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University of Illinois Extension

U of I Extension Websites: Kids and Nature

August 14, 2012

"In nature, children find a place to stimulate their senses--to become more observant and find a sense of freedom and fantasy," said Jane Scherer, University of Illinois Extension urban programs specialist and director of web development. "Research shows that natural spaces and materials stimulate children's imagination and serve as a way to stimulate inventiveness and creativity."

U of I Extension has a number of websites that encourage children to explore nature and the out-of-doors, she added. These sites cover everything from trees to insects to starting a garden.

"'Walk in the Woods' (http://www.urbanext.illinois.edu/woods/) prepares kids for what they will see in the woods," Scherer said. "This includes everything from lichens to deer. It also features in-depth nature notes that explain in detail 19 different things encountered in the woods, including poison ivy and mushrooms.

"Kids also can share what they learned on the walk with other children in the 'Woods Walkers Journal.'"

Warmer temperatures mean insects are more visible. The website "Let's Talk About Insects (http://www.urbanext.illinois.edu/insects/) offers young people a chance to learn what an insect is and what makes insects beneficial to humans.

"And they learn just how many insects there really are--40 million in an area the size of a football field," she noted.

An interactive website, "Dr. Arbor Talks Trees," (http://urbanext.illinois.edu/trees3/02.html) is targeted to children in sixth through ninth grades.

"It covers tree anatomy--how roots, trunks, leaves, twigs, and buds are all put together," said Scherer. "The site also helps children learn to identify the various types of trees."

There is no better way to learn about nature than gardening and another website can help a child set up his or her first garden. "My First Garden" (http://www.urbanext.illinois.edu/firstgarden/) teaches kids the basics of gardening.

"Children learn how to read a seed packet, for example, and what tools are needed," she explained. "It also has a section for keeping a gardening journal.

"It covers both vegetables and flowers. And if children lack lots of yard space or a garden plot, they can learn about creating gardens in unusual places such as old shoes, cinder blocks, and sewer tiles."

Using the website, children can plan and create their own salad garden, growing cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, and tomatoes.

"There are even instructions for a 'pizza garden,'" she added. "These sites provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to introduce their children to nature in a positive way and combine fun with learning."

Source: Jane Scherer, Director of Web Development, jscherer@illinois.edu

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