Outdoor activities for kids: Big Book of Nature Activities

by Stephanie Chasteen on January 15, 2017

If you’re feeling a little stuck indoors with your kids, here is a resource to get your kids (or students) learning from the outdoors even through the colder months.  Last year I picked up a copy of The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning.  I found it to be a great resource for doing some outdoor activities with my little one on a camping trip (he enjoyed knocking against different trees and imagining we were woodpeckers).  There were definitely things for me as a parent, but many of the group or project activities are better suited to teachers. It has stuff for all the seasons.

The publisher gave me an excerpt that I can share with you:  Check out “Basic Nature Skills” , which is really a science-process kit for younger children.  I appreciated the focus on the senses and observation skills.  Scroll to the bottom of this chapter for some nice concrete things you can do, good ideas to have “in your pocket” on a hike.  For example:

Encourage the kids to feel and smell a leaf or bud or even a piece of mushroom.
Rub it gently between their fingers. How does it smell? You might want to share the smell with others.

Or when traveling:

 Have a family scavenger hunt of nature-related things you can spot from
the car. These might include a dog, horse, cow, bird on wire, bird soaring, leaves of different colors, fake animals in people’s yards, etc.


From the publisher:

The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning by Jacob Rodenburg and Drew Monkman has over 300 pages of nature activities for all seasons to help get children back outside.  It is a comprehensive guide for parents and educators to help youth of all ages explore, appreciate and connect with the natural world. This rich, fully illustrated compendium features:

  • Nature-based skills and activities such as species identification, photography, journaling and the judicious use of digital technology
  • Ideas, games and activities grounded in what’s happening in nature each season
  • Core concepts that promote environmental literacy, such as climate change and the mechanisms and wonder of evolution, explained using a child-friendly, engaging approach
  • Lists of key species and happenings to observe throughout the year across most of North America.

Perfect for families, educators, and youth leaders, The Big Book of Nature Activities is packed with crafts, stories, information and inspiration to make outdoor learning fun!


This is a repost of my blog post at the ASCN (Accelerating Systemic Change Network) blog.  Check out and subscribe to their blog for more posts like this!

For many of us, it’s proposal writing season. If you are submitting an NSF-IUSE proposal, there are increasing expectations that the proposal will include a theory of change for how the project aims to achieve its outcomes, and a well-developed evaluation plan for assessing progress toward those outcomes. As an evaluator, I am often asked to help people flesh out these objectives and metrics, and I have found several of the resources on the ASCN site very useful. I was lucky enough to be helping out with the ASCN project when these resources came in, and acted as a temporary librarian to create the list of resources on the site, and so am quite familiar with the breadth of resources. This blog post is to point you toward some of my favorites that have been useful when writing a proposal aimed at institutional change.

Resource Topics: Models and Theory of Change | Evaluation and Dissemination | Program Design

Books on a shelf perspectiveModels and Theory of Change

ASCN Working Group 1 (“Models and Theories”) is tasked with better supporting peoples’ use of theories, models and scholarship in their planned change efforts. As they work on their guidance to us, there are many resources that I have already drawn on from the Guiding Theories Resources section of ASCN.

And not part of the ASCN resources, but highly valuable are:

See also the Costs and Benefits Resources section for links to help you make the case for change in terms of cost-return of investment in student education.

Evaluation and dissemination

After you identify your Theory of Change, the next step in a “backwards design” of an educational intervention is to identify the metrics to assess that change, and develop an evaluation plan.

  • Check out the Assessment of Change Resources for a list of tools for measuring student learning, classroom practice, departmental readiness, and organizational change.
  • American Evaluation Association (Organization). Network and professional society for evaluators, including ability to find evaluators, and many resources for performing evaluation and communicating results to stakeholders. Includes a topical group for STEM education evaluation.
  • Increase the Impact (Website). Website and guidebook providing guidance to educational innovators for strategies for sharing and disseminating their work in a way that’s likely to engage and affect faculty, such as avoiding telling faculty what to do, and engaging adopters earlier in the process. This is highly recommended to review for developing a plan to involve stakeholders early, so you have a powerful dissemination plan that is woven throughout the project.

Not in the ASCN resources but very useful:

Program design

In the Strategies and Programs Resources are many excellent documents to help guide you in designing a program to include what is known in educational reform and systemic change. Consult these when you are trying to develop the “big picture” of your intervention, to make sure you are not missing key elements. Citing these and similar sources will also show that you are familiar with the national landscape.

  • See the Leaders of Change Resources area for recommendations on how to effectively prepare and support change agents, recommendations for societies and networks, and faculty professional development.
  • Increasing Student Success in STEM: A Guide to systemic institutional change. (Guidebook, 2016) From AAC&U and PKAL, authored by Elrod and Kezar is aimed at campus leaders and administrators who are leading comprehensive reforms, including addressing implicit theories of change, avoiding mistakes, project management, team development, and sustaining change, with a practical focus.
  • Achieving Systemic Change; a sourcebook for Advancing and Funding STEM Education (Workshop sourcebook, AACU , 2014). The sourcebook discusses how best to effect systemic change in undergraduate STEM, including the rationale for change, areas of investment, and key reports.
  • Understanding Interventions that Broaden Participation in Science Careers (Website). Network of individuals: Our broader mission is to positively impact the outcomes of efforts aimed at broadening participation in research and research careers through the expansion and dissemination of the relevant body of knowledge, and facilitate its implementation in practice, policy development, training, and professional development.
  • Transforming Institutions (Book, 2015). This book brings together chapters from scholars in the 2011 and 2014 Transforming Institutions conferences. It provides an overview of the context and challenges in STEM higher education, descriptions of programs and research, and summary of lessons learned, plus next steps.
  • How Colleges Change (Book, 2013). Adrianna Kezar. Outlines changes processes and reform, in theory and practice, in higher education. Includes discussion of cultural issues.

See also the Cross Cutting Resources area for links related to equity and inclusion, two year colleges, and instructional techniques.


This is just a sampling of what I have found useful in the ASCN resources. Part of the value of the network is in gaining access to the knowledge across different disciplines and domains of scholarship. And please, if you have additional resources to add, please do so through the Contribute a Resource page!

Happy proposal writing!

Image credit:  Jess Mann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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This summer, Carl Wieman will host a workshop at Stanford to train STEM disciplinary experts to become educational specialists working in departments, in a short, intensive version of the postdoc training developed at CU Boulder’s Science Education Initiative and the sister CWSEI at University of British Columbia.  If you need to get someone up to […]

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I am such a good physicist….

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Postdoctoral positions in STEM education

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