Creative outdoor ideas wanted to help with a "challenging" group of kindergarteners!

Hi Everyone,

I am so happy to be able to come on here and ask for would be wise of me to use these resources more often! 

I teach nature/ecology education to several different  groups down here in S. Florida...a weekly group of homeschoolers, some teenagers, families, and the K-2nd grade classes that are part of family cooperative school.  In most of my classes we travel to various locations - to explore our local natural areas, for the co-op school we are more limited to a certain area and have only a few locations to explore. 

The K class from the co-op has been a challenge for me since September!  There are about 12 of them and more than half of them have very vibrant, independent personalities!!  Meaning they love to run away and do their own thing!  Which is great - sometimes!  But, the rest of the group, and the other class suffers (usually I have the 1st graders with them as there are only 5 of them!).  Also, here in Florida our natural areas are very limited, especially where I need to take the co-op classes.  We have very few "wild" parks, mostly we are contained on boardwalks or small city/county parks that are not very "wild", which is fine, but leaves me limited.  Also, I don't have a "place" of my own, we don't have a garden our outdoor space at their school that would work either. 

I am having a very difficult time engaging this group.  It is a problem I haven't faced before with this age, so I'm at a loss.  They dislike getting dirty,sitting on the ground, even listening to stories!  They do like the songs and the games and tolerate nature journals.  At this point I'm not sure they even like "nature class", but it is part of their program and I really want to do something to catch them, so they do like it, not for my sake, but for nature's sake and their sake!!  Any ideas?  Thank you!  Christy

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Thanks for this great question.  Interesting challenges with this group.  I have connected your post with the Early Learning Group site, folks who work with younger kids, to see if they have suggestions as well.  What comes to mind for me is having more help from adults to address the safety issue, if that is possible.  C&N may have some Family Nature Clubs in your area that could help.  The other thing that comes to mind is adjusting to what they seem to like ( more songs, more games, and more journals), and then the free play when there is more supervision for those who like to run away and do their own thing.  One idea is to offer an incentive to not run away and stay and participate with the rest of the group.  Food and treats are the obvious, but perhaps the use of a camera or some other device to examine nature.  Perhaps a treasure hunt where the kids have to return quickly with what they find.  Your challenges may be much more complex, so I hope others with more knowledge weigh in with suggestions.  Thanks for coming here with this question.  jt

Thanks John!  I'm so thankful to be able to come on here and seek support and ideas!!  I love the idea of the camera or something else to hold their attention.  Treasure hunts too, I have done that, but not lately.( We'll work up to the boat idea...LOL.) 

I would love some ideas from folks who work with this age range frequently, thank you for forwarding it to the Early Learning group;  I am more practiced with older children or multi-age/family classes. 

Hi Christy

My heart goes out to you. It's a tough and frustrating situation. In my experience, I've always - as John suggested - increased the numbers of adults to children. If this hasn't been possible, I've enlisted the help of older children - e.g. G6 who befriend the children, join in the activities and role model expectations. 

I think perhaps their dislikes could be turned into games, e.g. who can sit on the grass the longest, games & songs involving mud, etc. It may also be worth observing them play freely and see what they do. Usually this takes around 40 mins as the first 20 mins the children are still settling into play. 

Also have you seen/read David Sobel's nature design principles book? I summarised his main point in this blog post - but these are often a good approach.

Finally I think the routines need to be clear and regular. And be very consistent about expectations in terms of behaviour - seek advice from their teachers and parents about what would work well here. 

I'm sure lots of others will have some great ideas too. Keep on going with the songs and the games. It may be worth asking the children themselves what they like doing during the sessions and building upon and extending this.

Best wishes


Hey Christy,

Something that can be very effective to settle them down and get them into a "nature mind" is to use blindfolds.  You may want to do a start up activity indoors where they are blindfolded at their seats and they are practicing a listening game.  You can use bells, voice noises, etc. that you have ready for them and as they are calling out, set some parameters to try to get them to listen quietly for longer and longer periods by slowing down the noises and encouraging them to talk softly and really listen.  After that first activity, do a brainstorming session of what they might hear out in nature when you go outside, talk about safety and ask them why it would be important to sit very still when they have their blindfolds on, make sure to use their language to reinforce this and it creates much more buy in...let them know that they are creating the rules and make sure you get a verbal agreement from everyone to follow them before you head outside.  Once outside, have them find a place to sit on the ground...for those who don't like it, perhaps have some mats available to slowly work them into the sensory aspect of grass and dirt. Help them with the blindfolds, which should already be tied for ease (one with elastics work best).  I like to set it up that they know as soon as the blindfolds go on they are listening for a certain amount of time, maybe just 3-5 min. to start, for little ones.  They are to listen as sharply as possible, using their 'deer ears' for as many sounds, nature and non-nature.  Having them already sitting in a circle is a nice idea, then you can extend the blindfold session to include the talking part and they're all close enough (but not within touching distance) to hear each other.  You can move on from that in future sessions to sensation as well as auditory...the feeling of the wind, the sun, the grass, etc.  For some reason, putting a blindfold on gets them into a nature mind so much easier...hopefully it will help with your rambunctious group!

Thanks so much Michelle and Juliet, excellent ideas.  I love the "see who can sit on the grass the longest" and the blindfolds..I've done blindfold activities, but not that per se, will try it.  Elastic blindfolds - what a great idea, I never thought of that, I have the "tie" ones which can be quite cumbersome at times!! 

Thanks everyone. 

These are great suggestions.  See, I told you this was a great group.  One other thought to get kids into a "micro" frame of mind is, in addition to a camera, perhaps a pair of binoculars or some magnifying glasses.  Nothing like focusing a child with a magnifying glass to see the micro world under his/her feet or crawling on tree trunks and leaves.  If they are looking at bugs and stuff, they may not want to run off.  This might be especially effective if you read a short story about a bug and then have the kids go look at them.  I hope others weigh in with more suggestions.


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