Nature Play For Older Kids | NAAEE

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Nature Play For Older Kids

Hello, I run an environmental program in the Phoenix AZ area for children in Preschool - 12th grade. Our program is based on the forest school model, though we call it a desert school since we have no forest to explore. I had initially started the program in Atlanta GA where we did have a forest and the children who participated in the program who were primarily age 8-11 had no issue participating in nature play on their own during their free exploration time. However here in AZ, I have noticed the older aged children in our program, which next year will be 1st-5th and 6th-9th, do not do so well when it comes to nature play during their free exploration time. Most of them just want to sit and talk. I am thinking it is partly because of the limited areas they can explore, no trees to climb, no items to build forts out of, etc. I haven't found many other organizations that offer programs similar to ours, which is a forest school modeled program, but in the desert ecosystem, and for older age children, so I haven't been able to bounce ideas off of anyone. I am hoping there are some others in this large EE community that may have some ideas. I will also mention that we do not have our own space and utilize public land spaces. Thanks in advance for any recommendations!

Hi Kathy,

At the school I used to work at in San Francisco, Presidio Hill School, our middle school science teacher ran a very successful "forest program" with 6-8th graders. I can't speak to any free exploration time, but he did a lot of citizen science-type work with them, such as monitoring, collecting data, recording sounds, and conducting field-research labs. You can read more about the program at the link below.

I work primarily with younger elementary students, but my instinct is that as long as the kids are outside in nature and feeling connected to the land, the "what" of how they spend their time is less important. So if they want to sit and talk, I think that's OK since they're still outside and soaking up the benefits of fresh air, sunlight, etc.

Hope that helps!

Hi Kathy,
I live here in Phoenix too and establishEd an outdoor classroom this past school year. It can be challenging sometimes, but we made it work by bringing things outdoors from the classroom or found materials outside to use in art and craft projects. A lot of the time I took the lead from the kids about what materials they wanted to use or investigate. These were younger children though. Maybe with older children you can bring art materials like paint and paper out with you ask them what they can use from nature to paint with beside paint brushes. Also, ask the kids what they could bring outdoors to use to build forts with. Sometimes just bringing a few things out with you can spark some creativity with limited surrounding. I hope that helps a little.
Kaleidoscope School

Thanks for the input. Citizen science and stewardship are 2 main components of our program. Our program is every other week for 4 hrs a day. I totally agree that just being outdoors is a huge positive. We typically have a lesson (which is a hands-on learning activity), a scientist/naturalist highlight, free exploration time, a citizen science/stewardship project and a craft/art project. We do take some things with us, however since we use public land spaces we also have that challenge, because I have to fit everything in my car to take to classes and then transport it all to the outdoor meeting area. One thing I am planning to take this year is a log swing that we can put in a tree. We also utilize loose parts but I have found that the 5th grade and over kids are'nt really into those much. The program has just been so much different here in AZ than it was in GA and I am probably just being too hard on myself.

Dear Kathy, Tiffany, and Natalie,

I am so inspired by your programs! A few weeks ago for World Environment Day, I was part of a web conference about re-imagining teaching and learning around the world post-covid19. One thing everyone agreed on is the need for place based environmental education. These are very practical examples, thanks so much for sharing.