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What to do on days when we just need to stay inside? There will be days when you go outside for a few minutes but environmental factors may influence you to stay inside instead. We can still use these times to conduct nature studies, explore nature, and encourage questions about nature and natural materials. On these days, we bring the outside in and study from a new perspective while utilizing carefully selected natural materials.

Here is a glimpse of our nature nook. It takes on different feelings and purposes as we grow and evolve as nature explorers and people. There are baskets, bowls, jars, and buckets of: stones, rocks, gems, fossils, minerals, shells, teeth, bones, bark and wood, dried flowers, leaves, sweet gums, snake skins, arrowheads, reishi, egg shells, cicada skins, sea glass, butterflies, and, of course, the tools: scooping utensils, magnifying glasses, tweezers, beakers, pipettes, and safety goggles.

“If you watch children in play, from birth moving through early childhood, interest driven play develops them into full human beings... PLAY is the most powerful curriculum." ~Sally Haughey, creator of Fairy dust Teaching/Wonder Tribe

Bringing Outside Inside

We love to play, learn, explore, and investigate outdoors, daily. We play in the rain and the snow, the breezes, the warm summer glow but what about those days when children are just not feeling it? We live in the Lehigh Valley which is known, nationally, for its pollen and allergies. Everyone has these days when they just don't feel like going outside and while we try to go outside everyday—for even a small amount of time—there are occasionally days where we spend most of the day inside. We participate in the initiative 1000 Hours Outside and we recognize how important it is for children to have screen-free time, we know there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing choices, and yes children should have time to be wild and free and runwild with wind blowing through their hair. But there are benefits to creating an indoor environment that is nature-friendly and allows for exploration and investigation away from the elements. Sometimes we all need a break. What can we do on days when it is just too hot or there is lightning, thunder, pollen, tears, or even fears?

Nature Nook

These are great opportunities to bring the outdoors inside with a nature nook or some nature-inspired provocations. When we are outside we always have our finding eyes open, our listening ears on, and our deep and far-reaching senses tapped. We are on the hunt and on the prowl for our ever expanding vault of nature treasures. What started with a small basket and a tin bucket has evolved to a counter top of rocks, gems, and minerals, a collection of shells, a basket of wood and bark pieces, a bucket of waxed leaves in all the beautiful shades of Fall, 8 magnifying specimen boxes with once crawling and flying insects, robin eggshells, a small basket of hand carved scooping utensils, tweezers, magnifying glasses, binoculars, a bowl of bones and teeth, a cache of fossils, a silverware tray full of wood, metal, glass, and plastic found pieces, and the list goes on.

Exploration of Nature indoors

On days when we just need a break, we desperately need to rest and relax from pollen and the smoldering heat, or it is wildly pouring outside, we are happy sitting at our exploration table in our "makers" room checking out and reminiscing over the goods. Do you want to talk about rocks, minerals, and gems? I found an amazing Rocks and Gems book through DK/Smithsonian Publishing. We love this book. We like to get out a round serving bowl [that I found at a garage sale] and place our favorite rocks, gems and crystals in a color wheel display. Look! This just encompassed art, design, science, environmental literacy, visual and tactile learning, and we just turned this into a STREAM activity. We pick up a specimen and look with our magnifying glasses. We use expressive language: sharp, pointy, fuzzy, smooth, solid, ragged, jutting, rough, patchy, specked. What can we see, what can we feel, what can we sense? I wonder if this rock is heavy? I wonder if this rock is hollow or solid? I wonder if this stone will float? I wonder if this material will dissolve in water? I wonder if this will absorb or create heat? We sit and ask questions and take turns looking through our books, exploring, investigating, solving mysteries together. How can we test our theories or questions? Where can we go from here?

We allow our imaginations to run wild and spend as little or as much time as needed. Sometimes we even come back to this for several days. We draw in our sketchbooks, write in our notebook, we take pictures, look through books, compare and contrast, research experiments that we can do to prove or disprove our questions and theories. We learn with what we have and use critical thinking to decide what is relevant to our studies. Once the children have a path, I try to facilitate instead of teach, I ask "I wonder questions" when we need a little help, and I quietly flip to pages and leave them open for explorers to find clues.

When we look at teeth or bones, we think about what animal and what part of the animal this may have come from. We explore and compare and contrast. I think this may be a tooth because look at my teeth and look at this similar shape. What do I use these teeth to eat? What kinds of foods? So, what type of foods are these teeth used for? Is this animal an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore? Do we need more information? We have a set of animal x-rays and a light table. It is fun to compare and contrast animal photography, x-rays, and animal bones to each other and also to compare and contrast these to human photos, x-rays, diagrams, and illustrations.

