Autumn is an exciting time of the year for replenishing your natural supplies. Whether you are walking in the forest or along the road, the ground becomes a treasure chest for all those who look closely.
Conker picking used to be one of my favourite things to do every Autumn. As children, we would wrap up, grab a bag and splash through puddles on the way to finding the best Horse Chestnut tree in the local area. Of course, the best tree was in someone’s garden and every year they kindly turned a blind eye whilst groups of children clambered over the wall to collect the shiniest brown conkers from their lawn. It is therefore, something I look forward to doing with my class each year. Luckily we have a Horse Chestnut tree just outside of our school grounds and plenty of conkers fall on the footpath preventing the need for skirting over fences (although the neighbours did invite us into their garden one year).
There are so many other amazing treasures to be found depending on your local environment. From pine cones to acorns, sycamore seeds to wonderfully coloured leaves, you will return with brimming buckets and excited children.
So the walk was wonderful but what now? Here are 4 ways that you can enjoy exploring your collections.
Observing and asking questions
This can of course happen whilst you are out on your walk, as children spot unfamiliar or interesting objects. If you have lots of time, you can take magnifying glasses with you and encourage children to wander slowly, noticing tiny details in nature. Listen carefully to the questions your children ask and discuss possible answers or predictions. Note down some of the questions to research together later with books or a quick Google search. If you are short on time, keep the collected objects and spend time at the beginning of the next session observing your finds and asking questions as a group.
Sorting and comparing
How many different ways can you sort the objects? By length, colour, shape, type of object, tree it fell from etc. Challenge the children to come up with as many different ways to sort the objects and see if you can guess their rule. You can also compare the different types of seeds that you found and explore how and why seeds are different to each other.
Counting and estimating
Want to explore larger numbers? Challenge the children to estimate and count how many conkers/acorns you collected. Last year we had a very competitive ‘Guess how many conkers we collected’ competition in Grade 1. Each week we gave the children a new clue, for example; showing what 100 conkers looked like, and children were invited to make a revised estimate. In the end one child estimated exactly the right number- 576!
Arts and Crafts
Arrange them, roll them, stamp them, print them; there are so many different wonderful art and craft activities that you can do with natural materials! Learn about why leaves change colour and create Autumn coloured pictures or print leaves onto air dry clay and make decorations for your shelter. It’s time to get creative, get messy, and have fun!
So there you have it, a few ways to enjoy what nature has to offer this Autumn. I wonder what you will do with your collections?
Art in Nature. Land Art. Transient Art. Call it whatever you like. Taking learning outdoors using art as your vehicle can be an awesome place to start. The following pretty much makes up a unit of inquiry that happens with our Grade 2 students at the beginning of the school year. Comment below with other ideas you have, let’s get this sharing started!
1) Rainbow chips
A lovely way to get started is to use a Joseph Cornell activity called Rainbow Chips. This is basically a colour hunt where students are provided with coloured objects and their goal is to explore the space to try and locate that colour. When they find it they find it, switch for another colour and so on and so forth. Some people use colourful bits of broken pottery for this, colourful gems also work. Our favourite is to nip down the the local DIY shop and liberate a whole load of paint colour samples (ninja skills/confidence required). Up to you, whatever you can find.
2) Start the conversations
Colour is an element of art. When we look at a piece of art, colour is something that we can comment on. At this point, we might whip out a classic Goldsworthy print and try to identify some colours. Enter stage right, the other elements of art. Value, texture, shape, line, form, space, & perspective. The opportunities for developing language and vocabulary here are boundless. Introduce in whichever way suits your style but be sure allow time for students to explore the outdoor space to find examples of each thing. At this point, our students are collecting what they find using Book Creator.
At the end, bring back your Goldsworthy (or other) and see if students can comment on and give their opinion, linking in to their shiny new ‘Elements of Art’ vocabulary.
3) Get inspired
Start talking about transient art in any school and you’ll get… “Land Art? Have you looked into Andy Goldsworthy?” And of course, being the grandfather of the scene, his stuff is the bomb. He’s got plenty of books out there but there is also a range of things on Youtube, like this and this, that are good for inspiration. Andy is great, but please don’t stop there! Marc Pouyet’s books (especially this one) are also an excellent source of imagination kickstarters. Even a quick search for #landart on Twitter will open up a whole load of other folk who are doing some pretty cool stuff too. People like @RFjamesUK, @escher303, @TimPughArtist and @LandArtforKids are a selection of our favourites.
Give it a go. Crack on. Go outside and create. Depending on resources that you have available, you might want to restrict the amount of materials, or not. We advocate the old “No Pick, No Lick” as a general rule in our Outdoor Learning space. Not because we don’t like fun. Because we find that if every 2nd grader decides that they want to use those leaves from that bush, then we end up with pretty naked shrubbery.
While creating, encourage students to make conscious choices as artists. Why have they chosen that location? Have they notice the texture of the rocks that they’re using? What can they tell you about the value in the acorns that they’re arranging in that circle?
Creating can occur multiple times, of course. To mix it up a little we’ve found it interesting to challenge our artists to use only one type of object. For example, only conkers or only oak leaves.
The abstract discussion is an excellent way to add depth to an Art in Nature session. Does our artwork need to be something? Can we leave it open to interpretation? Do we find the abstract discussion is accessible to all 2nd graders? Absolutely not. Sometimes, your artwork just needs to be a house with a pool. Sometimes, you just need to sit in a patch of sun a lick a rock.
5) Focus on one thing
If you have students that are not sure where to start, encourage them to focus on one element of art in particular. Shape, perhaps. Our old friend Andy G loves a good circle. Why not try some different shapes? Shapes within shapes? Lots of the same shape? Regular shapes? Irregular shapes? Is an oak leaf a shape? Shapes.
6) Gravity Glue
Michael Grab, or Gravity Glue as he’s better know, is a wonderful way to segue into something a little different. Check out the video below. Rock balancing can result in a calm and relaxing flow state, enhanced by deep concentration (closely followed by infuriation as the whole thing falls on your toe). Fun fact: rock balancing championships are a thing.
Alternatively, find out what an Inuksuk is, and give one of those a go!
7) Go for a walk
Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. We like to head off down to our local section of the Rhine. In the past, inspiration has come from cool things that we’ve seen en route and also the beautiful location when we get there. If nothing else, we find that a change in location offers copious amounts of new materials and more space than our regular Outdoor Learning locale. Where could you go?
8) Get inspired… again…
Are musicians artists? So, if we bash together a rock and a stick, are we creating art? Experiment with different ways of playing objects that you can find in your outdoor space. How many different ways can you play your log? Try making a thunderstorm. Everybody grabs their favourite noise maker, one person conducts and sets the dynamics.
If you’re lucky enough to have access to devices which support GarageBand (a wonderful tech-integration team helps too), then have a go at creating some Diego Stocco inspired compositions. This is cool stuff, make no mistake. It’s also pretty difficult to get the end result sounding anything like Diego, but the process can be awesome.
9) Don’t forget to look up
Who doesn’t fancy spending time laid out on the grass looking up at the white fluffy things? This is great for our line of inquiry which considers people responding differently to same stimuli. Not possible everyday so you have to pick your day. An easy way in is this book. Get outside and lie on the ground.
Whether you host an exhibition for family and friends, post photos on Twitter and Instagram or just leave your artwork for the random public out walking their dogs; sharing your work is a must. Get students to prepare a blurb for their creations, linking back to elements of art and their inspirations. In our parent exhibition, students stand by their piece and explain their choices as artists, but these could be written also. If you’re posting on social media, remember to connect with the people that inspired you!