Design a Nature Display

If your kids are anything like ours, they like to bring all kinds of “treasures” home from a trip to the park, landing us with a collection of sticks, seed pods, flowers, and fungi. Whether in a small city space like ours or a roomy house, this habit has its limits. So, what better way to make good use of nature treasures than to design a nature display together? Far beyond giving kids (and you) a great way to leave treasures behind, you can include all kinds of powerful lessons into the making of your display. Kids play with all senses, sort objects by categories, develop language as they describe objects and categories with you, play with patterns and develop a sense of design—time well spent!

The Guide

  1. Do some serious collecting: Bring a bindle, pail, bag or other container outdoors. Gather anything that interests you and pleases the senses--leaves, sticks, seed pods, berries, petals, mushrooms, you name it.
  2. Find a spot to make your display: Look for a surface on which you can place treasures. Avoid spots that have a lot of traffic, wind or too much slant. These can lead to unnecessary frustration and loss of focus. Tree stumps, the hollow spaces in logs and the flat spaces between the roots of a big old tree are good choices.
  3. Start arranging: Dump out the contents of your collection container and start adding objects to the display. If it’s your child’s first display, model a few approaches by putting one category of objects (sticks, soft things, things animals eat) in the same area in the display. Share your thinking out loud as you go. Or, just quietly start making a pattern using objects and let them observe what you are doing. Check to see if your child is also engaged and ease up if their work slows in response to yours.
  4. Chat: Talk about the objects you each are adding and try to get kids talking about why they are placing them as they are. If your child is not one to work and chat (and many are not), simply watch and take note of their purposeful actions. Later, you can ask them about why they made certain choices in their design.
  5. Savor and celebrate: Step back and behold your display. Take some pictures to share (and share them with us too!). Take time to touch, smell and gaze at the objects you’ve displayed. Celebrate with a high-five or hug.
  6. Leave it for other friends to behold: Encourage kids to leave the display so that other people can enjoy the display and even add to it. Wonder about how happy this will make someone, and take one special item home if kids clearly have trouble walking away empty handed.

Why is this activity great for kids?

This activity basically begins with kids’ natural compulsion to collect and cart around objects. It turns out that children are innate collectors—and for good brain-building reasons. Kids use and develop multiple senses as they collect, arrange and enjoy the objects in their display. As you and your child place objects, you can model and they can practice with making patterns, a valuable basis for understanding algebra and mathematical functions later. Plus, kids who are grooving on the trajectory schema get a great chance to line objects up in rows.

The designing of a nature display also gives kids the chance to sort and categorize found objects, helping to build their ability to make connections, a gateway skill needed for higher level thinking. If you describe the objects to one another or talk about your decisions as you build your display, kids strengthen both vocabulary and communication skills. Finally, if kids leave the treasures they would normally cart home outside for others to see, they are giving of themselves in some small way, developing empathy. And, lest we forget, you have that much less to clean up at home!

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