Learning Outside with The Garden Classroom by Cathy James { interview & book sneak peek }

The Garden Classroom by Cathy  James

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There are a lot of educational activity books out there and being a part of the kids education and activity community I am lucky to know many of the authors. I am so proud of Cathy James whom you may already know from her blog Nurture Store. We have been friends and colleagues for years and when she asked me if I would share her book with my readers I didn’t hesitate to say of course! Cathy is a homeschooling mom and one of the areas of her blog I have long admired are all her outdoor ideas for learning, it was no surprise to me when I found out that was the subject of her new book The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art .

Cathy agreed to sit down and share some of her wisdom about teaching and inspiring learning about the outdoors with us today. We also have a sneak peek at the book down below. It’s gorgeous!

 

A lot of parents talk about having a hard time getting their kids outside to play. Do you have any tips for parents who are struggling to get their children to go outside and explore?

With any activity, I’d always start with the child themselves, and look at what they’re interested, and then involve them in finding a way to bring that interest outdoors. Favourite toys can come outside with you, and you can set up interesting play areas, such as dinosaur worlds, fairy garden, and dens, to have lots of fun outside. The pride and joy you get from picking and eating your own homegrown food is so satisfying, so having a go at growing some of your own food can be a great enticement to head outside.

 In The Garden Classroom, you cover all different subject matters but which area of learning is your favorite to tackle in your garden?

I love doing math outside. It’s not a subject either of my girls naturally gravitates towards, and both of them have found standard ‘classroom’ style math a challenge. But when we head outdoors, it’s so different, and it’s a joy to seem them smiling while they learn. The garden offers great opportunities to do practical math skills, like constructing bean frames, or dividing seeds between the number pots you have. And we also enjoy heading outdoors for structured lessons, using leaves and pebbles to work on math facts for example, and just generally being out of the traditional classroom and in the fresh air makes my learners happy.

I live in Western Washington, USA which is known for gray drizzle much like England is. Do you have any tips for dealing with the wet, cold, and dreary days in the garden? What about snow?

It’s so beneficial to keep going outdoors in less than perfect weather. As you say, we have a lot of grey days here, and if we let that stop us playing outside, we’d spend way too much time stuck indoors. Suitable clothing makes such a difference. We make sure everyone – perhaps especially me! – is wrapped up warm, and we often bring along a warm drink and a nice treat like a cookie to refuel and keep spirits up! And you can really embrace the weather – jump in puddles when you get them, try painting outdoors when it’s raining to see the effects it creates, use spray bottles filled with paint to create snow art. The story stones activity in the book is perfect to do around a warming campfire.

For beginner gardeners eager to just grow something which type of seed packet do you suggest they grab? Any foolproof options to avoid disappointed kids?

Something reliable, that germinates easily and grows quickly is a great place to start: radish, cut-and-come-again lettuce, nasturtiums. There are some really fun egg heads and tin can hair salon activities in the book which are perfect first projects, using grass or garden cress seeds. Sunflowers are my favourite though, as they amaze children with their height and grow almost before your eyes, so the children have something new to notice each day.

How can readers living in apartments or other dwellings without a garden use or learn from your book?

You can still have a really rich connection to nature even without your own garden. I live in a city and our space is tiny, so I’ve made sure to include lots of projects in the book for those of us with little or no outdoor space. You’ll find the ideas like the egg heads and the indoor meadow work just as well in an apartment. There are lots of math, science and literacy ideas which make use of natural materials: they’ll give your children that hands-on learning and connection to the outdoors, even if you’ve had to borrow materials from the park – or even relocate your learning to the park itself. Everyone can grow something, and by doing so you’re offering your children such a rich opportunity to benefit from a connection to nature.

 

Ready for the sneak peek? 

 

Get your copy here —>The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art

Water Table Activity – Make A Mess and Explore!

sensory play outside As parents and teachers we often create activities with something specific in mind, then when we add our little ones the activity takes a turn. That is the moment when we can encourage or lose our cool and stop everything and fight against our little charges and get the activity “back on track”. There will be days when the best choice IS to redirect the children and stick to the plan but many more where we can trust our children and follow their learning and exploration.

My plan was to have a desert and swamp water table activity her plan was to explore what happens when things get wet. We went with her plan, I’ll still share mine in case it’s useful for you. water table outside fun

Gather your materials. You will need some sand, rocks, and desert animal figurines for the desert side of the table. For the swamp side you will need water, pebbles, grass clippings, frogs and other swamp animal figurines.

sand in water table

Pour your sand into one side.

water table swampAnd your water in the other. Add all the extras.

 

I envisioned exploring the differences and for a few minutes she did. water table swamp small worldWe talked about the frog life cycle and made snake prints in the sand… and then went off-book and the real fun started. desert snake prints

The kinetic sand went into the water, and out, and in. sand with water in water table

Flowers were added. water table activity for kids

More water!

water table mess

She stirred the water and let it settle, found the animals and hid then under the water again… and kept exploring.

messy water play in water table

Parenting and teaching is a balance of choosing your battles, but it’s only a battle if we choose to look at it that way. If we choose to think about how they are exploring, how they are learning about their world through their senses and following their own curiosity we can battle bigger issues than sticking to the plan all the time.

