness missions & challenges.
- Empathy games where the kids become different types of animals and play out stories of their lives.
- Sneaking games that promote quietness & observation skills.
- Bring in live animals like rabbits for the kids to touch and study.
- Go looking for tracks & sign. Tracking missions fit well with free exploration activities.
- Harvesting missions. A more engaging way to learn about useful plants, trees, care-taking & stewardship.
- Constructing natural shelters. Learn about survival, fire & wilderness safety while using local materials.
Each of these activities can be easily adapted towards different topics & seasons in order to promote a wide variety of learning opportunities.
Facilitating Teachable Moments
Here in stage 2, the kids are already primed and ready for learning… so you’ll notice they’re much more responsive to activities that would normally feel like “work”.
This is a great opportunity to assign little awareness tests and missions that would normally require extra motivation.
You can use these awareness “missions” & challenges to get kids engaging their naturalist intelligence in ways that normally wouldn’t happen without a significant amount of effort.
For example: Let’s say you’re doing a bird watching day, with a free exploration activity that involves walking around a pond looking for birds.
Rather than just barreling out into the forest like a mad mob of kids… You can preface the activity by adding conditions and agreements that increase the quality of focus & attention on nature.
Don’t be afraid to give direct challenges like:
We’re gonna go on a bird walk now, but remember that birds are very sensitive to noise and movement so we have to be quiet and we have to move a bit slower than normal… do you think we can do that? Does anyone have any ideas about how we can be more quiet?”
Let them talk. See what ideas they have. Test their engagement. Ask questions to pull them deeper.
I was thinking it would be cool to see how many different birds we can find out there… How many birds do you think we can find? Does anyone know some birds we can keep our eyes out for?”
Let them talk again. Really listen to their ideas, and incorporate them into the activity.
The more collaborative you can be about the “rules” of engagement for whatever games & activities you choose to play, the more invested your students will be.
Each new activity is an opportunity for another mini dialogue with the kids as you collaborate to help them achieve their goals.
This really helps to reinforce the learning and calls more of their attention into the moment because they help define the parameters of the activities you’ve chosen.
Step #3: Harvest The Lessons
The final step in a truly complete nature study lesson plan is to spend time harvesting the lessons.
Harvesting lessons means giving your students a chance to review, reflect & document their discoveries so they can integrate what they’ve learned.
Similar to the introduction… This can be done by sharing stories & asking questions to generate dialogue about nature.
Or you can get creative with journaling activities, dramatic performances, artwork & crafts.
The goal here is twofold:
First – We want to reinforce the lessons and experiences gained during our daily activities.
You’ll notice that students are often unaware of what they’ve learned until they have a chance to externalize the lessons by speaking or journaling about their day’s experience.
The end of the day is often a mad rush to finish things up, and get the kids on the bus or in the van.
But it’s really important to give your students a chance to tell their stories and share what they’re learning.
If they don’t get a chance to truly reflect, then you run the risk of them forgetting HUGE chunks of the day!
A lot of nature schools completely skip this step or do a really poor job of facilitating it… Often they just don’t realize the capacity that young children have for storytelling and sharing what they’ve discovered.
This is an amazing opportunity to help develop their speaking, writing, artistic & interpersonal skills. You can include drama, music… all kinds of things to engage the different learning preferences of every child.
Second – We want to document our progress so we can demonstrate the tangible results of our programs.
One of the big challenges of nature based education is actually proving to parents and school boards that kids are in fact learning and benefiting from the program.
The notion of free play in nature makes intuitive sense to a lot of people… but it doesn’t make sense to everyone.
If you’re able to document some kind of tangible artefact of the lessons, you’ll find parents and education systems will be much more likely to value and pay for your services.
Documenting is truly one of the best ways to reinforce nature lessons. It has tremendous learning value all by itself.
This is not done by testing and grading knowledge, but rather creating a portfolio of learning that you can present to parents at the end of the year.
This is very simple.
Techniques For Harvesting & Documenting Lessons
One of my favorite ways to harvest lessons is to have everyone sit in a circle & take turns sharing their stories from the day.
You can simply invite students to talk about what they observed & learned through the day’s activities.
Then use your own stories & questions to engage a dialogue with each student one-by-one.
You can ask them things like:
- What was your favorite part of the day?
- Did you learn anything about trees today?
- Were you a squirrel, or cat, or hawk in the game?
Whenever possible, try to pull your students beyond the surface level response by asking followup questions.
Never underestimate the brilliant minds of children.
They might not have fully developed verbal skills yet, but you’ll be surprised by how thoughtful and reflective young children can be given the opportunity.
With repetition – they’ll learn that it’s both safe and fun to open up and share their experiences by talking them out.
Remember that game where we all pretended to be squirrels gathering food while avoiding the cats & hawks?
- What did it feel like to be the squirrels trying to gather food?
- What strategies did you use to avoid the cats and hawks?
- How did you decide where to put your nest?
- What did it feel like to be the cats? What was your hunting strategy?
- What did you do when the squirrels hid up in the trees?
- What about the hawks?
Now these might sound like pretty advanced questions about wildlife behavior, but because the activity was disguised as a fun game, your students will actually be able to answer these questions with surprising eloquence.
You’ll be amazed how often the strategies used by kids pretending to be squirrels and hawks are pretty much identical to the strategies used by actual squirrels and hawks in the wild.
Journaling & Crafts
Another method you can use to harvest lessons is journaling.
