50 Ways to Wonder: Educate families on how to connect with nature

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

9. Educate your students’ families on how to connect with nature.

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Rachel Carson, when she says “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

The quote inspires me to be that adult, the one with whom my students can explore the world and marvel at its mysteries. I do everything I can to make room for joy and wonder in the classroom. But let’s be real – there isn’t enough time in the school day to do it right. The pressures of academic expectations in kindergarten (or any grade) are way too high to really let my students spend the optimal amount of time exploring the outdoors. I am lucky if I get in 30 minutes a day of unstructured time for my students, plus a few science lessons outside each week.

But this is where I turn to my students’ families – after all, they are the ones who spend the most significant amount of time with their children, long after the kindergarten year is over. Why not help them learn to bring joy and wonder into their children’s lives? Yes, families are busy, and many may not be receptive to pushes from their child’s teacher to find time for playing outside. But I believe strongly in the importance of connecting children with nature, so it’s worth every attempt at involving my students’ families to do just that.

There are lots of ways to involve families. I run the garden committee at my school, which has parents and community members on board for planting and growing the garden. We also encourage parents to adopt the garden for a week in the summer, bringing their children with them to weed and harvest during the non-school season.

nature parent books

If you don’t have a garden, consider purchasing books that parents can borrow. I recently read How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson, and LOVED it. It’s filled with ideas for how parents can help their children at each stage of growth (early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence) become enamored by the natural world. He gives ideas for how parents can become “nature mentors” (like Rachel Carson advises), addresses the paradox of technology and the outdoors, and lists tons of other resources for parents and caregivers.

Another good resource is the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. He outlines the research behind the dramatic drop in time spent outdoors, and why it’s bad for children’s health and futures. This one is a little gloomier than How to Raise a Wild Child, but it’s become a classic for parents and teachers who are worried about their children’s connection to nature.

There are also TONS of resources available online, and I sometimes print this and attach them to my weekly family newsletter. Here are just a few you could include:

These conversations might be hard to have at first, since parents are often worried about a myriad of things besides getting their kids outdoors more. But I believe it will help enormously to encourage parents in your mission to bring more joy and wonder into the lives of your students. Make sure to tell parents that they don’t need to be nature experts to take their kids outdoors – it’s less important to name all the plants on your hike, and more important that you are going on a hike together.

50 Ways to Wonder: Have a Wonder Table.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

6. Have a Wonder Table.

Kids are constantly bringing in things from outside to show me. I used to say “oh thank you” and just put the items on my desk. Then I realized that kids were bringing them in because they were interested in them, and wanted to learn more! So I started a Wonder Table. It was basically a plain table with a sign saying “Wonder Table.” The rules were that kids could bring anything they found outside or at home that made them wonder. We brainstormed examples, including items from nature, interesting toys that made them think, or books that taught them something new. I also sent home a letter to parents explaining the project.

After that, the items just started flooding in! Nests, dead bugs, leaves, rocks, all sorts of natural items that the kids were fascinated by. (I put each new item in a small basket so it didn’t get super messy.) I also left magnifying glasses and our science journals at the same table. It was a favorite place to go during free choice time, and I like to think that it also helped place more value on wonder and curiosity.

Click the image below to download a sign that you can print off and tape to one of your tables to start your own Wonder Table!

wondertable

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Visit a “Sit Spot” every season.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

5. Visit a Sit Spot every season.

The idea of a “Sit Spot” came directly from the Cultivating Joy and Wonder curriculum from Shelburne Farms (which is free to download – such a great resource). I used it this year for the first time, and I really liked it because it can be done no matter what type of schoolyard you have – concrete, prairie, garden, playground.

Sit Spot

Talk to the class ahead of time about how many scientists make observations of the same place over time, in order to have a better understanding of what goes on in their environment. By visiting the same spot every week, month, or year, they can observe what has changed, what has gone missing, what has grown or been replaced.

Explain that you’ll be doing the same thing at school. Go out into the yard, parking lot, or other surrounding area and help kids choose their own Sit Spot. They will be returning to this spot again and again. They should take careful notes (or drawings, depending on the age) on what they see, smell, hear and feel.

