5 Ways to Turn a Nature Walk into a Language-Rich Experience
Do you and your kiddos love exploring the outdoors together? For my kids, it’s the simple pleasures of eating snow and having permission to bring rocks in the house. We recently ventured out on one of these exciting nature walks, with plastic containers in hand to carry home all of our newly discovered treasures. I had more in mind than picking up rocks and eating snow, though. I set out to see if our simple nature walk could be transformed into a speech and language experience. I wanted my 2 and 4 year olds to learn new words, categorize, describe, compare, and contrast our treasures, tell imaginative stories, and get lost in pretend play with inanimate objects. It was a huge success! My mother, who was observing from a nearby room, commented “If your goal was to get them talking, I’d say it worked!” Not only did our simple activities hold the attention of my short-attention-spanned 2 year old boy for about an hour, I listened to a 15-minute story created completely independently by my daughter. So what did I do to make it happen? I used 5 simple speech-language techniques that turned our “walk” into “talk”.
Talk while you walk and play
· Talk about what you discover (this is called self-talk) and talk about what your child discovers (this is called parallel talk).
Parent: “Look, Johnny, I found a small rock. It feels really smooth. You found a big rock. It feels rough. Our rocks are different.”
· Expand what your child says by adding words and complexity.
Child: “Mom, big rock.”
Parent: “Yeah, John, that is a really big rock.”
· Extend what your child says by adding comments.
Child: “Mom, big rock.”
Parent: “Yeah, John, that is a really big rock. It is very smooth and round.”
· Recast what your child says by changing it into a different type of sentence, like a question.
Child: “Mom, big rock.”
Parent: “Did you find a big rock, Johnny?”
Make connections to your child’s life experiences
After our walk, we brought our treasures into the house, dumped them out onto a towel on the counter (to catch the melting snow), and continued to explore. Both of my kiddos immediately started creating pretend scenes with their rocks and flowers and snow. My daughter made a garden and my son made a campfire (maybe our cold winter walk made them hopeful for spring and summer). I made connections to their lives by saying things like “Do you remember when we went camping with Nanny and Poppy and our cousins last summer? We had a big campfire. What did we cook over our fire?” or “Do you remember when we planted our garden last year? What vegetables did we grow in our garden? What vegetables are you growing in your garden?”
Teach new vocabulary and concepts
· Categorize, describe, compare, and contrast- We separated our treasures into things that are big/small, hard/soft, smooth/rough, and wet/dry. I asked my kids “Can you find something that is alive/dead, prickly/smooth, etc? I also used fill in the blank statements, such as “These pine needles are ___________” and let them choose words to describe our objects.
· Synonyms and new vocabulary- We talked about how a small rock can be called a “pebble” and a small branch can be called a “twig.” While we pretended to cook over my daughter’s pretend campfire, we talked about a “dutch oven” and started using our new word in our play.
· Multiple-meaning words- My daughter and I talked about how some words can mean more than one thing. For example, rock can be a hard stone or can mean to move back and forth, like in a rocking chair.
I let my children create their “pretend scenes” and then I followed their lead in play. Once my daughter had created a campfire, she mentioned she wanted to roast marshmallows. Following her lead, I found a twig to use as a roasting stick and then I used my “talking techniques” to self-talk and parallel talk what was happening while we roasted marshmallows, cut up vegetables for our dutch oven dinner, and put snow on the fire to put it out.
I started by telling my kids a simple story about two rocks who lived in the forest and a boy who came and took one of them home. It included basic story elements of characters, setting, problem, and ending. Then my daughter followed my model and told a very similar story. Next, I modeled a story using the inanimate objects from nature as real people and places, and added in feelings and more action. My daughter then proceeded to tell me a 15 minute story about her and her friends (played by the rocks) and their swimming adventures (which took place in the snow). It was original and entertaining!
So next time you’re looking for something to entertain your family for an hour, head outside to discover some new treasures in nature and make it a language-rich experience for everyone!
Katie Pedersen is a full-time mommy, part-time speech-language pathologist. She loves living in a beautiful little valley amid the mountains of Utah with her husband and two (soon to be three) children, and going on outings with her family. Her newest adventure is sharing her passion for speech-language development with parents and other SLPs on her website, Let’s Grow Speech. www.letsgrowspeech.com