Here at WildChina, we love outdoor learning. Whether we are hiking in Xinjiang, cycling in Guangxi, or walking through Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter, our programs are designed to get you and your students out of the classroom and learning in our favorite place: China.
So, while we can’t physically take you to the Middle Kingdom right now, we can pass along some of our favorite outdoor educational activities that can be done just as easily in your backyard, neighborhood, or local park. Just remember to stay two meters away from anyone else!
1. Exploring Local Flora
Overwhelmed by the idea of teaching a science class to your children? You don’t need to be! Let’s just get them outside. A great place to start is to inspire them to discover what plants are in their own backyard or local parks — how many different types can they find? What are their favorites? Can they find one they’ve never seen before?
By getting out and about, students can learn an incredible amount about their local ecosystem. For this activity, encourage them to know the name, genus, and characteristics of several common plants, and even see if you can dig out some less–common species as well. All you need for this is a garden and Google!
Step 1: Print out the diagram below that outlines the basic parts of most plants. Go over the diagram together so they have a general sense of the parts of a plant, and what each part of the system does. Fold it in half and have them fill in the blanks on the right-hand side.
Step 2: Head outside. Walk among your garden or the local park with your diagram. Can your kids find the various parts of each plant? As you wander around, they’ll notice that not all plants have flowers or fruit. Can they think about why this might be?
Step 3: Identification time! See which plants they can already name. Is that lavender? A fern? Oh yes, that’s definitely a rose. Note down every plant that your child already knows the name of (feel free to use Google here to check their answers!)
Step 4: Discover new flora. Have them take a few different photographs of plants they are not familiar with, paying particular attention to the notable characteristics to help with their research later. Does the plant have different-shaped leaves? A particular kind of flower?
Step 5: Time for some research. Head back inside (or stay outside if you like!) and have the kids research and then identify at least five plants they are not familiar with. Can they give you the name and genus based on some notable characteristics? We personally love this website as a tool for identification.
Step 6: Get ready to plant-spot on each walk from here on out. Can they remember the names of the ones they found before? Can they find a new plant each day?
2. Bird Spotting
Ever considered just how present birds are in your day–to-day outdoor life? Well, we’ve come up with one particularly fun (and maybe impossible) activity that we think makes this very clear.
The task: Challenge your kids to get from point A to point B in your backyard without being seen by a bird. Encourage them to think about your outdoor space in new ways and to identify as many birds as possible as they dodge under and between perches.
To make future challenges even harder, why not attract even more birds to your yard? Combine art and ecology by creating various planters and bird feeders that can bring in even more varieties. We love this website for some fun, creative ideas on homemade bird feeders.
3. Star Gazing
There’s no reason learning should end when the sun goes down. Take your eager students to the back garden or front door and begin practicing not only the lore behind star constellations but also how to identify constellations and spot certain stars and planets.
Step 1: Print out the zodiac constellation guide below. This is especially easy to use for younger learners. For more advanced leaners you can use this website to see what constellations are viewable at any time of year.
Step 2: Time to explore the night sky (pick a clear night). For our young learners, we recommend starting with the basic constellations and explaining to them some of the mythology behind the more popular stars. (Here’s that mythology if you want a refresher.) For our older students, we encourage you to get them to dig deeper into finding as many constellations as they can.
Step 3: Young or old, have your child identify their own constellations. Remind them that constellations came from the stories and creativity of explorers looking at the night sky throughout time. Encourage them to make up their own constellation along with a convincing back story.
Step 4: Never forgot to bring the hot chocolate.
4. Micro Photography
Getting out and about is the perfect opportunity to explore art in new creative settings. While we all stay at home for the next few weeks, encourage them to head out with their camera to the backyard and try to see the same old location in new ways.
Here are a few of our favorite ideas for creative students:
- Combine photography with the local flora exploration! There is nothing prettier than budding flowers in Spring or leaves turning color in Fall
- If it rains, post–rain photographs can be some of the coolest if taken right after a storm
- Trees! They usually fade into the background, but if you have a backyard (or local park), find some trees – they can be some of the most stunning photographs
- In a colder climate? At this time of year, unexpected snowstorms on flowers or budding grass can be particularly eye-catching in photographs
- Animals: Squirrels, birds, deer, raccoons, dogs, cats – you name it. Your cat has never been more photogenic (or cooler)!
5. Helping out
We’re cheating a bit here, but service is important to us, whether it happens outside or inside. Encourage your learner to think about things they could do during quarantine that could benefit someone after quarantine. Can you help your student to design a community service? Could they help arrange a grocery delivery to some of your neighbors in a responsible way? Could they help tackle some of the big issues from your backyard?
Image by Youth Service America
We find that encouraging our students to think of service changes the ways they learn before and after their experience. Here is a list of potential service opportunities that would be a great place to start!
6. Your Daily Walk
There is a very good reason that most schools have Physical Education! Study after study shows the benefits of exercise on children’s physical and mental wellbeing and abilities. It’s important to remember to keep your social distance when exercising, but it is also vital for your family’s wellbeing and health. Here are three of our favorite coronavirus outdoor P.E. classes:
- Hiking. Head to a deserted part of town and get your hike on away from anyone else! Even if you live in a city, urban hiking is a thing, and finding new roads or hidden parks is always a fun challenge. We also love encouraging our students to take control of the map and their ultimate destination to gain some valuable outdoor navigation skills.
- Sports. Have a basketball hoop? A football and some grass? Get outside and practice and play. There doesn’t have to be a learning activity associated with everything. We always encourage our learners to put down their cell phones and experience things happening. But, speaking of those cell phones…
- PokemonGo. There’s no denying that everyone these days loves technology. Instead of banning cell phone usage or video games, we find it helpful to structure those times into our daily learning lessons. What better way to encourage outdoor activity than making a video game part of it? Download PokemonGo (they probably already have it) and have them get those steps in (while staying away from other trainers!).
Whatever it is that gets your kids outside, learning and exercising, we encourage it. After all, we’re all about learning outside of the classroom here at WildChina Education. If you’d like more ideas about getting children or students learning outside in China, please get in touch with our team here on the ground.