Updated Post For 2020 and Beyond: 5 Easy Activities For Your Classroom, Home, or Summer Camp. Note To The Reader: This post was originally written at the end of the school year many years ago with thoughts of summer inspiring the writing. Yes, summer has sadly come and gone, but in my opinion the best time of the year is here! Autumn is a special time to observe nature and all the changes that occur in the plant and animal world in preparation for the cold winter days ahead. There is so much to see and do both in and out of the classroom. Just keep in mind when this post was written and know that the time of year does not really matter. Additionally, please read on as I added a great new resource all about the benefits of having a dog. If my wife is reading this, note that there are 102 reasons to say yes! Hope you enjoy the post. ( I know it’s not summer yet, but you can do any of the following activities at any time or in any season you want. In fact, the more times you can do them and in as many different settings and seasons the better! )
Hopefully you spent your weekend celebrating with family and friends and exploring your backyard or local park. Did the suggestions from Part 2 help you experience more while outdoors? Maybe you are even feeling a bit rejuvenated! You will need all that new energy to finish out the school year with style.
I know your are also busy with endless responsibilities and adding new curriculum now might not be on the top of your list. If you want, you can just print this article out and store in your lesson folder until the need arises. Or you can use the activities below now to break things up and add a little nature time to your students day. They might even help them to perform better on those mid and year-end exams. Just looking at nature through a window helps! You can also modify the lessons to fit your own seasonal activities, as they are fun for the whole family, are great in camp settings, and good to have if you are teaching summer school or camp programs. (Great way to add extra money to your savings!)
The following 5 easy activities can be done every day, without significantly taking away from instructional time, or adding more time to your lesson preparation during the school year.
1. “What has changed in the room?” A. Intro: Have a brief conversation about observation and it’s importance. Then, ask your students to close their eyes and ask them to name the color of the shirt of the person next to them by raising their hand, still with eyes closed. Chances are very few get it correct. B. Next, tell the students that every day one thing in the classroom will be changed. C. During the first two minutes of class, if the student notices the change, they are to write it down on a piece of scrap paper you gave them along with their name and place it in the box on your desk. D. If they can’t find the change in the two minutes, they have to wait for the next days challenge. E. At the end of class you let the students know what the change was and tally their observation scores on the board or on a piece of paper at your desk. F. At the end of the week you can give out a prize to the students who got every one correct or some other type of celebration of your choice.
Note: You can modify this activity for younger students by using one object consistently, like a stuffed animal and move it every day. (I used a stuffed golden duck with my first graders and they loved the challenge.) Just remind them that they don’t get any points if they call out or give the location away! Patience, delayed gratification, self-restraint, all good things to teach our children and students.
2. “What has changed on me?” This is an even quicker activity. Tell the students when they are at their desks to carefully observe what you are wearing and what you look like. Tell them they are going to close their eyes and put their heads down while you count to ten. During that time, you are going to change one thing about your appearance; like rolling up a sleeve for example. Once the ten seconds are up, give your students 30 seconds to look for the change and to raise their hand with the answer. The first child to get it correct can come up to the front of the room and take a turn being the teacher and changing something about their appearance. (Make sure you go over what actions are appropriate for this activity to avoid any surprises! Kids can be pretty spontaneous..)
3. “Rhythm Detective.” A. Begin by getting your students to make a circle with their chairs or by siting on the floor. Next, lead the students in a simple hand clapping rhythm that changes speed and rhythm, making sure they are able to follow it with you in time. B. Then, tell them that you are going to pick one student to be the rhythm changer. Every student has to follow that persons lead and do what they do when they do it. Encourage the group not to look directly at the rhythm changer. Instead, tell them to look at the person across from them. C. Next, pick one student to be the rhythm detective. They are to leave the room and wait for their invitation to return back. D. While the detective is in the hallway you pick one student who is responsible for changing the rhythm that his/her classmates have to follow without giving them away. E. When the detective is invited back in, he/she needs to figure out who is responsible for creating the changing rhythm pattern. (Make sure to tell the students that only the rhythm changer can create and change the rhythm and gestures and that they should not look directly at that individual because it will tell the rhythm detective where to look and that is not fair, nor fun) F. The detective has three attempts to identify their suspect. (This activity is great for developing auditory and visual observation skills.) G. Make sure you keep track of every one who has been a rhythm creator and rhythm detective, as everyone will want a turn with both roles.
