Outdoor Education Cookbook: Virtual Nature Walks

Recently I was asked by a Kindergarten teacher who works and teaches in India to give a talk to her class about plants. I decided to bring them on a virtual nature walk using Zoom. 

How did I do it?

I went to a local park near where I stay and took a close walk through, examining the plants trees and wildlife present. I thought that I would focus on the biodiversity that can be found in an urban park as well as the differences between cultivated and naturally occurring plants.

I noticed that there were 4-5 varieties of oak trees in the area I was walking. Their acorns and leaves were all of different shapes and sizes. What a great opportunity for inquiry! I took photos and learned what species of ok trees they were using iNaturalist. During the nature walk, I showed the students the various acorns. We discussed why they came in different shapes and sizes. They were also fascinated by the fact that a Sawtooth Oak has leaves that look similar to a saw blade.

Acorn of a Sawtooth Oak tree in Osaka, Japan.

I took the time to examine a specific cherry tree before the walk. It had a large cavity that some sort of critter could possibly live in. It was covered in old caterpillar cocoons. I thought about the horizontal stripe pattern on the bark. I thought about how in the summer, cicadas tend to prefer cherry trees over others because the sap is sweeter and that is what cicadas fed on. 

Kindergarten students in India joined me for a 30 minute virtual nature walk in Osaka, Japan. Spider Lilies, Redback spiders and Cherry Trees generated many inquires!

I discussed all of these things with the students as I walked through the park showing them these trees with my phone. 

We examined cicada holes in the ground at the base of trees. We searched for cicada nymph shells. 

As I walked through the park in the morning before the nature walk, I thought about pointing out cultivated plants versus naturally occurring ones. There were pretty, purple Mexican ruellia growing in the park. It was clear that they had ben intentionally planted. Students later inquired, “Why were there flowers from Mexico in Japan?” I explained that often people plant foreign plants and flowers simply because they look nice. I also explained that if these foreign plants take a foot hold and start to flourish, that can also be a problem. 

Students from my class in China were amazed by these Red Spider Lilies in Japan where I am at the moment! Why are they called spider lilies?

One of the most talked about moments was when I showed them some beautiful Red Spider Lillies growing. They were clearly ornamental and cultivated, but they did look great. I have a feeling several students will be asking their parents to find this plant for them. 

I also found an Australian Redback Spider web on a tree and the hole the spider was probably lurking in. I explained that the Redback Spider is invasive, from Australia and very dangerous. Many of the kids had loads of questions about the spiders. 

During these crazy times of school closures and students choosing to stay at home to learn, it is possible to connect kids with he outdoors even virtually. 

If you are a teacher and thinking about using this idea, choose a place you know. Take some time in the days leading up to the nature walk to familiarize yourself with the plants growing there. Look at the park with your “Nature Googles” on. Think about how different things in the park are interconnected. Which trees seem to attract birds or insects? Which plants do critters seem to feed on? Is there a water feature? What do you see in the pond or stream?

Think of questions to pose to your students to get them thinking. 

When the walk happens, encourage them to ask questions. 

About the Podcaster/Writer:

Kevin O’Shea is a PYP/Nature/Outdoor educator currently based in Shenzhen, China (currently in Japan). He is a father, husband, and avid naturalist. Kevin is an advocate for outdoor play and nature education.  He was the host of the long-running Just Japan Podcastand the  Making Better Teachers Podcast!

Twitter: @MadForMaple

Instagram: @shizenwildlife

Facebook: Making Better Teachers

Email: makingbetterteachers@gmail.com

Kevin O’Shea – Early Years and Nature Educator

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