Growing up as a young girl, outside was our play arena. From climbing trees, clambering over rock piles, wading in the creek, smashing pennies along the railroad track, eating wild columbine seeds, and racing our bikes up and down hills, I have all the warm fuzzy memories. I grew up in Wisconsin and playing in the woods was something that consumed a lot of our time.
The hopeful, warming temperatures get us excited about the season ahead. Intrigued with a recent find online called 1000 Hours Outside, I’ve thought a lot about getting children outside more. We may not have woods where we currently live, but we have two wonderful parks within mere miles that my children and I love to frequent. Picnics, gathering snail shells, learning spring flower and plant names, and counting squirrels we encounter is all part of the experience. Outside play is crucial for emerging readers and writers.
“How do you raise a genius? You front load experiences in childhood” –John Taylor Gatto
In my curriculum I add several lessons that involve nature. In book 1, lesson 41 is a good example of this. In this lesson, we make a weather gram and hang it out to weather.
A weather gram is a brief sentence or sudden inspiration of ten words or less having to do with nature. It is written on a brown paper bag or thick paper, and should be hung outside to weather for three months. It can be hung along a woodsy trail, in the garden, on a tree branch, at a campsite, on a barn or wherever.
Example: If you carry flowers, butterflies may follow your footsteps.
For my fifth grade class, we took two thirty minute class periods, one to write our words and one to design our weather gram with artsy ideas. We discussed how to use describing words with our noun and verbs. I told them to think of colors and experiences in nature. How does one thing affect another? We compiled a list of ideas to write about: Wind, the Big Dipper, mushrooms, sunsets, moss, owls, sassafras and hemlock trees, ferns, spider webs, woodpeckers, the moor, creeks, daisies (flowers), ground hog holes, grasses waving, spring rains, dragonflies, bees, and meadows
The students were to pick one topic and write about it in three ways. Then they were to pick out their favorite one to write on their weather gram. In the next class we focused on cutting out our weather grams, writing our sayings on them with markers, adding paint to illustrate them, and tying our strings on them in preparation to hang outside.
For fifth graders, part of the learning curve in creative endeavors, is to learn how to pace yourself and get your project done in a timely manner. As a teacher I tried to keep them on task as we only had thirty minutes to complete the project. There is always a balance in creative work…one can always spend more time fiddling with a project, but to me it’s important to learn how to put your flash of inspiration attractively down on paper and then walk away from it. Of course, I always have a student or two that does not get done, and there are lots of real life moments when the cleanup ends up being the teacher’s job. But I consider it a success if students walk out of class with their eyes shining as they look at their project and show their classmates.
“Weather grams need the graphic touches of wind, rain, sun, and ice to give the quality of a faded leaf”.
I love artsy projects that combine nature and writing and I think the students enjoy the diversion as well. Don't wait for summer, get outside and enjoy nature-you’ll have more to write about!