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be open-minded. Allow children to satisfy their natu- ral curiosity about these objects, and you’ll find most will play quite harmlessly with them. Some teachers find that establishing a few rules, such as “You may hold a stick that is no longer than your arm,” or “You may not touch another person with a stick,” works well. Try asking the children how your group can play safely with sticks or rocks and engaging them in de- veloping the class rules. “I don’t know what to do outside!” That’s where this book comes in. You’ll find a lot of ideas, sugges- tions, and specific activities to offer to the children when you go outdoors. It might also be helpful to remember that nature often provides its own inspi- ration. Teachable moments abound in the outdoors. Let the exploration and discovery be open-ended and unstructured when possible. Let the children’s curios- ity be your guide. “We don’t have a nature area, just a play struc- ture.” A school forest, garden, or natural area can be richly rewarding and extremely positive for chil- dren’s development. More and more early childhood programs and elementary schools are adding nature areas to their sites, but most still have only the “tra- ditional” play structures, with few trees or natural areas. That’s okay! Take advantage of what you have. Regardless of how much nature may be available to you, you always have access to air, sun, shade, shad- ows, and weather! Most of the activities in this book do not require designated nature areas; rather, they are meant to be done anywhere you can—even on your sidewalk! “Parents do not recognize the value of time out- side.” When parents are provided with information and evidence to support your choices, they will likely support the increased amount of time their children are spending outside. Remember to take advantage of parent education nights, program newsletters, and field trips as opportunities to educate parents about the value of outdoor time for children. The resource list in this book includes numerous helpful research- based books and articles that support the need for 12  Chapter 1 children to spend time outdoors. If your site has a resource library for parents, consider adding some of these titles. Many early care and education programs have book clubs or topic nights for parents where these titles could be shared and discussed. Building on Your Experience As you work through this book, you will likely come up with many wonderful ideas and activities of your own for the children in your program to learn about the environment. Here are some questions to ask yourself when planning science and environmental activities: • Have the children shown an interest in this topic or some element of this topic? • Where will this experience take us, in terms of knowledge and skills? (Not, “What is the answer here?” but, “What skills and learning could we practice in exploring this topic?”) • How can we connect this topic to our current curriculum? • Does this activity offer opportunities for deeper learning? Is this something we can return to again and again, with opportunities for new discoveries each time? • Will this experience promote the development of fundamental skills and concepts to increase the children’s scientific ideas? • Does this activity offer children an opportunity to experience the natural world firsthand? Again, the principal aim of this book is to provide activities, ideas, and resources for offering meaning- ful environmental experiences to children ages three through eight. The ultimate goal of such experiences is to promote • A growing awareness of the natural world and its cycles