Did you know snakes can “see” heat and “hear” with their jaws? Snakes have such marvelous superpowers and kids can learn a lot from these slithering friends. Here are some ways to help kids be wise to the dangers of snakes but also appreciative of all that they have to offer!
Inspired by World Snake Day, this activity is featured in our July Activity Calendar. If you do not yet have your free copy of the calendar, get it here.
Learn more about snakes.
Here are a few of our favorite sites you can visit with kids to learn more about snakes:
Rolling substances like clay or forest putty into snakes is something that is equal parts attainable, satisfying and engaging for many young kids. What makes forest putty special is that it's made to mix and mingle with nature treasures! You can just enjoy rolling snake-shapes or pressing nature treasures into your “snake” to make patterns. You can see many examples of wonderful snake patterns on a site like iNaturalist.
You can also make snakes by laying out small nature treasures like pebbles, leaves, acorns or woodchips in a line or spiral. This act of putting objects in a sequence or line is not only relaxing and engaging, it's one of a series of behaviors that universally captivate kids during play. Search for which snakes live in your area and look for images of their patterns to get some inspiration and learn about the snakes near you!
Move (a bit) like snakes.
Snake’s bodies are amazing, and it’s impossible to replicate their locomotion with our human bodies. But, it can be great fun (and even good for our kids motor development) to get on the floor and just try to move around on our bellies. If you have a baby in the family, have fun empathizing with their point of view, too!
Remember to have fun sticking out tongues, too!
Be mindful snakes.
Read this DIY to learn a bit about the yoga pose often called "cobra" pose. Get ideas on how to introduce the pose to kids, then give it a try together.
Note: Snakes can carry very different meanings within different cultural contexts. If snakes are not a celebratory match for you and your family, just have fun creating or playing like another creature that you see in your summer biome or that intrigues you or your child.
Why is this activity great for kids?
It’s sometimes easier to connect to some animals than it is others, but all creatures have incredible value to our ecosystems. Snakes have played an important role in stories and in various cultures —plus they have incredible animal superpowers that can spark curiosity, joyful play, and empathy for all creatures in young children.
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We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
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?
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!