Attention with a Natural Touch

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

I’ve got a new attention-getting trick in the making for you this week that can be a lot of fun for teachers as well as for elementary school students:

Catch your class’ attention by bringing nature indoors!

Here’s the background on this developing idea:

A bushy member of the Camellia family of flowers blossomed outside my living room a week ago; lovely lush white petals formed a wreath around yellow centers as October inched toward the end of daylight savings in the US. The annual flowering of my Camellia is an autumnal celebration for my family.

But, I have learned in all my years of teaching that many children, especially those born in the last fifteen years, do not take note of much of nature. The blossoming of a member of the Camellia family of flowers is not a “Wow!” moment for them, the way it is every year for me.

For that reason I’ve been searching for ways to engage children in the outdoors. This outburst of floral glory made me think of a new idea for bringing nature into the classroom to catch and keep students’ attention. I love to help children learn to appreciate “Mother Nature” and using nature’s bounty to help students focus is a big bonus. So I’m pursuing this plan.

Do ideas roll around in your mind and heart like they do in mine? I’m playing with the picture of me suddenly pulling one of my freshly cut camellia blossoms out of a green box at the beginning of a lesson and addressing the class with a simple question – “Does anyone know the name of this flower?”

My mind’s eye paints a picture of children responding to my question by focusing their eyes on the natural treasure there in my hand. First I imagine them wondering what in the world my question has to do with the lesson at hand. I anticipate that they will be curious as to whether the question itself is a trick. Finally I know they will be eager to see if anyone with the right answer wins a prize. Sadly, I can’t help but believe that nobody in class will be able to offer the correct answer (in the fifth grade, anyway).

How do I know that so many children are disengaged from nature? I know because when I invite children in my classes to “take a hike outdoors from memory, to go anywhere they wish they could be right now in the natural world,” blank faces often stare back at me. Kids have little instant recall of special places outdoors other than sports fields.

What appears to be a growing disconnect from nature in so many children is precisely why teachers stand a good chance of catching and keeping students’ attention with a natural touch – the experience will be fresh for so many of them.

Here’s another example of how you can get attention with a natural touch:  

Hold up a large shell or rock or piece of bark or (you get the idea), that’s indigenous to your part of the world OR one that is from a part of the world your class is learning about.

Ask students to study the natural treasure for a few quiet minutes. Offer questions that prompt attention to detail. What colors are in the shell or rock, etc? Does the natural “find” have a pattern? Where do you think it came from? Who found it?

As the students answer your questions, praise their attention on the natural treasure you’ve brought to class. Encourage students to be observant outdoors. Invite them to bring something from nature to class to focus on another day. Developing children’s powers of observation also helps develop their capacity to sustain concentration.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings.

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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