Invitations are hands on, rich learning opportunities that are designed to connect with students’ background knowledge and interest and deepen their knowledge about a topic.
By carefully selecting the materials to put in the invitation, a teacher can guide a student to coming to an important conclusion, lead the student toward a skill goal, or create a burning question that compels a student to want to learn more.
When designing an invitation, remember that the root word of “invitation” is invite. That means, the materials engage and draw in the students, to lead them to the big learning that you desire. However, because invitations are open-ended, we also must be prepared for divergent responses to the materials in the center — there is not a “right” answer to the work. You might place a bucket of seashells in the sensory table, and sorting buckets, but one little guy might create a story about the little creature who lived in one whelk shell.
Designing Your Invitation
Here are the considerations when designing the invitation in your nature center:
- What’s my learning goal?
- What do I want my students to focus on?
- What materials will lead them to this focus?
- How will the students show what they know?
So, what do you put in a nature center that invites students to observe? Read below for ideas for a botany nature corner:
Focus on… Color and Details
- Flowers with lots of color and details, such as bugleweed, butterfly weed or lantana
- Art materials that create fine details: pencils (regular and colored), fine-tip markers, skinny paint brushes and watercolors
- Sketch journals
Focus on… Looking Closely
- Flowers or plant material with fine details, such as lichens, Queen Anne’s lace, or goldenrod
- Hand lenses, viewing boxes, stereoscopes and magnifying glasses
- Very sharp pencils
- Notebooking pages with frames and lined areas for journaling
Focus on… Looking Inside
- Seed pods or structures that can be cut or pried open, such as milkweed pods, black locust or honeylocust pods, or insect galls
- Plastic, disposable knives and child scissors, tweezers
- Plastic trays or small cutting boards
- Pencils and blank copy paper, folded in half (labeled “Outside” and “Inside”)
Focus on… Order and Sequence
- Plant material with flowers and seed heads in various stages of maturation, such as red clover, dandelions, or wild roses
- Art supplies: colored pencils, fine-tip black markers
- Notebooking pages with multiple frames to show sequence, or Flow Maps
Focus on… Describing with Adjectives
- Any interesting natural objects, such as wildflowers, seashells, mosses or other items
- Writing tools: pencils, erasers
- Copies of paper for making Bubble Maps, concept webs, or an Observation Page (“I Notice… I Wonder…”)
Focus on… Similarities and Differences
- Plant materials that are very similar, such as several types of grass seed heads, flowers from different goldenrod species, or acorns from different species of oak
- Writing tools: pencils, erasers
- Blank paper for making Double Bubble Maps or Venn diagrams
Focus on… Whole and Parts
- Large flower/seed heads that can be dissected with hands, such as sunflower heads or small ears of ornamental corn
- Tweezers and sorting containers
- Copies of Brace Maps or blank paper to create them
For more examples and information on invitations and nature centers:
- The “Invitation” (Play at Home Mom LLC)
- Nature at Home: Four Ways to Bring Nature Indoors (Simple Homemade)
- 15 Foods You Can Grow From Scraps (Indian in the Machine)
- Science Projects (Pinterest)
For more ideas on observations and nature study:
- Focus on… Observation (Simple Science Strategies)
- How to Teach Everything Through Nature (bbsoulful2)
- Science Skills: Making Observations and Asking Questions Like a Scientist (bbsoulful2)
- The Power of Observation: Life in a Tiny Ecosystem (bbsoulful2)
- Bird Migration: A Study of Robins and Other Thrushes (bbsoulful2)