Build a Nature Collection
Explore the wild and natural places in your community and collect interesting items for rich, interdisciplinary play in the classroom or at home. Look for rocks, sticks, shells, sea glass, pine cones, acorns, leaves, small logs, and choose items to support children's current interests and build your collection from there.
Getting Started with Loose Parts
It's always fun to explore new toys and for young children, that's exactly what nature materials can be. Set out your newly collected items, along with a few different tools with which to explore them, and invite children to think about how these new materials might be used. Offer a few of your ideas to help get them started, and if they get stuck in the brainstorming process.
Invite children to measure, weigh, observe, describe, and test their new items to get to know their different properties. Sketch them, paint with them, paint on them. Do tests on them to find out, do they float or sink? Contemplate their many properties and wonder together and research together to explore a few of their stories. Natural materials can inspire inquiry and curiosity about our earth's many wonders because they are themselves, a part of that wonder.
Sand Play Accessories
Keep a collection of loose parts from nature in your outdoor space to add allow for more complex storytelling, games, and design. Pine cones can be kings, trees, a bear, the wall of a house. Shells can be shovels for pond excavation, or digging in the garden. Add them to your mud kitchen and watch the cooking stories unfold. Whatever the story, nature offers all the tools needed to retell it with a little imagination.
Small World Accessories
Loose parts from nature are fantastically versatile - a favorite accessory in small world play. They can be furniture, characters, building materials, props, and whatever else they are needed to be. Shells can be bathtubs, boats, a roof. Logs can be rivers, sticks can create the boarder of a house, and wood slices can fly into space. There are no limits to how these items can support creative play.
Imaginary Play Props
Elements of nature bring the outside world into the classroom and home. Sticks can help create an indoor campfire, or they can be telescopes for pirates and explorers to search for land. Rocks can be coins, tickets, berries, magic beans, and shells can be bowls. Wood slices can be plates, a pizza or cake, or even a laptop computer. It's up to you.
Stack them, line 'em up, make smiley faces, hearts, and other designs. Small rocks, shells, and other items from nature invite children to practice creating and recognizing patterns through play.