 

Outdoor Math Activities For Kids

math outside Make learning memorable with these hands on outdoor math activities. Math doesn’t have to be all flash cards and worksheets. It can include games, gross motor, and some novelty like water balloons and Nerf guns. These 9 math ideas have been tested by my kids who adore math but even children who are not so keen on math ( me as a kid!) will find something they can enjoy in this list too.

water balloon math activity for kids 3

Water Balloon Math Game

cheese ball math for kids

Cheeseball Math

number line math activity for children

Sidewalk Chalk Number Line

nerf gun math gross motor activity

Shoot & Count Nerf Gun Math Game

math outside for kids

Numbers In Nature

rp_hose-it-down-455x404.jpg

Hose Down Shapes

Find and Count Bug Hunt

Find & Count Bug Hunt

math games for kids shell game for 3 year olds

Shell Number Memory Game

marshmallow shoot

Marshmallow Shoot & Measure

 

 

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21 Outdoor Art Projects For Kids

outside art for kids Take art outside with these fun and simple outdoor art projects for kids. One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to set up one of these simple projects then stay outside exploring, kicking around a soccer ball or having races in the front yard after we are done. Here are 21 easy ideas for taking art outside.

Painting with Water
Spray Painting
Fresh Picked Flower Place Mats
Messy Monster Paintings

fly swatter painting
Fly Swatter Painting
Water Balloon Color Mixing
Sun Melted Crayons

truck painting for toddlers
Truck Tracks
Snow Painting
Painting Like Jackson Pollock

driveway graffiti
Driveway Graffiti
Sponge Ball Splat Painting
Painting Like Monet

DIY Bird Bath
Easy Bird Bath
Squeezie Sidewalk Painting
Broccoli Printing
Color and Clean Car Wash
Squirt Painted Hot Dog Craft

art for kids
Painting With Nature
Water Table Paint & Print
Read & Draw Picnic

Math & Science Outside

math science outdoor activitiesLearning outside is magic. Do you remember when your teacher would look out the classroom window and then say ” Get your things we are going outside!” BEST DAY EVER! That is why I love getting my kids outside to learn. One of the big struggles at our house is finding time to do these activities with my son who is in public school for most of the day. The way we do it is to pack a lot of learning into short but valuable activities. Help your kids boost their interest and skills in math and science by having fun outside! Playful Learning Ecademy who is sponsoring this post has a wonderful eCourse called Backyard Science that we have been having fun with. I thought I would bring together some of our favorite outdoor math & science activities in one spot for an easy resource. Check out some of our very favorites below.

Math

math outside for kids

Numbers in Nature

When we do scavenger hunts of any sort I need them to be adaptable for both my kids. When my son is doing a less active activity my daughter is less apt to want to be a part of it but once he’s running around searching for something she can’t wait to get in mix. Because of that this activity is easily adaptable to a wide range of levels.

  • You will need some fun felt leaves , a sharpie and a backyard or park where your kids can pick things.
  • Add numbers to the leaves. Even though this is for a 3 and 6 year old I still kept the numbers small. For the 3 year old her task was to recognize the number and find that number of things in the garden.  For the 6 year old I put two leaves together and his task would be to do mental math ( why I kept the numbers small) and add the numbers together then represent the sum with natural items found in the yard.

Fresh air + numbers + exploring the yard = serious fun and learning!

4 More Outside Math Activities 

Shoot & Add Nerf Gun Math Outside
Hose Down Shapes
Water Balloon Math
Bug Hunt & Count

Science

math and science outside for kids

Sound Map

When I think of Backyard Science I think of going outside to turn over rocks or doing giant vinegar and baking soda volcanoes. There is so much more for kids to explore though from colors, sounds, habitats and yes messy gooey science too. In the Playful Learning Ecademy course kids become naturalists and use their own backyard as their lab. What I love most about these activities are the videos that support them. The activities are short but valuable and the planning is done for you. It’s a perfect combination for mindful but busy families.

After school one day my son chose to do the Sound Map from Backyard Science.

  • We grabbed some paper, a clip board and a pencil.
  • He plopped down in a good spot in our back yard and put an x on the paper to represent himself.
  • Then he listened. He made marks and wrote what he heard in different places in relation to where he was sitting.

I was so fascinated by how still he was. He is 6 and wiggles constantly as most do but to see him still and focused was thrilling. We talked about what he recorded and went to see if we could find any of the sources of the sounds, well the natural ones. We knew where the lawnmower sound was coming from. This ended up opening up a dialog about conservation since we could hear more man made sounds than nature ones and we live in a semi rural area.

4 More Outside Science Activities

Squirt Gun Science
Cutting Nature
Snow Science
Color Hunt in Nature

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What math or science activity do you do with your kids outside? Share your favorites in comments!

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This post was sponsored by Playful Learning Ecademy  – I love working with them because their eLessons are rad and my son loves doing them.