Over the years, sections have got smaller and apartment living has increased, add this to a world that is increasingly focused on smart phones, tablets and television and the outcome is children are missing out on connections to nature.

Think back to your own childhood and the pleasure you got from being outside. Perhaps you made mud pies or igloos from lawn clippings. Maybe you collected flower petals and added them to water to make an ‘interesting’ perfume scent! In our hectic world, children need those experiences that were such a big part of their parents’ childhood. There are lots of ways of learning from nature with your preschooler. Here are some ideas. 

What are some of the benefits of using learning from nature and using natural resources?

  • They are free and readily available.
  • They enable children to learn using all their senses and to learn by doing.
  • It fosters a respect and knowledge of our natural world.
  • They are a fantastic way to learn about concepts in literacy and numeracy in a fun way.
  • It develops children’s curiosity, creativity and exploration.

Collecting natural resources

Involve your child by giving them their own kete to collect resources in. Plan some outings to beaches, parks and bushes as well as your own backyard and neighbourhood. You can also get items from your local hardware/garden store such as river stones, bags of shells and sand.

Items could include:

Shells, feathers, driftwood, seaweed, bark, hay, pinecones, rocks/pebbles, leaves, flowers, cotton bags filled with lavender.

Collecting is part of the learning. Your child is learning about sorting, grouping and learning new words to describe what they have found.

learning from nature

15 natural resource activities to try

Not much space? No worries! Large trays and buckets with handles can be used indoors and out.

  • Dino land. Collect up your child’s dinosaurs and use sand, pebbles, water and leaves to create a prehistoric dinoworld. Develops imagination and language skills during play.
  • ‘Cupcakes’. Put out some paper cupcake cases and then provide clay or play dough for the cake. The toppings and candles can be your sticks, leaves and shells. Develops dexterity in the hands and fingers.
  • Matching games. Put out a selection of shells or stones for your child to match by finding ones of the same type. Alternatively take photos of different shells, feather and leaves and then your child can match the photo to the real object. Develops math skills.
  • Letter hunt. Hide magnetic letters in containers of sand. You can write the letters on a large sheet of paper so when they find each letter they can put it next to the written letter. Literacy – letter recognition.
  • Writing their name in the sand or mud with sticks. This is great for children who are reluctant to use paper and pencils. Literacy – name recognition.
  • Add your own plastic animals to hay and grass clippings and make your own farm. Opportunity to talk about animals and how they live or where our food comes from, such as eggs and milk.
  • Treasure basket. Fill a cane low basket with feathers, large pinecones, large smooth pebbles, bunches of herbs and fresh and dried flowers. Great for infants and toddlers (supervised) to learn through their senses.
  • Threading shells or wood with a hole drilled through the middle into twine. Enhances hand eye coordination.
  • Add natural resources to your play dough such as dried herbs, lemon zest or lavender. Describe how they smell including with your eyes closed. Sensory learning.
  • Use a magnifying glass to look at leaves and feathers. What new things do you notice? Develops thinking and language skills. Observation skills.
  • Prints and rubbings. Press leaves and shells into dough or clay or place under paper and do rubbings with a pencil. Learning about shape, size and patterns.
  • My Pet. Are you old enough to remember pet rocks? Your child can choose a rock, name it and decorate it using other natural materials or items such as wool and craft eyes to make their own unique ‘pet’. Easier than getting a puppy! Enhances imagination.
  • Number cards. Cut out numbers or letters on card and then cover generously with craft glue. Then your child can cover them with sand, shells, dried flowers and feathers. Numeracy skills. Tactile.
  • Mobile. Make an infant mobile to go over your change area with driftwood and shells. Secure strongly. Eye health and development.
  • Child led. Let your child guide you. Provide all the resources or natural baskets at your child’s level and see what ideas they have. They may mix them with their own traditional toys such as cars and dolls. Children usually have the best ideas! Following children’s interests.

Why not give one of these a go and enjoy learning from nature with your child.

  • Safety note – natural does not always mean non-toxic or safe to use. Ensure plants are not poisonous and be aware of any choking hazards. Shallow water is still a risk to young children so empty this out when you have finished.
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Jacqueline Taylor, mum of two, worked for 25 years in ECE and currently works as an early intervention teacher. As a qualified ECE teacher, she is especially interested in working with under 3s to understand and help them develop a strong foundation for the future.

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