Peanut butter and jelly. Peas and carrots. Peaches and cream. STEAM and nature study.
Yes, they belong together that much. This isn’t a new concept, it’s just that back in the olden days when we were kids, they didn’t call it “STEAM” (or “science, technology, engineering, art, and math.”) But we built forts, bridges, and hide-aways none the less. We forged ramps for our bikes, pulleys to get snacks to the top of the tree, and leaf crowns for our heads. We rigged up makeshift roller coasters, launched pinecones with homemade catapults, and sent crude little boats down drainage ditches. Most of us spent our childhood steeped in STEAM outside, from the time the sun came up until the street lights came on.
Outdoor STEAM play seems to have taken a mighty blow since then. When I was teaching kindergarten, I was startled to learn how little time my students spent outdoors, and the pack of kids romping about the fields and woods of our neighborhood is currently non-existent. What used to be the most common of all childhood daily activities has become a rarity.
But STEAM and nature study are intrinsic–they are the most natural form of play (and learning) for most children. We are born curious about the natural world, and we are born to tinker with it. Sticks, rocks, trees, creeks, insects–these were the toys children played with before there were dolls or blocks (or video games.) Even so, nature study and STEAM can be intimidating for many parents facing the road of homeschooling. We worry if we’re doing it “right.” We worry if we’re “teaching” it in the right order, if we’re “covering everything.” The truth is, if all we did for nature study and STEAM was to let our children romp and roam outside (often)–flipping over rotting logs and watching tadpoles become frogs, balancing stones upon each other into wobbly little towers, and memorizing the songs of the local birds–their education would be rich indeed.
The procurement of an education brimming with STEAM and nature study can be remarkably simple. One of the easiest ways to plug both into your week is simply in the form of inspired play. Here is a ridiculously simple example:
- Throw some laminated STEAM cards in your backpack the next time you head outside for a hike or a ramble.
- Hand the cards to your kids once you’re settled in a good spot.
- Let your children pick and choose from the cards, creating whatever sparks their interest out of rocks, sticks, mud, grass, flowers, shells, sand, moss, leaves, stumps, etc.
- Throw the STEAM cards in your bag when they’re finished and ramble on.
See it in action…
Blake flipping through our laminated STEAM cards. These pictures inspire weeks and weeks of creative play outside. After lamination, I punched a hole in each one and threw them onto a carabiner for easy access. This little flip-book lives in our backpack and goes where we go.
Once the girls decide which item to create, they gather materials around the area. On this particular day, they decided to create a tipi.
Construction ensues. Sometimes my assistance is requested. Often it’s not. Right now, projects tend to be “fairy-sized” but lately the girls have started experimenting with larger structures that they might be able to occupy. I never suggest one over the other, and leave it to them to decide.
What usually happens is that the project is carried to satisfaction and they skip away to play in the creek or explore their surroundings. Sometimes this process takes ten minutes, sometimes it takes an hour or more. They always get excited if they see their structures standing weeks later on another nature walk or hike.
The role of the parent educator in this example couldn’t be simpler. I keep the cards in our nature backpack, along with our journals and colored pencils and field guides. I whip it out if we happen upon a good spot. I help if they want me to help. That’s it. No expensive curriculum, no basket full of materials I had to buy, no prep, no mess to clean up, no self-doubt, no worry.
To make it even easier for you to implement this wonderful activity in your homeschool, I’ve got 36 STEAM cards ready for you to download, totally free. 🙂 They’re the same ones we used in the activity in this post. I highly suggest you laminate them and put them on a ring (or carabiner.) We kept ours page-sized because I like to put them inside Blake’s kindergarten nature journal, but you can certainly cut them into individual cards! Grab yours today by filling out the form below! Please share your STEAM creations in nature with us on Instagram using #blossomandroot!
Grab your free STEAM cards for nature play!
36 cards to inspire STEAM creations on your next hike or nature walk! Laminate, throw them on a ring or carabiner, toss them in your backpack, and go! Homeschool STEAM just got a whole lot easier. 🙂