4. “Bring Nature Indoors.” A. Plants are our friends! Plants are terrific for so many reasons. They clean the air! That can be helpful, especially if you have 30 students in a small space after recess or PE. Plants are living science lessons! Click here for great plant lesson resources. Plants are shown to improve concentration, memory, and even increase feelings of happiness! They can also help us become more observant. Consider growing a variety of plants from seed with your students. This will allow them to observe the entire process of growth and transformation (and death and decomposition if you forget to create a watering job schedule). You can give your students a special plant journal and provide them with a few minutes throughout the day or class period to make observations and record them.
B. Animals are our friends too! I know the subject of bringing animals into a classroom space is not without understandable criticism. If you decide to introduce animals (and plants) into your classroom you need to be fully committed to its needs and wellbeing. If done right, having and caring for pets of all species can teach students responsibility, empathy, and compassion. Pets In The Classroom is a fantastic organization that provides schools with animals and resources to ensure a wonderful learning experience. Caring for animals also strengthens observation skills on many levels. I suggest giving your students a class pet journal and provide opportunities for observation, reflection, and documentation throughout the day or class period. As I mentioned in the introduction, I have a great new resource to share that is all about the many, many benefits of having a dog in your life. In fact, you are about to learn 102 scientific reasons why you should consider adding a new furry addition to your family or classroom. Dr. Libby Guise, at the Fluent Woof, has written a comprehensive and compelling post titled 102 Scientific Benefits Of Having A Dog. You can read it by clicking here.
5. “ Sit Spot Magic.” This activity might take a while to get started, but like all good things, it is worth the effort and it’s actually quite simple. A. I recommend that you begin this activity yourself before you try to get your students into it. Start two weeks out by beginning your own sit practice. Find a spot in your yard or local park that you can go to everyday at the same time of day (routine is important, 66 days to build new habits, you can do it!) If a spot calls out to you, all the better. If not, just find a spot that looks interesting and doesn’t have things that could hurt you if you sat down. (Poison Ivy, ant hills, yellow jacket nests, you get the picture!)
B. Your next step is simple, have a seat! Spend the next 5, 10, 30 minutes sitting in that one spot with all your senses open. This is not a passive mediation, with eyes closed and vision turned inwards; this is an active sensory practice. Take in the sounds, smells, textures, and all the myriad sensory stimuli that abound in nature. Take note of the sun’s position in the sky, wind direction, your proximity to water, and other geographical, and meteorological information. Feel free to bring a journal along to make recordings and drawings. Get into the habit of visiting the same spot every day or on a regular basis at the same time of day. You may come to love this practice so much that you want to observe your spot at more than one time of day. I suggest early morning and early evening, as both are very active times to observe wildlife.
C. Once your two weeks are complete you will be in a better position to introduce this practice to your students and they will understand you better because of it. With your students you are limited by time, distance, and safety parameters, but that is ok. All you need is a spot that is relatively free of human distractions and enough space for the students to spread out, so they are not tempted to chat with their neighbor. I recommend providing something for each student to sit on since some kids (and adults) are afraid of dirt and bugs. It could be as simple as a piece of cardboard. Because of time constraints you may want to assign spots for each student. Tell them where you are going to be during the activity and that you will be walking around to check up on them. If you are lucky enough to have assistants in your classroom you should have them assist you with this.
D. It’s important to minimize fear and to create an atmosphere that is conducive to discovery and adventure. I recommend using some type of musical instrument to alert students when their time is up and to begin walking to the sound of your instrument. Encourage them to walk quietly and not to talk until they are gathered back in a circle. Allow each student to share a few words or pictures from their journal about their time. I think you will be amazed at their insights and at their desire to return back to “their magic spots.” For more on the subject of sit spots click this link.
Thank you for reading and for sharing. I hope you found these ideas interesting, fun and useful. I would love to hear back from you after you have tried them with your students or children.