While reading the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, I reflected back on my own childhood and the things I loved best: time spent at my great aunt’s cabin in Michaux State Forest, splashing in the creek, building hideouts with fallen logs and ferns, and catching toads until the sun went down. After moving to the big city for college (yes, I mean Pittsburgh), I found myself drawn to the abundant green places that this city is so fortunate to have. Exploring the wilds of Schenley Park was my way of staying connected to what felt familiar and comforting–a little bit of home for a homesick college student. Now more than ever, I find myself plotting ways to get outside as often as I can. Hiking Riverview Park with my dog, and trying to identify the flora and fauna of our region has renewed this passion of mine.
Nature is a giant classroom filled to bursting with topics to explore, and any green space will do. Whether going outside means hitting the trails in Frick Park, turning cartwheels on a baseball field, enjoying a library garden or exploring your own backyard, here are a few activities to inspire you to get outside this summer.
The following activities are from the book, A Little Bit of Dirt by Asia Citro, MEd
Many preschoolers (and even older children) enjoy using scissors and cutting things into tiny pieces. You can bring this activity outdoors by creating a “Nature Cutting Tray”. Go on a treasure hunt in your yard or neighborhood, and collect plants. (Advice from a girl who gets poison ivy at least once a month in the summer: gather plants you recognize, i.e. the non-toxic variety.) Blades of grass, fallen leaves from different types of trees, dandelions and fragrant herbs make great samples. Place your items in a tray (we use large roasting pans for art activities at the library), and let your child explore and cut the plants. Talk about the colors, textures and smells of the plants you have found. Think about the different parts and what they do. If you have herbs or other good smelling plants, you can create smelling bottles for extra sensory fun.
Another activity Asia Citro features in her book is creating a “Rolling Nature Painting”. Take your tray from the previous activity and tape a piece of paper to the bottom. Add a few squirts of watered down washable paint to the paper. Then toss in a few pinecones. Move the tray from side-to-side to roll the pinecones, and watch as a beautiful pattern appears! Add different colors and try out other small objects like acorns, round seeds and berries.
Looking for some good books to help inspire a love of nature? Here are a few of my favorites:
We Dig Worms! by Kevin McCloskey
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins
You can explore these websites for more outdoor fun!
As always, if you need help finding books or other resources this summer, stop by your local library and ask a librarian. I hope you enjoy exploring nature this summer. I’ll see you out there!
Jessica is a Children’s Specialist at CLP – Squirrel Hill. An avid reader of all things Moomin, Jessica also enjoys beekeeping, biking and digging in the dirt.