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Learning is a Picnic! Part Two-Adventures and Activities

“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.

Birdcage Press also offers a fun card game and book set, Backyard Birds, which you could use in conjunction with your birdwatching adventures.  

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”.

“Whole body learners” (for more, see ) 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.  

Geology enthusiasts will also enjoy the Hobby Lobby story found here: .

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”.

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”.

For learning opportunities involving weather and sky conditions, check out these informative links from the National Weather Service.

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.

Here are a few other selected outdoor craft ideas for students young and old: 

Tree Rubbings Collage

Pretty pencil pinwheel ,

Fun Floral Straws

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:

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Learning is a Picnic!

Part One– Preparation, Refreshments, and Safety

“The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop.” Maria Montessori

With warm weather and summer holidays from the traditional school year approaching, many of us start looking for ways to enjoy ourselves outdoors.  A perennial favorite summer pastime is picnicking; and with some forethought, you can plan an outing that is both recreational and educational!

Planning and preparation–

Children of all ages can help with both planning and preparations for a picnic. These activities help children practice important daily life activities, and they also give them a sense of involvement in and anticipation of the event.

Generally speaking, you will need to consider the date, the time, the location, your mode of transportation, the number and ages of participants, the menu, and activities in which you might participate during the outing.  You will also need to think about the equipment and supplies you will need both for transportation and service of the food and for the comfort and safety of the participants. 

Keeping a running list of items to buy and/or pack to which you can add things as you remember them can be a big help.  If your students help you pack, you can have even early readers find and check off each item on the list as they carry it out to the car, put it in the picnic basket, etc.

For ideas about picnic planning, check out “Year-End Activities: A Family Picnic” from Dale at North American Montessori Center  and these other resources.,,


Part of the fun of a picnic is loosening up the routines of more-formal meals. Jaye from Creative Care craft kits is completely in the spirit of both picnicking and Montessori daily life exercises with her self-serve Hot Dog Buffet. She also suggests a great carry-around dessert, Grandmother’s Oatmeal Cookies. Find them both here:

Tara from the Lord Company shares a make-ahead main dish recipe, Rollie Poultries. These tasty treats are easy to transport and serve cold, but could also be re-heated in foil or a dutch oven, if your picnic plans will include a campfire or barbecue grill.

Another fun hands-on recipe to make before the picnic is Summer Fruit, Cheese and Meat Kabobs.  This simple, but appealing snack from Dianne at Conceptual Learning provides an opportunity for even very young children to participate in meal preparations. (For the youngest kids, consider shorter toothpicks/skewers to suit both their shorter attention spans and their less-developed dexterity.)

Diana from Nature’s Workshop Plus! provides a sweet and nutty carry-along dessert with her Stuffed Apples recipe.

Lois Scarbrough appeals to the chocoholics in your picnic party with Fudge Cupcakes.

For a backyard picnic, try Kathy O’Reilly’s Watermelon Blueberry Banana Split. This recipe wouldn’t travel well, but it includes great ideas for student involvement and expanded study and discussion for a schoolyard or backyard picnic setting.

Getting dirty is part of the fun of picnicking, so how about bringing along some homemade cinnamon rolls with lick-your-fingers icing, like these from Larry of Farm Country General Store?

Have an adventurous crew attending your picnic? Check out Fun Felt’s pirate-themed snack recipes.

Need more picnic food ideas?

Check out these Independence Day recipes from Sara L. Ambarian.

Make finger food a learning experience! You can use this fun alphabet sandwich idea with cold sandwiches just as easily as with the suggested grilled cheese.

Here is a cute gallery of picnic food recipes great for visually-oriented picnic planners.

You’ll find some wonderful, simple recipe ideas here, in the UK Guardian newspaper’s article, “101 Picnic Recipes: Ready in 20 minutes or less”.  Not only are the recipe ideas interesting and inspiring, learning the British terms (like “beetroot” and “aubergine”) and spellings offer students another layer of learning.  These suggestions are especially appropriate for older students and enthusiastic, creative budding chefs, because only ingredients and basic preparation instructions are included.  No measurements are provided, which allows you and your student(s) to experiment with taking a recipe concept and designing your OWN recipe.  Exercises like these in the kitchen are invaluable to young cooks, because they tap into thought processes and creativity that following a specific recipe does not.  They also allow for additional record-keeping and analysis.


Introduce some kitchen science concepts for older students by reviewing these picnic food safety guidelines. These are both great overviews from university food departments—the first short and fairly simple, the second more in-depth for your more scientifically-minded students.

If your picnic plan includes a campfire, be sure to review some basic fire safety guidelines with your students before you go.  This list of rules from a Canadian Girl Guides leader is excellent (and she has some other great outdoor fun ideas, as well)!

Check back to this blog next week, to read the second part of this two part article.

However, before you point your browser to another website,  glance to the right of this page, to check out some of the current top posts on the Montessori for the 21st Century blog..  🙂

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