Be sure to return to the same Sit Spots at least once a season, and make time for the students to share after each Sit Spot period. They can use previous entries to compare and contrast their spot in each season. Ask probing questions like “Why do you think there are no flowers in your spot anymore?” and “What has stayed the same in your spot?”

This short activity takes only about twenty minutes, tops, and really encourages students of all ages to notice patterns and changes in their environment. Plus it brings in just a little bit more questioning and wonder to the classroom!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Mystery Bag Monday

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

4. Have Mystery Bag Monday.

Mystery Bag Monday is such a fun way to introduce a new topic or review an old one, and kids LOVE it. I just took a simple brown bag, glued a Mystery Bag picture on it, and voila! Instant Wonder And Mystery. Here’s how I do it:

When I’m starting a new unit, I choose something that represents the topic, such as a leaf for a Trees unit, a mini pumpkin for a Pumpkins unit, you get the idea. Then I pass the bag around the circle and let each student touch, hold and smell the bag. Just don’t peek inside! I write one clue at a time on the board, and call on a few kids to make predictions after I reveal each clue. Then, after all three clues are given, they take their science journal back to their tables and draw or write what they think is in the bag. We each share our predictions, and then I do the big reveal!

mystery bag

This is so much fun, takes very little time, and is a great way to gauge your kids’ understanding of the new topic. You could do the same thing as an assessment, giving them three clues about something you’ve already studied. And most importantly, it brings a little bit of curiosity and wonder into any unit of study!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Use science journals

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

2. Use science journals

Science journals are a cheap and easy way to give your students somewhere to write down all their questions, observations, and thoughts about the world, without you having to manage lots of papers or activities. I just bought cheap notebooks and used rubber cement to glue these covers on the front. They have lasted all year. You can have students use science journals for all kinds of science-related activities, including:

  • making KWL charts at the beginning of a unit
  • recording observations about animals or plants
  • drawing what they see on a nature walk
  • writing down questions they have
  • recording results from science experiments
  • writing new facts from non-fiction books
  • reflecting on what they learned at the end of a unit

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I keep my students’ science journals where they can easily access them , and encourage them to use them however they see fit! Some teachers do very involved science journaling, which I admire and wish I had time for! I keep it simple, though, and basically use them for my students to record what they observe about the world.

Here are some places to find more info on science journaling (also called science notebooks).

The Science Penguin
Science Notebooking
Kristen’s Kindergarten
Little Miss Hypothesis
Kindergarten Kindergarten

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

As I mentioned before, I am continually frustrated with the lack of space for curiosity and creativity in the classroom. Teachers are pressured to fill every minute with minilessons, assessments and benchmark objectives – at the expense of real, engaging education. This means that elementary students spend more time with their butts glued to their desks, writing a “readers response” and making “text-to-self” connections, instead of talking about books they love. They spend more time deciphering specific directions for how a science experiment should be done, instead of being allowed time to experiment with hands-on science materials.

I could go on and on, but I won’t, since I did so in a previous post. Instead, I’ve decided to start sharing some resources for how busy teachers can fit in small ideas that bring curiosity and wonder back into the classroom. I call it my “50 Ways to Wonder” project.

Each week I’ll share a different resource or idea that is both easy and inexpensive for teachers to implement in the classroom. I’ll try to make the ideas for all ages (at least K-5), and something that is feasible. For as much as we would all love to build a school garden from scratch, those types of projects are just not feasible for elementary teachers who are juggling six subjects, 30 students, and an inordinate amount of meetings and paperwork.

Thus, I’ll try to keep these ideas short and simple. Hopefully a few teachers can use these ways to bring joy and wonder back into the classroom, encouraging kids to have fun, be curious, and love to learn!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

So without further ado, here is the first way to bring wonder into the classroom!

1. Have a Wonder Wall.

Kids are naturally curious, which leads to lots of questions throughout the day. Teachers don’t always have time to answer every question, particularly if they are ones that we aren’t equipped to answer without a little research! A Wonder Wall serves as a great place to store these questions until you can find time to answer them. Writing them down gives your students the message that you do take their curiosity seriously – and further encourages kids to ask more questions!

