The natural world acts as a teacher who is always spontaneous and unexpected with new lessons hidden under rocks, in the skies, and even left behind on the ground for students to discover.  To help students know where to start looking, Nitty Gritty Science Jr. has just launched Outdoor Explorer – a collection of engaging science and nature lessons for elementary classrooms.  Read on to learn more about them and discover why they’ll be the lessons you didn’t realize you needed, and now cannot live without!

Why do our students need natural play?

Students thrive outdoors because they are encouraged to experience their surroundings instead of sitting still in it.  Learning is masked by the constant curiosity of being surprised at what they may discover.  When students are outdoor explorers, all of their senses are firing.  Nature activities not only require observing, smelling, touching, and hearing, they also promote problem-solving skills, scientific and mathematical exploration, and inquiry skills.

What type of science and nature activities are included in the Outdoor Explorer Series?

Each Outdoor Explorer set is based around a natural theme and includes 15 activities that fall under one of the following categories (image shows Outdoor Explorer – FALL):

  • Design and Build – students are given challenges to design and build a structure or object using natural items and materials found outside.
  • Search and Find – students are given specific tasks or items to find while out exploring
  • Illustrate – students observe natural habitats, organisms, or even phenomena and must illustrate their findings

Currently, the following Outdoor Explorer Sets are available:

How does this program work in the classroom?

The Outdoor Explorer activities are meant to be included in the regular curriculum.  Teachers have the option of using them in whole-class instruction, or the activities can be sent home for students to complete as a weekly assignment.

Having only one activity per page also allows students to glue pages into a Nature Journal.  You can download Nitty Gritty Science Jr.’s Nature Journal by clicking here.

Younger students can be assigned individual pages, while older students can be challenged to complete many activities in a certain timeframe.

Will this program support my standards-based curriculum?

Yes!  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) use three dimensions of science education: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Science teaching should engage students in performances of science and engineering at the intersection of these three dimensions.

This program focuses on the second dimension of Crosscutting Concepts. What better place than our natural world to assist teachers in helping students organize and unify the ideas of the science disciplines. The crosscutting concepts are useful tools for students to use in defining the systems of phenomena, seeking cause and effect relationships, and determining patterns that contribute to evidence-supporting practices.

The Crosscutting concepts are:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Scale, proportion, and quantity
  4. Systems and system models
  5. Energy and matter
  6. Structure and function
  7. Stability and change
Can this program work if we’re located in an urban area?

If your school or your students are in an area where it’s difficult to complete the activities, you may want to look into the option of bringing nature into your classroom!  Do an internet search for your state’s Department of Natural Resources.  Usually, they have a division (Division of Wildlife or Division of Education) that offers educational kits that you can borrow for a limited time for your classroom.  Many kits include things such as pelts, skulls, feathers, leaf identification, animal track molds, poster sets, aquatic materials, and much more!

The following link is a growing list of resources that I’ve begun to organize by state.  If you have a link or an email that you feel should be added, please email me at so that I may share it with other teachers in your area.

For link click here: Outdoor Explorer Resource Guide

How can each student share their outdoor discoveries with each other when time is limited?

The following pages show options of different extension activities so your students can elaborate on their discoveries.  Writing prompts, art work, or pictures can be posted in a designated area for all to see!

The following pages are meant to be printed and can be added to the back of any Outdoor Explorer activity sheet.

  • MY FAVORITE This extension is a writing prompt that will allow students to describe their favorite discovery or piece of evidence from the activity. Have them share in class!
  • THE UNEXPECTED This is another writing prompt that allows students to share something they may have observed out in nature that they didn’t expect to find, but thoroughly enjoyed while outdoors.
  • NATURE MEET ARTIST Add this extension activity when you would like to see sketches, colorings, rubbings, paintings, etc of what they discovered while they were exploring outdoors.
  • #SHAREIT Once you set up a classroom hashtag on a social media page (that you share with parents, students, and #NittyGrittyScienceJr, of course), have students take pictures of their discoveries and share them via the hashtag. Use images to teach what makes a good picture, how to add comments and how to like each others’ images.
  • COLLECT and DISPLAY Certain activities will give students an opportunity to collect samples from nature. Students will collect the item(s) and place in a baggie.  Have them tape to the backside of the activity page, so they remember to bring in and add to the classroom nature display.
  • SUPPORT YOUR ANSWER Prompt students with a crosscutting sentence stems, which should always be followed with the expectation that students support their responses with evidence. It is important to use the crosscutting concepts to support reasoning structures for students to use in responding to teacher prompts.

Some activities seem very simple while others offer a greater challenge.

I agree and I did that on purpose.  I created this resource with one goal in mind: GET STUDENTS IN NATURE!  The engaging activities included are hopefully the bridge students need to start exploring their natural surroundings, which may just simply be their backyards.  For many kids and families, building outdoor activities into a weekly routine may be very difficult because it is not part of their habit.  We want our students (and parents) to enjoy their time outside, and research shows that the more you go outside, the amount of time you spend outdoors naturally increases.  I want these activities to generate more questions from students. I hope these activities have our students begging, “Can we please stay outside just a little bit longer?”

If one Outdoor Explorer activity is sent home on a weekly basis (even throughout the winter), family schedules would find this manageable (and may hopefully start looking forward to them), the stress of completing the activity would be low, and discussion among kids and families would naturally occur about their discoveries.  Not only that, but think of the emotional and natural connection students will start forming with the environment!


So…what are you waiting for!  Let’s go outdoors and explore!!