I pointed to the sky and shouted “la luna!” All eyes turned and gazed at the moon clearly visible in the early evening sky.
“She’s rising” I said. “Does anyone know what phase the moon is in?” “Waxing”, one boy answered. “Yes…it’s a sliver on the right – getting bigger every night! See you tomorrow moon.” We all waved skyward, then bubbles flew again!
These moments happen daily at Leslie Science & Nature Center, where we draw attention, use teachable moments, and hone observations about what is happening around us in the natural world.
Creating opportunity for daily observation of the natural world is a great way to engage children and adults together, to explore questions, create a moment of respite and observe beauty. These moments can refresh us at the core – perhaps even at the soul level. Take time to see changes through the seasons, look at patterns, colors and shapes. Look at living things up close, look far – at broad expanse of the landscape, silhouettes, shadows and tree shapes. Looking “far” relaxes our eyes, especially in a culture of up close texts and computer screen time. Even when we simply observe the bubbles we blow, we can observe the elusive wind, as the bubble orbs rise and undulate, shifted by the invisible hand of air currents and updrafts. Observations are, of course, best done outside, but if you are unable to venture out – find a large window to the world. This can still offer many great observations.
Here are four simple observation games you can try:
Egg Carton Hike
Egg cartons are great little storage containers. The dividers give us manageable goals of 6 or 12 items depending on the carton size. Give everyone a carton or buddy up. Select a collection theme for your hike, like textures, shapes, colors, or smells. Now, your task is to find 12 different textures – as you hike, put one in each egg section. At the end of the hike, stop and share your collection. Give everyone a tour of your texture collection. Finally, spend some time returning them each to the landscape. I once made a scent collection for my friend Wolfgang, who was in hospice. Many of the scents were plants from his garden bed – lemon balm, lavender, & tomato leaf. We enjoyed smelling them together and reminiscing about his gardening exploits! Decide in advance, based on where you are, if it’s actually ok to pick or pluck tiny bits of live plants – this activity works well in community gardens or near large flower beds. Always beware of poison ivy and never collect or remove living insects. Once we had such fun creating an entire collection of the color green – you will see so much diversity in nature!
Paint Chip Hike
The next time you are at a hardware store, stop in the paint aisle and collect a variety of paint chip cards. A series of greens, blues, yellows, browns, and whites are a must. Then gather up some shades of pink, orange, red, and purple. Before you wander down the trail or through the yard, hand out a few chip cards to each family member. Your task is to find as many of these colors in nature as possible. Eyes will immediately begin scanning the surroundings and racing ahead to their color destination. Shout out each success! Even the hard to find colors are often found in some unexpected form, such as the fly that landed on the red paint chip card and had perfectly matching compound eyes!
A simple and fun game – can be done outside anywhere, and even from a window! Define some basic “house rules”, for example: object must be clearly visible, object must be in the natural world, etc… The person who is “it,” selects an object and says “I spy with my little eye something green” (one clear descriptor of the object). The rest of the family can now ask yes or no questions, until the object is revealed. Note: little folk will often just name every green object they can see, until they get a “yes”. So adults should plan on introducing more filtering questions, for example: Is it above our heads? Is it on the ground? Can I touch it from where I am sitting? Another great adult role is to use your turn being “it” to describe things differently too. For example, “I spy something round” (or bumpy, or rough, or delicious-smelling). You can engage all the senses, even if you are searching with your eyes. Whoever guesses correctly gets to be “it” or gets to pick the next “it”.
Nature Scavenger Hunt
This is a fabulous and easy observation activity. Visit the area where you plan to host the scavenger hunt. Look for obvious and not so obvious natural objects or items to find. Start making a list, and then perhaps add some additional action or activities to pair with your list. Once, I had a camp group all create their own personal scavenger hunts using small post it notes on a blank paper. After ten minutes, everyone had a 3 x 4 square card of items. We swapped hunt cards then looked for each others 12 items. I’ve attached two ready-to-use scavenger hunt cards, including a blank, so you can make your own. If you are near Leslie Science & Nature Center, 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor, complete our scavenger hunt and then stop by the office to get a free press-on tattoo!
See you on the trail!
Take the next step:
- Download a free printable “Nature Bingo” card from Leslie Science & Nature Center
- Download a free printable scavenger hunt template from Leslie Science & Nature Center
- Visit the Leslie Science & Nature Center website to learn more about their programs and events
- Next time you’re at Mott Children’s Hospital, check in at the Family Center on Level 2 to find out when the next Leslie Science & Nature Center activity is. We are honored to have LSNC staff visit us regularly to host activities with our patients and their siblings.
Pattie Postel is the Education Director at Leslie Science & Nature Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She holds a Masters degree in Parks and Recreation Administration from Indiana University. In her free time, she gardens edible flowers, builds giant puppets, creates community soap bubbling events, and herds cats.
Leslie Science & Nature Center is a nonprofit organization that provides environmental education and experiences for children, families, and other individuals to honor and perpetuate the legacy of Dr. and Mrs. Eugene Leslie by fostering understanding, appreciation, stewardship, and respect for the natural world.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.