“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” Plato
A picnic is a wonderful opportunity for both children and adults to observe and enjoy nature. While you eat, as well as before and after your meal, it is fun to keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife, insects, changing sky conditions, and more.
If you are new to birdwatching, or want some kid-friendly tips, please refer to Sanford R. Wilbur’s “Birdwatching with Kids” interview. http://www.amonco.org/spring1/montessori_spring1.pdf
Birdcage Press also offers a fun card game and book set, Backyard Birds, which you could use in conjunction with your birdwatching adventures. http://www.amonco.org/summer5/montessori_summer5.pdf
For younger kids and hands-on explorers, botany might be a more rewarding pursuit than bird or wildlife watching. You need almost no equipment, you don’t need to stay quiet, and your subjects will not fly or scamper away while you are studying them! Make sure you are familiar with poison oak, poison ivy, stinging nettle or any other plants in your area which students should not handle. Then, get more study ideas from Sara L. Ambarian in her article, “Nurturing Budding Botanists”. http://www.amonco.org/Botanists.pdf
“Whole body learners” (for more, see http://www.amonco.org/summer5/montessori_summer5.pdf ) might really “dig” geologic explorations. Examining soil and rock formations often requires a lot of walking around and getting your hands dirty. Don’t think that you need to have a location with really dramatic geologic features like boulders or cliff faces in order to have a rewarding geology adventure. You can learn a lot from looking at variations in the color and texture of soil or gravel areas, the sizes and composition of rocks along a river bed, the shapes of surrounding hills or mountains, etc. Visit the following website from Rochester, New York, for some fun ideas to get kids started enjoying rocks and minerals. http://rochester.kidsoutandabout.com/content/getting-kids-rockhounding
Geology enthusiasts will also enjoy the Hobby Lobby story found here: http://www.amonco.org/summer2/montessori_summer2.pdf .
Another great way to enjoy a day outside is to immortalize it in art. Before going, you might invest some time preparing with an art study program like that found in Coyote Creek’s video series “Drawing Nature”. http://www.coycreek.com/drawingnaturevol2drawinglessonsforbeginners.aspx
Other fun outdoor activities that give children an opportunity to move around and might be appropriate for your picnic location are kite-flying and beachcombing. Find lots of ideas and resources on these subjects in “Up, Up and Away—The Art and Fun of Kite Flying” and “Classified Seashell Activities and Resources”. http://www.amonco.org/summer/montessori_summer1.pdf
For learning opportunities involving weather and sky conditions, check out these informative links from the National Weather Service. http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ffc/?n=teacher
When you’re done eating and exploring, you may want to make a memento to remember the outing. This site has some fun outdoor crafts listed in their sections for “backyard”, “beach craft”, “camping and picnic”, etc. http://familycrafts.about.com/od/summercrafts/a/summermn.htm
Here are a few other selected outdoor craft ideas for students young and old:
Tree Rubbings Collage http://www.busybeekidscrafts.com/Tree-Rubbings-Collage.html
Pretty pencil pinwheel http://crafts.kaboose.com/pretty-pencil-pinwheel.html ,
Families or other groups can extend the outdoor fun, and help a good cause, too, by joining the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout. Find out more about the program at: http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Great-American-Backyard-Campout.aspx