Sometimes, we just build with small loose pieces of wood. We have wooden cookie slices, sticks, bark, pieces of branches—we stack them, balance them, create something that resembles something else like a stick person, sometimes we try to re-assemble them or create trees. We have broken and cut wooden cookie slices and then put them back together like puzzles. There are so many enriching experiences with found loose parts that we collect in nature. And when we mix these with popsicle sticks, jenga pieces, blocks, wooden sewing spools, chopsticks, coffee stir sticks, corks, and wooden beads the possibilities for creation are endless.

What about nature confetti? Do you have a party or a festivity that needs some flair? We love to collect leaves of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. We have several small containers that are full of nature confetti. On days when we're feeling frustrated or need to work through something, we have found that making nature confetti is amazingly therapeutic. All you need are some fun hole punchers, scissors, non-toxic leaves and petals, a container, and possibly a rimmed baking sheet. We gather our materials and head to the makers table. It is already lined with Ikea ribbed liner and is incredibly easy to sweep off with our designated table brush and dust pan. So we lay out our flowers and leaves, we pluck everything apart, and separate into piles. Once we have everything organized, we get to work. We have foot print, swirls, stars, circles, squares, diamonds, and flower hole punches. I found them in the dollar bin at Michael's years ago, I also grabbed a bunch at Creative Reuse when I was living in Pittsburgh. Creative Reuse will need to be an entry on its own for its glorious finds and possibilities. We experiment with fresh, semi-fresh, and dried plant material and punch holes in them. We have containers for red, orange, green, yellow, and brown. We also gather some scrap paper from our scrap bin if we need more vibrant colors. Everything is compostable and biodegradable. After cutting, punching holes, ripping, shredding, clipping, and slicing we gather all the small pieces. Before we put everything away we thank the plant for growing and giving beauty. We gather any remaining pieces of materials that are not going to be included in the confetti and those go in the compost. When we have parties or celebrations we have been known to put some wildflower seeds into the nature confetti mix everyone gets a handful and we toss them in the air. There is no plastic, no chemicals, no sharp pieces, no glitter. Just colorful pieces of paper and nature. No need for clean up, everything just turns back into soil and we get some surprise flowers. It really is a joyful occasion and the process is fun and relaxing. It is not often that children are encouraged to rip things apart, to dissect, to dismantle. But sometimes, that's exactly what we all need because the only way to truly understand things—look at them from new perspectives, learn all the parts, take them apart, put them back together piece by piece.

It looks like I didn't even get to discuss provocations but that can be an entire entry on its own. There are just so many great ideas and ways to provoke questions, exploration, and discovery with child-led play.

Get Inspired

There are a few really inspiring books on the Reggio-Emilia Approach for life and learning. If you would like some recommendations, feel free to reach out. I have an entire bookshelf of alternative learning styles and techniques that is mostly full of REA, Waldorf, Outdoor and Nature-based education, Home-based school, homesteading, and farm/garden schooling, as well as graduate level "mainstream" educational and pedagogical literature. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Reggio-Emilia inspired education, be mindful that it will look different depending on where and how you live and the community in which you interact. It is based on lifestyles, multi-generational learning, community outreach, the use of nature and art as basic learning tools, the environment as a third teacher, and using light and nature as a tool for investigation while setting up the learning environment as a studio.

It is easy and fun to bring the outdoors inside. Designate a small space where your children can keep a few nature treasures. They may start to explore them in different ways, integrate them into their every day learning, and ask to learn more about each piece. Giving our children the space they need to ask the questions that interest them is a great way to allow them the ability to choose their own topics and delve into subjects that they want to learn about. We have taken a five minute conversation and turned it into a story, a book, a picture, a painting, a science experiment, we drew maps, we recreated things out of clay, we learned about places and then made food and listened to music from those areas. Every educational journey will look different because every learner is different. Don't be afraid to bring some of the outside in and try something new.

Thank you for joining me today, as always if you know someone who is learning with children that could benefit from some ideas, please pass the link to this blog along. If you live in the Lehigh Valley and would like to work on a collaboration, reach out at

Grow. Learn. Love. Repeat.

As always, all ideas, views, images, and information {unless otherwise stated} are my own perspectives. Use what is helpful to you and leave what is not. Thanks for stopping by.


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