A Wonder Wall can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like. I just stick a blank piece of chart paper on the wall and title it “Wonder Wall.” Then, whenever a child asks a question that I can’t answer (perhaps because I’m reading a book out loud, it’s in the middle of an unrelated activity, or because I just don’t know the answer!), I write their question on the chart paper.

Here is my current Wonder Wall. Just search “Wonder Wall” on Pinterest to see much prettier versions of this same idea. 🙂

Wonder Wall

When the paper is filled up, I dedicate one Writers Workshop period to investigating the answers to these questions. Finding the answers can take many forms – including looking for related books in the library, interviewing someone in the school who might know (like the music teacher or the librarian), or searching on the internet (with my help, of course). In the future, I think I’ll incorporate more writing into the research part of the Wonder Wall, encouraging my kindergarteners to write a letter to a community member who might know more about the subject. (For example, our town is right next to a major university, so I could foresee writing a letter to a professor who studies the topic.)

I hope you find these ideas helpful… Happy wondering!

Making room for joy and wonder in the classroom

teachingjoyandwonder

As a kindergarten teacher, I find that most people are surprised when I tell them how much is expected of five-year-olds these days. Most of us remember kindergarten as a place for coloring, playing with playdough, and taking naps. The majority of our time was spent running around the recess playground and learning how to make new friends.

Nowadays, the majority of time in kindergarten is spent in academic pursuit. In one seven-hour day, my kindergarteners get exactly 20 minutes of free play and 20 minutes of rest time. That is 40 minutes of unstructured play, out of 420 minutes, each day. The rest of the time is spent on academics – reading, writing, phonics, spelling, math, computer, library, music, art, gym, and a small bit on science and social studies. (That doesn’t include 20 minutes for lunch and 40 minutes for recess each day – but lunch and recess are a chaotic whirl of overcrowded, yelling groups of children, which hardly counts as downtime for a kid.)

While I am a firm believer in the importance of learning throughout the day (I am a teacher, after all, and I love teaching Writers Workshop and Guided Math and everything else), I am also constantly frustrated with how much is demanded of these little guys. By the end of the school day, my students are visibly exhausted, both mentally and physically. And many of them go home to even more structured activities, like gymnastics and soccer practice and piano lessons. I know this is a much lamented problem, but the level of concern doesn’t seem to be changing our expectations of kids in school. As a public school teacher, I can attest to the fact that what is expected of my kindergarteners (from my district administration, from state standardized testing, from Common Core standards) is unreasonable, and is too much.

Think about what you remember most from elementary school. For me, it’s the weeks we spent studying the rainforest in third grade, learning about beautiful animals like quetzals that require our protection. Or the time in sixth grade that we dressed up and acted out the Greek myths, turning over our desks and building props out of cardboard and paint. What will kids remember from my kindergarten class? If I followed the required curriculum to a T, they might remember lots of time spent writing and editing personal narrativesidentifying the number of vertices and sides of a 3D shape, and learning the difference between plywood and particle board.

Don’t get me wrong – these are important endeavors in learning. But I think they need to be balanced with time for free play and exploration. There is so much evidence out there already on how children learn best through play, but play time is decidedly NOT written into the curriculum.

I realize that most of what I’m expected to teach is currently at the whim of politics and corporations. I am fortunate, though, to teach in a school with a very supportive principal who trusts teachers, and gives them room to use their professional judgment on the best way to teach children. Therefore, I have made it my goal this year (and all the years in the future) to make as much room for free play and exploration in my classroom as possible. I’ve decided to start sharing some of my ideas, since there’s not a lot out there on how to bring more joy and wonder into the classroom. I’ll start by listing some of the resources I’ve used when learning how to create space for exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom, and later share lesson ideas, both large and small.

Here are some resources that have inspired me so far:

Websites by Teachers

Books

Pinterest Boards

I’ll end with a quote that has been floating around out there that gives a nod to our need for balance between exploration and structured learning. More ideas for how to find this balance will come!

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