So many of you write to me to let me know that you are using Exploring Nature With Children for your co-op, and I often hear from families who would like some tips on how to go about using ENWC in their co-op setting. I thought today that I would share some ideas.
I am delighted for the Exploring Nature With Children curriculum to be used with co ops, I just ask that it is not shared, either electronically or by making copies. If the participants would like their own copies, I do offer a discount for co-op members. Please contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
The theme for your meeting
- The beauty of Exploring Nature With Children is that this part is already done for you. ENWC gives your 4 weekly themes for each month of the year, so if you are a co-op that meets weekly, just follow along. If you meet less frequently; monthly, say, then choose from that month you think the children would enjoy the most, or whatever theme calls to you! Take a look at the sample; all the themes are listed in the table of contents.
Structuring your time together.
- Miss Mason recommended sending the children off for the first one to two hours of a nature walk. This may seem like ‘wasted time’ but I would really recommend keeping this step if at all possible. The children get to blow off steam, and get their wiggles out, they get to play and have fun exploring with their friends, and you may also be surprised at the wee nature treasures that they bring to show you.
- Once the children have had a good play and run about, begin your nature walk. Each week’s walk is laid out for you, step by step in ENWC, so even if you have no knowledge of the natural world, you can have the confidence to get out there, and learn right along with the families, whilst still leading the sessions.
- Be sure to cover any relevant safety information for your walk. Again, this is covered for you in ENWC.
- I give you plenty of scientific information for each week’s topic, however, Miss Mason advises that “The Mother must refrain from too much talk” (Vol I, Part II, Out-Of-Door Life For The Children) Allow the children to form their own relationship with nature. Ask them questions, allow them to think upon the answers. The occasional remark, or piece of information offered, will suffice on your part.
- Allow time for nature journaling. Simply have everyone sketch what they see, then write a short narration. (Non-writers can narrate to their parent, who can act as a scribe on their behalf.)
Many families also incorporate the poetry and art aspects of ENWC.
- Prepare a copy of the week’s art print; you could have a copy printed, look it up in an art book, or easiest of all, bring up the image on your tablet. Invite the children to look at the piece, and ask them the questions in the ‘How to Use This Book’ section of ENWC.
- Use snack/lunch time to enjoy the poetry; make the most of the silence whilst the children eat, and read to them the poem for the week.
All-day co-ops may choose to work on one of the related activities in the afternoon.
- The activities vary; venn diagrams, writing poetry, making models, amongst many others. I have been very careful to use only relevant, authentic activities, with absolutely no busy work. Some will suit younger children, others are for the older child, choose an activity that will suit the ages and stages of the children, and the time you have available.
- If you have sufficient time in the afternoon, gather everyone together and read aloud to them one of the shorter stories or picture books from the week’s book list. Please don’t be afraid to use picture books with older children. I have included some marvellous picture books in the weekly reading lists; dig in, they can be a wonderful source of learning, even for adults!
I would recommend contacting the participating families a week or two before your first nature walk. Let them know the following information:
- Start & finish times (Expect & prepare for late comers, those who may need to leave early.)
- How your time together will be structured.
- Recommended clothing. This may seem obvious, but it is worth stating what clothing will be appropriate. Will the children need stout walking boots? Wellington boots and raincoats? Suncream is always worth packing, as is bug repellant.
- What to bring along. Snacks or a packed lunch, plenty of water to drink, and journaling supplies are usually the basics.
- Let the families know what you will be providing. Field guides, any safety equipment, and so forth.
- As a nature group leader who once lost all of the children in my group (not my finest moment!) I heartily recommend taking a whistle, and letting the families know that if you blow sharply three times, you expect everyone to go to a designated meeting point. Have the parents explain this to their children before the first meeting, and be sure to reiterate this & have a wee practice each time you meet for co-op.
I hope that you find this information helpful. If you are running an Exploring Nature With Children nature co-op this year, you might find the Raising Little Shoots Nature Study Facebook group a helpful resource to ask questions, and to share ideas.