Add a twist to the usual trail walk and give kids a chance to discover a powerful nature concept: camouflage! What kid doesn’t like to go on the hunt for treasure? This time, the treasure is purposefully pre-planted yarn of 2 types: bright and colorful and camouflage (green, tan and brown). Kids will get hooked on the “hunt,” grabbing as much yarn as they can. In the process, they should also grasp the idea that, out in nature, bright colored yarn is easier to find than green or brown yarn a great jumping off point for introducing the concept of camouflage and what it might mean for creatures of prey and predators in the wild.
Step 1: Prep your yarn.
You’ll need at least two different types of colored of yarn: one vibrant (pink, purple, teal, yellow, orange, etc.) and one that is green and/or brown. Cut pieces of each yarn (about 6-8 inches each).
Step 2: Lay the trail.
Go out and place equal amounts of each type of yarn along a patch of trail, woods or any space in your park or yard. Sprinkle strands on the ground, hang them on limbs of trees or on the leaves of low plants, leave them peeking out of logs, etc.
Step 3: Hike/hunt with the kids.
Then, bring kids on a trail walk, asking them if they notice anything. Assuming they’ll notice the yarn (if not, point it out), give them time to hunt for the yarn.
Step 4: Reflect on their findings.
After a few minutes of hunting, call kids together to share and look at what they’ve found. Ask them what they notice and prompt a bit if they don’t readily notice that there are two types of colors and that they have found more of the bright colored yarn than the green/brown type. Let them know that you hid the same number of pieces of each color.
Wonder, “Why do you think you found more bright colored yarn than green/brown yarn?" Give kids a chance to share their ideas and then introduce the idea that colors that are similar to the colors outside camouflage or blend in, making them difficult to see. Wonder how a rabbit’s fur might help it to camouflage in to its environment. Do the hunt again and welcome your child to hide the yarn for you to find.
Step 5: Leave no trace.
Sweep back through the trail to ensure that you've gotten all of the yarn.
Extend the play!
To help kids take on the perspective of predators and prey in the wild, hide the yarn again. This time, invite kids to pretend they are hungry parent wolves in search of food (yarn) for their pups. Can they find food for their pack?
Why is this activity great for kids?
Searching for colors in nature is an age-appropriate way for kids to discover the concept of camouflage while developing empathy for creatures who rely on camouflage as protection from predators. A camo hunt also helps hone visual sensory skills and subtly encourages kids to take a closer look at the world around them. Plus, there is nothing like a hunt to motivate even the busiest explorer to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand.
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Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
What do we mean by developing the ability to Make Connections?
By making connections, we mean the ability to take something new and understand how it is similar to, related to, or different from other things. In addition, it is understanding how those relationships change in different situations. This is sophisticated stuff, and young children are not able to make these connections with abstract ideas. However, the more young kids learn to sort, categorize and identify how objects are similar or different, the better they build the foundational skills for making connections down the road.
Why does it matter?
In order to recognize themes when reading, or build a sense of how numbers work, one needs to understand how one thing relates to another and how those relationships can change in different circumstances. Information is not hard to search for these days, but understanding is always hard fought. Kids who can make connections can make real sense of, build on and apply what they are taught in school. It's also the kids (and adults) who can see the unusual connections between things who can think and act creatively. It's not surprising that making connections is one of the seven skills professor, author and child development expert Ellen Galinskyadvocates as essential for today's children in her book, Mind in the Making.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?