This is the third post in a new series about forest school pedagogy and learning outside from Rain or Shine Mamma. Previous posts include Counting to 10 with Nature, as well as Exploring Small Worlds. This week we’re heading out to collect items in nature to practice sorting, comparing, categorizing and more!
Children are natural collectors and my kids are no exception. For this reason we often bring along a basket or tote bag on our walks in the woods. Bird feathers, fallen leaves, sticks, flowers, acorns and other tree nuts often end up in the bag, as well as the rare pine cone or a uniquely shaped rock. This innate desire to collect items in nature can be the starting point for many outdoor learning activities, and this week the Little Naturalist (who is 3) and I worked on some basic math activities inspired by the Swedish book Play and Learn Mathematics Outdoors.
Age: Preschool – 1st grade
Time: 30 min – 2 hours
- Large white sheet
- Tote bag or basket for collecting items
- Natural items such as pine cones, leaves, rocks, tree nuts etc.
Place: Any natural area.
How to do it:
I took the Little Naturalist to the woods behind our house, bringing along the sheet and basket/tote bag. I encouraged her to pick a variety of things, since we would need that for our exercise later. If this is your first time collecting items in nature, make sure to talk to your kids about which items are OK to pick, i.e. that you only take things that are already on the ground, so they’re not ripping leaves, branches or bark from the trees.
Once we had a wide range of items, my daughter picked a place where we spread out the sheet and poured everything out of the bag. The white sheet makes it easier to see everything and also gives you something to sit on.
A good exercise to start with is basic sorting, and to initiate it I asked my daughter questions like: “Are some of the items similar to each other?”, “How are they similar?” and “Which ones do you think should be in the same pile?” She caught on quickly and made four groups of items: Sticks, bark, nuts and leaves. Somehow a random bird feather ended up in the pile with leaves and when I quizzed her about it she was adamant that it stay. “Why?” I asked, puzzled, since she clearly knew it wasn’t a leaf. “Because it will be lonely if it’s by itself,” she explained. Fair enough. The feather stayed.
Next, we looked at each individual pile, starting with the sticks. I asked her to sort them by length, which she did, with some help. Some were really similar in length, so I showed her how to stand them up next to each other for a more accurate comparison. This was also a good opportunity to work on some math words: long, longer, longest, short, shorter, shortest, tall, taller, tallest, thick, thicker, thickest, thin, thinner, thinnest.
We counted the leaves and talked about which trees they came from, and what color they were. We also compared size: big, bigger, biggest, small, smaller, smallest.
We then took a closer look at the tree nuts, and I asked my daughter to divide them into subcategories for each different type of nut. We ended up with four piles: acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts and a third, unidentified type of nut. She counted each pile and we worked on more math words: many, more, most, few, fewer, fewest.
Variations: You can make these exercises more challenging depending on your child’s age and developmental stage. For example, use a timer and let your child compete against the clock while sorting the sticks, or do it while using a blindfold. You can also use the items as counters and make math problems. The opportunities are virtually endless with this type of open-ended activity!
I’ll be back with more invitations to learn outdoors this school year – sign up to receive my email updates in the column to the right if you want to be sure not to miss any posts. I also warmly recommend my Pinterest boards as a place to find inspiration for outdoor play and learning: