The sunny weather conditions and available leisure time of summer lure many of us outdoors for our family recreational and educational activities. This is a fortuitous situation if you wish to interest children in science, since spending time outside automatically puts us in closer contact with many aspects of the natural world. Nature-related sciences are very appealing to many children; and any “lesson” where the “classroom” is a park, beach, forest, desert or mountain automatically adds some novelty and interest.
Here in southern California, we are blessed with many wonderful places to go and things to do for outdoor-oriented fun and learning. Recently, we featured Up, Up and Away Kites! in Seal Beach, plus many lesson plan ideas related to kite flying. You can review those at: http://www.amonco.org/summer/montessori_summer1.pdf
Just a few doors down on Main Street from this Seal Beach kite store you will find the California Seashell Company, a great resource for sea life studies, as well as gifts for beach lovers. This fun store also has a website for on-line sales; so even if you cannot come to southern California and/or are land-locked with no local beach of your own, you can mail-order seashells, enjoy their beauty, and use them in a variety of educational ways. For more on the California Seashell Company and many interesting lesson plan ideas using seashells, please visit: http://www.amonco.org/summer/montessori_summer1.pdf
In most parts of the northern hemisphere, summer is a time of growth. If you enjoy outdoor recreation, generally you will be surrounded by interesting plant life. Even if you are a homebody, in summer you will generally buy and eat more vegetables and fruits. That makes summer an optimal time to learn more about plants. In “Nurturing Budding Botanists – Learning and Teaching the Basics of Plant Science”, Sara L. Ambarian offers numerous ideas for getting kids interested in plant life during day-to-day activities and summer outings. You can find this article at: http://www.amonco.org/Botanists.pdf
Nature’s Workshop Plus! is a family-run business which sells books, science kits and equipment, and many products to help you enjoy your time outdoors this summer. Check out their summer specials page for some fun ideas. http://www.workshopplus.com/
Coyote Creek’s “Animal Safari: A Learning Journey” eight-volume DVD series was designed to acquaint young people with the characteristics, behaviors, and habitats of many diverse animals. In most of the programs, members of the audience are invited to touch, hold, and gently interact with the animals. You could use these DVDs to pique children’s interest in animals before an outing, or just as an indoor “adventure”. http://www.coycreek.com/animalsafarialearningjourneyseriesvolumes1-8dvd-2.aspx
Ampersand Press specializes in educational games and nature stamps. Learn and play at the same time, while familiarizing your students with animal characteristics, food chain concepts, biodiversity, backwoods lore, and more! Explore the possibilities on their site, and be sure to check the Newsletter page for additional educational links. http://www.ampersandpress.com
Another obvious scientific study for outdoor summer activities is meteorology. We are out in the weather more if we are active outdoors in the summer; and on these long days, we also have the time to really notice what is going on in the sky above us. There is more to summer weather study than the pleasant pastime of lying in the grass imagining clouds are animals, angels or castles. Understanding and following the forecasts of summer weather can also be a safety issue. Depending on the region where you live and/or travel, you might need to adjust your outdoor plans due to heat, rain, and/or severe weather. Teaching children about weather can be fun and interesting. It can also help them understand why when weather impacts their lives and plans. For more on meteorology, plus lots of definitions, experiments, puzzles, and safety tips, visit meteorologist Crystal Wicker’s excellent Weather Wiz Kids website: http://weatherwizkids.com
Loosened bedtime schedules and warmer evenings also make stargazing a natural scientific pursuit for the summer. For more technical information to get you started, visit: http://www.astronomy.com/en/sitecore/content/Home/News-Observing/Astronomy%20Kids.aspx For a charming perspective on enjoying the night sky with children, please read “On Stargazing With Children” by Kimberly Misra, from Mothering.com, October 30, 2006: http://mothering.com/parenting/on-stargazing-with-children
Whatever you do this summer, remember to notice and appreciate the ever-changing beauties and unique characteristics of the natural world around us, and to share those observations with the young people in your life.