You can have them write the story of what it felt like to be a squirrel protecting their nest.
Or sketch the plants, leaves & flowers you gathered during a scavenger hunt.
Or you can do crafts with the natural tree items you collected on a wander.
These are all different ways of reinforcing the core activities while documenting the lessons, which can be especially helpful as proof for parents that learning is taking place.
When the parents arrive – you can have the students present their crafts, journals or stories to involve their family in the learning process.
Just do whatever makes the most sense for your individual group, and your personal strengths as an instructor.
4 Planning Tips To Make Everything Easier
I know all of this might seem like a lot of things to think about when planning nature study lessons.
The last thing I want to do is overwhelm you to the point where you don’t take action.
So if you’re new to this – please don’t think you need to implement everything on your very first day.
If all you can manage at first is to get kids outside and having fun with plants, trees, and birds in the forest – you’re doing them a great service!
Then you can practice adding one simple upgrade to your lessons every day, and it will very quickly become second nature to you.
You’ll be amazed by how deep the impact of your programs can become as you gradually add in the framework shared here.
Just take it slow & steady!
As you develop your own teaching skills – here are a few tips to help you progress faster & with less resistance.
#1 – Use A Teaching Team
Whenever possible, I highly recommend partnering with someone else to help you plan, implement, and debrief your teaching adventures.
No matter how skilled you are as a mentor, there will always be moments when things get overwhelming.
There might be times when you just don’t know what to say or do in order to redirect energy back towards the learning goals.
It makes a huge difference just knowing you always have a safety net, and that you’re not alone.
It means you have more than one person being aware and ready to facilitate engagement.
If one mentor ever runs out of things to say or share, they can simply pass it to the other person and collect their thoughts.
If you don’t have a formal teaching team – even a volunteer or 2 gives you the opportunity to bounce ideas and get help.
Parents & early stage mentors are often thrilled for the opportunity to spend time with kids in nature.
It also gives you a chance to brainstorm with someone ahead of time… which brings us to the next point.
#2 – Brainstorm your lessons beforehand
Before each lesson, meet with your teaching team to discuss the plan.
At this point you should probably have a pre-chosen topic, and a few activities already thought out.
Your lead instructor can create this plan ahead of time by thinking about the local & seasonal opportunities.
A few examples:
- You might do a harvest day in autumn where you visit an orchard, or collect different plants & nuts from trees.
- In spring, you might do a day where you focus on birds and learn about singing, nesting, territories & alarm calls.
- In winter you might spend a day exploring the snow and looking for tracks & sign of animals that aren’t normally visible.
The overall theme will instantly suggest a host of ideal activities & learning goals to focus on.
But there’s still going to be a lot of little details that just require last minute brainpower and discussion to decide on the best strategy.
- Who’s gonna setup the hula hoops for the squirrel game?
- Who’s gonna lead the nature museum?
- Where are we doing the different activities?
- What do we do if it dumps rain on us?
You’ll want to have an approximate plan of the different activities and how you’re going to do the harvest.
This plan becomes more important as your group gets larger.
With smaller groups it’s possible to get by without planning too much, but it also depends on your personal strengths as a leader.
Another way of thinking about all this is with something called the 50/50 principle…
#3 – Use the 50/50 principle
A bit of planning can make things go 1000X smoother, but you should always be prepared for the possibility of changes.
The 50/50 principle means planning 50% of your day, and leaving 50% up to whatever presents itself naturally. Or another way is to plan 100% of your day, but stay open to throwing it all away if something else seems better.
With nature, there’s no way to predict when you’re going to stumble into group of feeding deer, or when a massive raincloud dumps rain on you.
Your plans should always be responsive to what nature is giving you in the moment.
Sometimes the energy level is just perfect for a silent observation activity when you weren’t planning one.
And other times you might plan a quiet activity when what the kids really need is a game where they can use their bodies & voices.
It’s always good to have a general theme for each day, but leave space for whatever comes up in the moment.
#4 – Debrief the experience after each day
Finally… it’s important to realize that harvesting the lessons isn’t just for the benefit of your students.
It’s also one of your absolute best tools to help you improve your teaching skills, programs and lessons over time.
Just like we harvest the stories from our students in step 3… it’s important for your growth as a teacher and mentor that you have the opportunity to share YOUR stories.
This is easy enough to do in a semi-structured feedback & harvest session with your teaching team, after the kids have all left for the day.
At the end of each day… sit down with your teaching team, clear your minds, relax into the moment and give each other the opportunity to process what just happened:
- What went well?
- What could’ve gone better?
- What did you observe about the kids?
- What would you do differently next time?
The teaching debrief will enable your team to dramatically improve over time, and support each other when things didn’t go the way you expected.
This is a good opportunity to focus on your own team-building, communication & support each other to improve.
The more unified you are as a teaching team, the easier & more flowing your class days will go.
You can share strategies with each other… talk about moments when the kids were really engaged… and track patterns that might be interfering with engagement so you can make improvements next time.
Finally – You can look ahead to your next lesson… and discuss what needs to happen for your next day to go smooth.
What Questions Do You Have?
There’s so much more we could say about creating nature lesson plans, but hopefully these ideas have given you a lot to chew on!
I’m rooting for you! Have fun out there!
And let me know what you’re still struggling with so I can continue creating more resources & tools to help you facilitate some truly awesome nature study lessons with kids 🙂