Creating an Invitation to Explore

Heather Fox, Education Specialist, 
Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and Nature Explore
It starts with a great question…
Mary Ibe, Program Director for Trees Indiana, would like to encourage her fifth-graders to use their Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom at Cedar Canyon Elementary School in Fort Wayne, Indiana more thoughtfully. She recently posed this question on our Facebook page (summary): What kinds of activities can you suggest for our fifth-graders to engage and excite them outdoors that are both age-appropriate and open-ended?

And a thoughtful answer…
Stephanie Carlson-Pruch, Art Specialist at Gomez Heritage Elementary School in Omaha, NE, answers this question beautifully in our Growing With Nature Book  (pg.14) and below is that explanation of her experiences in their Certified Nature Explore Classroom.

“In our indoor classroom, my students talk about our five senses. We look at landscape photographs and paintings and pretend we enter them. Students brainstorm words to describe what they might see, hear, smell, taste and touch if they were inside the nature image. Then we go to our Nature Explore Classroom, clipboards and pencils in hand, to explore a real-life natural space using all of our senses. We record facts about our experiences, using words and sketches on paper. Upon finishing, we gather in the Open Area on our grassy hill and each student is encouraged to share their findings.”

This got me thinking … 
I have heard Stephanie and other educators use the word “invitation” when they describe how they introduce an activity to their students. In this example, the invitation may have sounded something like this, “Remember how we walked into the photograph landscapes? Let’s do the same thing as we explore our Outdoor Classroom. Sketch what you see, hear, feel, smell, taste or touch.” We as teachers know the value in encouraging children to make their own discoveries and draw their own conclusions. Sometimes the most difficult part for teachers is to articulate the invitation.

Let us hear from you…
I know many of you use this same open-ended approach to invite children to be a part of their own learning in your Outdoor Classroom. When it comes to older children in your Outdoor Classrooms, what  invitations do you use to encourage exploration?

5 responses on “Creating an Invitation to Explore”

Joan Roberts says:

“older” children? often just need a reminder of the “Joys of Childhood” for them to recall some of their early memories, including their outdoors experiences. Once they can reach inside, and find that child again, the lesson begins! Reach IN…then Reach OUT! Try a water painting WHILE listening to a recording of the WIDE range of SOUNDS that water makes in nature. The possibilities are ENDLESS!!
Sounds from Niagra Falls, white water rapids, cool brooks in spring, mountain waterfalls, waves on the beach, rain showers…

Urith says:

Even younger children would respond to recordings of the actual sounds they have recorded at the waterfalls and creeks……Thanks for the idea….I will do this on our next visit….the children just love our national park outings, even more than visiting a playground, we have taken scavenger hunt bags with pictures on the front to be found and marked off with the oencil attached to the bag and also have a small sketch pad in the bag for expressing what they see, hear, smell, touch, feel or taste.

natureexplore says:


cgerard143 says:

I identify with this suggestion knowing how sound characterizes our surroundings and makes an indelible mark upon our memories. So many times we take the natural world for granted as a single experience, but I believe they’re often strung together to produce a series of pleasing memories that beckon repetition.

natureexplore says:

Yes. Pleasing memories driven by our senses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *