Exploring the Outdoors when Nobody Wants to go Outdoors
We’ve all been there – as educators, parents/guardians or in some way in charge of youth, we’ve experienced those days when absolutely no one wants to be outside. The windchill is below 10°, or it’s storming, or just too dreary, cold or wet to accomplish any successful learning/exploration. But you’re in the position of wanting – or needing – to help your charges learn about the outdoors. So what do you do?
There are a myriad of games and “Project” (Wet, Wild, etc.) activities out there to help you, but what if you want your participants to have a more direct experience? Then bring them over to the computer (a projector helps if you’re in the classroom) and take them on a tour of the natural world that has the potential to be engaging and fun while sneaking in some learning along the way!
There are loads of web resources that can transport audiences to some amazing (and not-so-far-away) places. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a wealth of educational resources, many of which can be used while sitting in front of a screen*. I particularly like the nest and field cams they give visitors access to; who doesn’t enjoy getting to know a wild animal on a personal level? The amount of empathy that that brings out in children is amazing. I viewed a bunch of them (the inactive ones are archived) to get a sense of what you might find, and here are some highlights:
- A gull hatching out of an egg
- A Marsh wren building a nest
- Pooping baby chickadees (yes, really)
- Nesting great-horned owls calling to each other
- Peregrine falcon hanging out on a skyscraper
The LA County office of Education has an amazing resource page for taking “trips” to a variety of ecosystems – from kelp forests, to Antarctica, to a historical tour of planet Earth. Not at all sure what those places have to do with LA but they’re pretty neat.
The USGS has an interesting site where you can take virtual tours of South Florida’s numerous parks and ecosystems (not quite as dynamic as the one above, but interesting in its own right). The Everglades are an amazing and unique ecosystem for exploration.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has their own YouTube page (should I be surprised?) of videos from natural places around the state. My personal favorite was the fisher den (I loved it so much I had to include it directly):
In the short few searches I did (I Googled “virtual tour ecosystem”, “virtual tour”, “wildlife cam” and “virtual farm tour” just for starters) I was pleased at the wealth of resources I was quickly able to find. Not surprisingly, YouTube has a bunch of fun places to visit (I found a farmer’s wife who uploaded well-made videos of a working dairy – El-Vi Farm) and is a site most kids are familiar with and can navigate with ease.
One last suggestion: citizen science projects are a great way to get people of all ages participating in important scientific research, and most of the time the training needed to participate is minimal and sometimes nil. While much of the leg work these projects require are outdoors, indoor time can be spent checking up on the project and getting a sense of how your contributions are helping.
Good luck, and happy exploring!
*A note on screens: while I’m not a big fan of ‘screen time’ (my goal is to get people connecting with the outdoors in the most direct ways possible) I do recognize the terrific educational opportunities computers can afford. And as the mother of 2 boys, I also recognize how drawn kids are to computers (or any screen) and harnessing that enthusiasm is a good way to sneak in some learning.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Citizen Science Page: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/page.aspx?pid=1664&ac=ac
Firefly Watch Citizen Science Project: https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/
Journey North Citizen Science Project: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/