A nature club is different than just allowing children to run around outside playing tag or catch. The leader of the nature club doesn’t have to be an expert on all things nature. The leader just needs the confidence to encourage children to explore the outdoors. The following activities keep costs down while providing time for kids to experience nature. The key to keeping thing oriented toward plants and animals is to have a variety of planned activities.
Bug Collecting with Kids
If you don’t have the budget for nets and collection containers, two clear plastic cups can do the job. Look for short wide cups and then taller, narrower cups that will fit inside the shorter cup, creating a chamber for temporarily holding insects. Children can hold one cup in each hand, sneak up behind insects and bring both cups together. Kids can observe the critters and then release them.
Art in Nature
Children can build structures from branches and rocks. Keep things small by encouraging children to create gnome homes or mouse houses; their goal isn’t to make something large enough for kids to climb within. Kids can collect leaves and place them on the ground in collage patterns.
A few sheets of paper folded in half and then stapled along the fold become an instant nature journal. Encourage kids to make notes about weather, sunlight, cloud cover, temperature, time, and location, so they can compare their observations week-to-week.
Nature Games for Kids
Keep games focused on plants and animals. You don’t even have to find special nature games. You can take a single characteristic of an animal’s behavior and link it to a common game. For example, tag games work well with a storyline about predators and prey animals. Tunnel tag is the perfect version of this game for animals that burrow or tunnel underground.
Create obstacle courses to mimic the challenges faced by salmon swimming upstream, birds migrating north and south, or frogs moving toward mating pools. You can even have kids help create these games, just start off with some facts about an animal. Kids may have to work over several meetings to create a satisfying game. (Write down those instructions so you can play the games with other children the next year.)
Children can look for and observe worms, birds, insects, and small mammals. Children can walk around a wooded area looking for signs of animal nests, holes in the ground, chewed nuts and leaves, snapped twigs, etc. You can do this activity weekly, or at least every other week, encouraging kids to make different observations and notice how nature isn’t static.
Try to do as many nature activities as possible outdoors. Although this may sound obvious for a nature club, it can be easy to do recycled craft projects or do science experiments while talking about environmental concerns indoors. Travel out the door. Look for a location at the school where kids have permission to explore (with supervising adults). Don’t worry about providing kids with fact after fact; allow this time to be an opportunity for them to make observations.