During this time of year, so many families are thinking of ditching the heavy coats and wool hats and getting outside after a long winter. The days are longer, temperatures are milder, and the world just seems fresher and more inviting.
Just getting outside and taking a walk around the neighborhood can feel amazing once spring arrives. But did you know that spending time outside isn’t just refreshing, but can also teach young children essential STEM concepts?
The North American Association for Environmental Education states that while there are hundreds, if not thousands, of early childhood STEM learning opportunities, none is simpler than taking kids outside to experience nature. And this doesn’t always have to take place by going to a nature preserve or park. STEM learning can take place just by stepping outside your door and taking a walk around your neighborhood with your young child.
STEM learning concepts can be reinforced on a simple neighborhood walk in several ways.
When young children explore, describe, collect, or sort items in nature that they encounter in their neighborhood (like rocks, seashells, acorns, or leaves), they are gaining math skills and are also learning about similarities, differences, and classification. Further, this boosts children’s inquiry skills as they explore texture, color, and other details of these natural objects.
Children can also study earth science on a stroll by noticing how the breeze moves the leaves on the trees or how shadows are created on a sunny day.
Kids can explore technology by taking a plastic magnifying glass along to investigate their natural surroundings.
They can study engineering by attempting to create figures from sticks or stack rocks like building blocks.
The possibilities for STEM learning opportunities are nearly endless on a simple walk through your neighborhood…it just takes noticing the rich opportunities for exploration that are all around.
To help guide adults in turning a simple walk into a STEM learning journey, I’ve included this printable packet: STEM Neighborhood Walk Activities and Journal
The packet contains simple and fun games, scavenger hunts, and journaling sheets to get young children exploring the environment right outside their doors, including:
- SHAPE SEARCH PAGE for young children to find items outside that are specific shapes. This activity helps kids recognize, name, and describe common shapes to strengthen math skills.
- A COLOR SEACH PAGE for kids to match natural objects to specific colors. This activity gets young children exploring science by sorting natural objects according to a specific feature.
- A TEXTURE SEARCH PAGE for families to explore the physical properties of various objects. This activity really allows children to explore their environment through touch and describe the characteristics of each object.
- A COUNTING SHEET for young children to practice reciting numbers, naming numbers in consecutive order, making lists, and pointing at objects to make sure each one is counted…all essential math skills.
- A ‘TAKE A CLOSER LOOK’ SHEET for young children to investigate the outdoors through technology. This sheet asks children to discover what they see outside with a magnifying glass and record their observations. This helps children understand how technology can help them learn more about the world and also allows them to become familiar with technological tools that can aid in scientific inquiry.
- An OBSERVATION SHEET for kids to journal, draw, and record information from their outdoor discovery. This lets young children make meaning from their experiences outdoors through thinking about what happened while they were investigating.
If you’ve only got a short amount of time to take a quick walk around the block, just take one of these sheets along with you to see what your child can discover. You can also print the entire packet to bring along for a full day of outdoor fun.
Or simply use these sheets as ways to spark conversations about the natural world with your young child. However you use these activities, remember that a simple walk around the neighborhood can really become a STEM learning journey when you and your young child take the time to notice and investigate the world (literally) right outside your door.