Nature is always changing—and there are always new things to discover and play with outside no matter where you are. This week at Tinkergarten Anywhere, we lean into using our senses and observation as powerful tools that enable us to learn about our world. Watch the video lesson with kids, then invite them to sharpen their senses and brew up a pretend “nature tea” to discover all that the natural world offers in their biome. Here’s how:
Step 1: Watch the Our Discovery Tools video lesson.
Hop into your My Tinkergarten dashboard to watch the Our Discovery Tools video lesson. Kids can watch how Meghan and other explorers discover what is special about nature where they live, then get inspired to discover the treasures that await in their own outdoor spaces!
Step 2: Activate the senses
Suggest taking a walk to sense what is special about nature where you live. Take a minute to get some of the senses you'll use (see, hear, smell, feel and taste) ready. You can "warm kids' senses up" a bit by looking around, listening for a sound, sniffing the air and rubbing hands together.
Step 4: Take a sensory walk or scavenger hunt
Grab a bucket or container and head outside for a walk and stop along the way to sense what the world is doing in your biome this time of year. If you like, print out a copy of our Take a Sensory Walk worksheet or our Winter Scavenger Hunt worksheet. Or, just look at these with your child for inspiration.
Try focusing on one sense at a time. Stop every now and then to discover what you can sense when your body is still. Lie down on the ground and experience the sensations of nature from a new perspective. Close your eyes to discover how turning off one sense heightens others. Chat with kids about which of the things they noticed are their favorites. Share yours, too.
Step 5: Collect and discover
As you walk, invite kids to use their senses to discover what treasures nature provides this time of year where you live. Stop to notice the colors, shapes, textures and smells of the natural objects around you and welcome kids to collect some of their favorites and add them to their container.
Step 6: Make nature tea
Once kids have had time to collect treasures, wonder if they could make a pretend tea that smells and looks like nature where you live. (Tip: If you have herbal tea bags at home, open one up together first and explore how the tea leaves look, feel and smell).
Kids can rip and pluck their treasures into smaller pieces and add them to their containers along with an inch or so of water. Offer a stick or spoon to mix up the ingredients and notice how the pretend tea changes. Ask something about its appearance (“What do you notice about the water? Does it look the same as when you started?”). Or, ask to smell the tea, and ooo and ahh.
To extend play, try some of these ways to help kids activate their senses and discover what is special about nature where you live:
Mystery Sensory Box—Place some of the nature treasures your child collected in a cardboard box and welcome them to use their sense of touch to explore and guess which objects are hidden inside. Read the full DIY here.
Outdoor Tea Party—Brew some real herbal tea (or hot cocoa) and take it outside on your walk. The addition of warm tea or cocoa into a hike activates the sense of touch, taste and temperature—a huge sensory system win! Read the full DIY here.
Cache and Hide—Play like squirrels and take turns hiding and searching for nature treasures around your outdoor space. Read the full DIY here.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Honing the senses and observation skills helps kids learn about their world, and become better able to identify and solve problems. As kids notice what is happening in their biome and make their pretend teas, they not only flex their senses of sight, touch and smell, but they also strengthen their ability to integrate their senses. Kids also develop flexible thinking, a key component of creativity, as they turn water and objects into "tea." Finally, the more direct contact with nature kids have, the more in love they become—and that early love turns into lifelong connection and even desire to protect their planet.
By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What are Problem Solving Skills?
When we talk about problem solving, we mean the ability to solve a problem in which the solution is not obvious and in which the possible paths to solution are many. To solve such problems, kids will need two things. First, they’ll need the self confidence and comfort to both attempt to find and persist in finding a solution. The only way to develop this is to be given the chance to struggle with ambiguous situations or open-ended problems. We parents are all guilty, from time to time, of helping kids avoid struggle or swooping in to alleviate frustration when our kid encounters challenge. The goal is actually to do the opposite whenever possible. As long as the problem is not too difficult to understand or challenging to solve, even young kids can get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing the solution and fall in love with the joy of finding a solution to a problem.
Kids also need strategies to attack problems with which they are faced. If adults are able to work with kids to solve problems “as a team” but in such a way that the children feel and act “in charge” of the decisions, adults can actually teach foundation problem solving skills and strategies through modeling. For example, when you solve a problem together, kids get practice with key parts of the process like brainstorming, testing ideas, revision and solution. It’s also pretty easy to model how to use simple strategies like trial and error or breaking a problem down into smaller parts. Although children age 1 to 7 should not be expected to name, catalog or identify when to use a particular problem solving strategy, they are able to form habits and repeat approaches once those habits or approaches have become familiar. The more problems they solve, the better they know and can use these methods.
Why does it matter?
“The highest ranked skills for students entering the workforce were not facts and basic skills; they were applied skills that enable workers to use the knowledge and basic skills they have acquired” (Source: Are They Really Ready for Work? Conference Board 2006).
Although it seems a long way to go before our young children are hitting the job market, the ability to solve challenging, ambiguous problems has already been identified as a critical skill for success in the 21st Century. With advances in technology, finding information has never been easier. However, knowing how to interpret a problem and use available information to devise a solution still needs to be learned. And, we fear that the classrooms of today are neither designed nor incentivized to teach these skills effectively. In most schools, so much time is spent learning discrete skills, that applied skills like problem solving are wildly underemphasized. In a world that demands it, it is increasingly necessary that children learn and practice these skills outside of school.
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?