by Loretta Hauslauer, Nature-based Learning Educator

Over the past few weeks, we have had the privilege of taking Mindy DiSanto’s first-grade class at the Children’s School of Rochester No. 15 outdoors for their science lessons. 

These amazing students have been studying animals and their many characteristics. As one of REP’s nature-based learning (NBL) educators, I have been visiting their class to integrate nature-based learning into these science lessons. Our goal is to connect the material from their classroom to experiences and observations either outside or with elements of nature brought inside. In addition, we focus on working together, being creative, and having fun! 

In the previous weeks, these first graders have taken advantage of the beautiful green space where their school sits, nestled into the base of Washington Grove. They mastered observation skills by using their five senses to explore their surroundings. Using our “owl eyes” we noticed nests and clouds. We heard birds with our “deer ears” and felt the rough, bumpy bark of a schoolyard tree with our “otter fingers”. Each student seemed ever eager to point out a new observation to their teachers and peers. 

In a lesson on animal habitats, Mrs. DiSantos’ students studied a hole in a piece of bark that we brought into their classroom. They hypothesized what could have lived inside…a bird? Ants? A caterpillar? After looking at many of the diverse places where different animals live, the first graders then chose their favorite habitat and, using clay, created an animal that they thought would live there. Some stuck with one animal while others made more, everyone sharing their work and many helping others to mold beautiful sharks, cats, and turtles. One student in particular worked hard to give his arctic fox the perfect oversized ears. 

Students using their senses to explore bark on a tree outside of their classroom.
After learning about habitats, students crafted animals using clay and talked about which habitats they can be found in.

Mindy DiSantos thinks that committing time for these experiences every other week is beneficial for her students’ growth and development. “My diverse learners love the hands-on science lessons that are tailored to their learning styles,” she says. “These lessons help my students develop critical thinking skills, problem solving skills and a deeper understanding of science. Our REP teachers Loretta and E are passionate and kind and make each lesson engaging and fun.”

It is an absolute pleasure each and every time I get to visit this class. I am always eagerly welcomed with the question, “Are we going outside today?!” or  “Can we go in the woods?!” Their classroom community is one where they inspire and share joy. I am grateful that Mrs. DiSantos gives me the opportunity to watch her students dig into their curiosities and shine. 

After opening circle, students share which animals they think live in different habitats.

Moving forward, the goal with this inquisitive group includes a nearby field study where they will visit and explore a local park, making further hands-on connections to their science studies. These scientists may only be in first grade, but there are no limits to what they might discover given a little time in nature.

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