The next time you take a walk/hike/bike ride in nature, pause and notice how you feel. Do you feel calmer? Happier? More energized? Believe it or not, being in this kind of environment can have the same effect on children. The benefits are numerous: it builds confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, gets them moving, helps them think, and reduces stress.
When I took my current job in an urban library system, I learned about an initiative that had already been created there called NatureConnect. The purpose is to try to create anytime activities around nature or somehow incorporate nature into our programming. Being downtown in a city as well as on the 2nd floor of the building definitely creates unique challenges for me as we don’t have easy access to the outdoors like our branch libraries do.
I’ve worked very hard to create indoor nature experiences for kids by creating both big and small activities, from a basket of seeds at the information desk, to letting preschoolers play with fallen leaves on a big tarp after storytime. Here are some of my favorites:
Lima Beans in a Bag: This one is so easy to do any time of year (although it works best in warmer months). Instructions are here.
Seed Exploration: You can do this one at your information desk or on a table nearby. I just got different seeds from food I had already eaten (avocado, pumpkin, pepper, etc.) and put them in these viewers from Lakeshore. As an added activity, I made it into a matching game!
Windowsill Herb Garden: I planted several herbs with distinctive smells and put them in a windowsill in our Children’s Area. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can even let kids help you water them!
Pumpkin Exploration: I scooped out pumpkin innards and put them in a doubled-up Ziploc freezer bag. I also set out small pumpkins with a chart detailing the parts of a pumpkin.
Garden Soup: Whenever I do a garden-themed story time, I like to make flower soup with the preschoolers. Just set out big bowls with water, spoons, scissors, and various flowers/plants. Let the kids cut/tear up the plants, add to the bowl, and stir! It’s a great sensory experience all around.
Conch Shell: This one always seems to be a hit. One summer at the beach, my uncle found a conch shell and gave it to me. I set it out at the desk and let the kids hold it up to their ears.
Capillary Action Flowers: I buy a couple of white carnations from a local flower shop and place them in a vase with colored water. As the flower drinks the water, its petals change color due to capillary action!
Butterflies: Every summer I purchase two cups of caterpillars from Insect Lore and grow butterflies. Then I have a special butterfly release program when they’re ready to go! I’ve also used their ladybug kit, which is also fairly easy to do.
Growing Crystals: I bought this set from Amazon and grow crystals in an old fish tank that I got secondhand.
For all of these activities, I make sure to include a flyer with information/facts and observational questions for families to discuss. Most times I also set out an observation sheet for kids to fill out and then bring up to the desk for a small prize.
How do you incorporate nature into your library?
This blog addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills
Kim Alberts is an Early Childhood/Intermediate Librarian at the Akron-Summit County Public Library.. She is writing this post on behalf of the Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.