Sunday, June 30, 2019

Operation Explore

One of my goals is to get more kids out and about in nature. Whether it be the nature kindergarten program I coordinate, the family nature club I organize, or the Tyke Hike program I coordinate for the Ice Age Trail, this has been successful so far, but I always strive for more. A new venture has been working with the school district my children do/will attend. The first step: designing and implementing a nature discovery class for summer school. I introduce to you. . .


Operation Explore is a shorter, condensed version of my nature kindergarten program. I definitely see many direction this class could expand into, but to start off, I created a two-week class focusing on a schedule similar to my regular classroom.

While I hoped to include as much emergent learning as possible, I created a "schedule" to help guide the direction of the course. Each day included some picture book  reading, lessons that build on each other, and of course, exploration time connected to a nature mission. With each location for class implementation being potentially different, I felt compelled to create a road map for the course. Here is a look at how the inaugural Operation Explore was mapped out.

Day 1 - Introduction to the Outdoors

Besides introducing two simple rules (BE SAFE and BE KIND) and reading a favorite book called LITTLE TREE, we took a tour of our main outdoor learning space while completing a basic scavenger hunt. We talked about the senses explorers use and practiced an activity similar to a sit spot.

Day 2 - Tree Parts and Purposes

We focused on the parts of the tree, the important purposes of those parts, and the importance of trees in our lives. We sang, Leaves, Branches, Trunk, & Roots and enjoyed a nature art project of making a tree out of a tree.

Day 3 - The Life Cycle of a Tree

We continued researching trees by taking our first field trip and searching for the different stages. After an initial seed search, we discussed saplings, adult trees, old age trees, and decomposition. and practiced them with some fun and engaging actions and kinesthetic activities.

Day 4 - Needs

We wrapped up our specific look at trees and focused more on the needs of plants. We had a special needs chant  - Sun, Soil, Space, Water & Air. These are the things plants need everywhere! We put needs into action by designing and collecting materials for the creation of a shelter out in the school's courtyard.

Day 5 - Animal Shelters

After having the opportunity to bring other materials from home, the kids continued their animal shelter designs. After a gallery walk of the shelters, we brainstormed the materials and attractions we would be interested in working with as we would soon be returning to our field trip spot and creating a class den.

Day 6 - Den Creation

We returned to our field trip location to select a spot and start the creation of our class den. We focused on creating a shelter that would attract animals because it helped them meet their needs. We then set up our trail camera in hopes of seeing animals visiting our shelter.

Nature finds a way

Caterpillar catch

Day 7 - Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Building off of the needs of plants and animals, we focused on what animals needed to do when their needs were not being met. Of course, we checked on our trail camera visitors first. After seeing our visitors, we discussed the decisions animals must make to survive. Hibernate, Activate, Migrate - HAM was our chant and focus. Using a coat, luggage, and a pillow and blanket, we studied animals and their winter decisions in a  kinesthetic sorting activity.

Day 8 - Fine Feathered Friends

After learning about the decisions animals must make when winter comes, we zoomed in on one of those decisions (migration) and an animal known for doing it (birds). We practiced birding around the school by working through two minute silent sessions using our birding ears, eyes, and pointing fingers. Then using bird calls and physical characteristic clues, we searched the courtyard for a variety of common backyard birds.

Great Blue Heron sight at the beginning of a birding session


I see you!

Day 9 - Bugs & Insects

Once we knew a good foundation of information on animal decisions and birds, we focused in on what birds migrate anyways. We figured out a lack of food was a main reason so we decided to discover more about one of those major food sources. After distinguishing between bugs and insects, we took afield trip to the forest to sweep for insects and search for bugs in the trees and logs that decorate the forest floor.

Leaving our den for the last time

Day 10 - Ecosystems

The final day of Operation Explore was all about putting the pieces together. We completed a connection activity where we linked various nature scenarios together with a continuous piece of yarn and then slowly broke the connections as we brainstormed ways that an ecosystem can be disrupted.  We reviewed with a new chant and associated actions. Ecosystem - we are all connected. Ecosystem - we  all love together. Ecosystem - we all need each other. E-CO-SYSTEM! Then, after deconstructing our shelters and re-reading Little Tree and reviewing how they've grown just like the main character, it was time to end Operation Explore.

We all are connected

The kids didn't like an unhealthy ecosystem

Sad shelter deconstruction

Slugs make us happy

Handwashing in table puddles

Moonwalking to dry shoes
Doing the twist to complete drying the shoes