The weather is more agreeable now to get outside. Parents and educators can find so many ways for children to learn from the variety of resources available in New Hampshire. The state is filled with so many amazing creatures, plants and spectacular views to inspire creativity, wonder and joy. All you need to do is open the door.
Nature Can Teach Us
Beth Penney is a science teacher at Amherst Middle School. When Beth isn’t teaching, she can be found working on the slopes at Crotched Mountain as a ski patroller, gardening or hiking mountain trails. Beth likes how nature challenges us.
“A person can’t help but learn when they’re outside,” Penney says. “There is always something new or something that’s changed. We have to ask questions, solve problems and think creatively to figure out what we are seeing, hearing, smelling and touching. Nature helps us connect our learning and make sense of the world around us. It gives a sense of peace and tranquility. I always tell my students to play outside at the end of the day. The next day I always get great stories or interesting questions. We all should be outdoors more often.”
Maggie Holm, Ed.D., a reading specialist at Mont Vernon Village School for the past seven years, finds inspiration from nature with her students. During the summer she teaches a nature enrichment art program for grades 1-6. “In our modern world, there are many things vying for our attention every waking moment,” Holm says. “Our children rarely have the opportunity to just be still and take in what is around them. Teaching them to appreciate the wonders of nature can be a lifelong gift that soothes, centers and inspires them.”
Nature is a Place to Learn Empathy & Find Happiness
Feeling tired or grumpy? Nature can help improve mood. Going on nature walks is a welcome break and a wonderful way to re-energize. Nature is a place to process and release emotions or worries. According to a study in “Frontiers in Psychology,” spending 20 minutes with nature can reduce stress. Not only will nature enrich reading, writing, art and science goals, it will nurture social, emotional and physical health as well. Colleen DesRuisseaux, director of school counseling at Bow High School, says being outside and exercising — whether walking, hiking or any type of playing — releases endorphins, a natural mood booster. When endorphins are released, people feel a natural calmness and wellbeing.
“Spending time outdoors also helps to reduce your cortisol levels, which is the main stress hormone we produce,” DesRuisseaux explains. “As cortisol is released, your blood pressure lowers and your body relaxes. Cortisol helps with balancing every system in your body, so it is vital to mental and physical health. So, spending time outdoors daily is vital to your mental health as much as your physical health.”
There are several places in New Hampshire that offer nature programs for all ages. One is the NH Audubon’s Massabesic Center in Auburn. Kimmie Whiteman, the center’s director, says there are many benefits from nature-based play.
“Being outside, experiencing the breeze, birdsong and grass or other plants between your fingers and toes helps create a connection to the natural world that inspires caring and conservation action later in life,” Whiteman says. “At the same time, it is well documented that being outdoors can provide mental and physical health benefits for individuals of all ages. Bridging these two developmental processes — human health and environmental conservation — as an ingrained aspect of growing up, and providing safe, welcoming spaces for kids of all abilities and backgrounds to experience the outdoors, is vital to individuals and to our collective sustained presence on Earth.”
We can teach children to care about nature and encourage children to talk and share what they observe and experience. What emotions do they feel? How do they relate and connect to others? One way to connect is to remind our children they are part of nature, and it is part of them. To learn about the local wildlife, the NH Fish & Game Department created printable guides like A Pocket Guide to NH Animal Tracks and Wildlife Fact Sheets.
Nature Can Inspire Art
Most of the art in our world is inspired by nature, and there are many artists in New Hampshire.
Art teacher Brandie Pettus, of Amherst Middle School, finds inspiration in nature and enjoys incorporating it into art. “Artists have always used the natural world for inspiration,” Pettus says. “One only has to look in an art book or take a trip to a museum or gallery to see landscapes of all kinds, still life compositions filled with flowers and fruit and mixed media creations not just inspired by the natural world but often containing real stone, bark, wood and shells. The natural world is inherently fascinating to children and is so accessible. In this fast-paced world, slowing down and taking time to look closely at the world around them to observe, connect and learn helps them not only to make sense of the world around them but is integral to developing the well-rounded, creative intelligence that is essential for them as they learn and grow.”
Ideas for Nature Activities
For ideas on ways to nurture art, we can encourage children to let nature inspire their curiosity, wonder, imagination and creativity. We can give students freedom within boundaries to explore, find and collect objects. We can challenge them to incorporate what they find into art. We can talk with them and ask them to notice various perspectives, textures and patterns in nature. What geometric figures or images do they see? What is interesting? What is beautiful? What do they like? Why? Challenge students to create their own patterns. Students can make outdoor sculptures using leaves, flowers, pinecones, acorns, rocks and sticks. They can press leaves and flowers they find into paint, paper and clay. Students can trace the objects in their sketchbook and color them with color pencils or crayons.
Another way to connect with nature is to use the five senses. Make a list of what they see. Close your eyes, what do you hear? What do you smell? Try to have them use descriptive words to share their experience. What emotions do you feel? What memories come to mind? We can learn so much when we study the weather and the scenery around us.
To nurture creative writing and empathy, students can give human qualities to various animals, insects or objects in nature. Students can create a story and give these creatures emotions. Share with them how different forms of art and figurative language can capture their day. There are many nature poems and songs you can use as examples. Explore various forms of nature writing to read and write, such as haiku, a list poem, free verse, an object poem or a song about something they found in nature.
Remember That Anything is Possible
You can tell children they are artists, readers, writers and problem solvers. Remind them every day to spend time outside to capture the day. Whether it is on the playground, a guided walk, a garden, a park or forest trail, let nature inspire them, so they can explore and create. Nature is for all ages. Let nature help you find your inspiration, too. There are so many possibilities if you set your imagination free and give children a safe space to explore, think and create. This is a wonderful way to celebrate and connect with the world around us. Take a step outside with pencils and journals and let them discover their voice through a love of nature. It is a wonderful way to learn outside of the classroom.
Nature is Waiting for Us
New Hampshire has so many places to explore.
We can emphasize and remind children how nature can be a calming place to practice meditation and personal reflection. Have them take deep, relaxing breaths and notice what is around them. Encourage them to take some time to intensely study a leaf or flower. The simple act of finding a small object to hold like a rock, acorn or leaf can help ease their mind and remember the peaceful place they found it. They can share this gift with a friend or relative. Better yet, they can show them where they found it and make new memories.
NH Nature Centers & Resources
- Beaver Brook in Hollis
- Massabesic Audubon Center in Auburn
- Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Greenland
- Odiorne Point State Park in Rye
- The Loon Center in Moultonborough
- The Rey Cultural Center in Waterville Valley
- Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center in Laconia
- Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness
- The NH Fish and Game’s Connecting Kids to Wildlife
- Your local library can also help. The library has many books on nature and art to discover. Find and display as many nature-themed, art and children’s books as you can, and encourage children to explore them. Talk about the illustrations in the books or in their favorite books, and what they notice about them.
Activities for Learning Inspired by Nature
- Guided Walk
- Outdoor Sculpture
- Watercolor painting
- Rock Painting
- Leaf Painting
- Leaf Prints
- Fingerprint Painting
- Poetry writing
- Story writing
- Song writing
Sketch pad, journal, camera, watercolor paper, plain paper, small canvases, brushes, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, paint, newspaper, clay and a bag to hold the objects they find.
I can’t wait to hear what you and your children or students experience! Enjoy!