Educational Outdoor Activities to Build Nature Smarts

3 min to read
A father and son hiking the woods with red backpacks

There are multiple types of intelligences according to educational theorist, Howard Gardner. Among these are verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, and naturalistic intelligence. While perhaps not often discussed, naturalistic intelligence refers to the ability to identify and categorize animals, plants, and other entities in nature. Examples of naturalistic intelligence also include taking care of the environment and understanding the relationships between plants, animals, humans, and environments. Furthermore, naturalistic intelligence is believed to have helped our ancestors survive, evolve, and adapt to their environments.

Encouraging students to develop their naturalistic intelligence can provide opportunities for students to learn about nature, STEM fields, and practical life skills. While naturalistic intelligence can be developed during any time of the year, the world is rife with opportunities to learn more about nature, particularly during the spring and summer, so parents and Learning Coaches may use summer break to focus on naturalistic intelligence activities in order to keep students with this learning preference active and learning.

What are the Benefits of Naturalistic Intelligence?

Learning about nature encourages students to be curious about the world and to develop their observational skills. From their observations, they can use their logic to draw conclusions about the flora and fauna as well as the relationships that they have to one another and their environments. Further, they can learn how to categorize species and take field notes of what they see in nature.

Some argue that naturalistic intelligence also encourages students to develop sensory awareness, pattern recognition, and critical thinking.

Naturalistic intelligence lends itself to STEM fields such as botany, geology, meteorology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, environmental engineering, and animal science.

Naturalistic Intelligence and Environmental Conservation

Many believe that helping students develop naturalistic intelligence aids them in cultivating their empathy skills and developing an appreciation for environmental conservation since, by doing so, they explore how humans and the environment are interconnected.

Encouraging students to explore the natural world around them can also demonstrate to them what is unique to the environments they live in and help them to appreciate where they live. Further, developing naturalistic intelligence can help students to understand sustainability and get them thinking about the future and how they can make the world a better place. 

Naturalistic Intelligence Activities

Some naturalistic intelligence activities include:

  • Exploring nature on a field trip, camping trip, or hiking excursion

  • Celebrating Earth Day on April 22nd

  • Making your own fossils

  • Watching birds 

  • Searching for bugs

  • Creating rock art

  • Making a bird feeder

  • Doing a nature scavenger hunt 

  • Exploring rocks and minerals in nature or at museums

  • Keeping a nature journal 

Children on a hike out in nature as part of a naturalistic intelligence activity.

Outdoor Chores

Outdoor chores can help children to develop naturalistic intelligence by showing them how nature affects our habitats as well as the importance of responsibility and environmental stewardship

Some outdoor chore ideas include:

  • Planting a flower or vegetable garden

  • Weeding the garden

  • Watering plants regularly

  • Mowing the lawn 

  • Picking up twigs and other debris

  • Creating and maintaining a compost pile

  • Taking the dog for a walk

Bring the Outdoors Inside

Although being outside lends itself to developing naturalistic intelligence, some traditionally outdoor activities can adapt well to apartments or other indoor environments. Some ideas include:

  • Growing small pots of herbs to be used in cooking

  • Maintaining indoor plants, such as spider plants, ivy, and flowers

  • Separating garbage and recyclables

  • Watching documentaries about nature

  • Reading books about animals

  • Taking a virtual tour of the National Museum of Natural History

There are numerous ways to develop naturalistic intelligence, and such skills often lend themselves to success in STEM fields. However, regardless of whether a child decides to pursue a STEM career, developing naturalistic intelligence is important because it teaches students patience, observation skills, empathy, an appreciation for the natural world, and how to engage in environmental conversation.


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