Provocation to Connect With Nature in the Library

Nature Center leaf rubbing

Finally! A teeny amount of free time to blog! Over the past several weeks I’ve been working on setting up provocation stations in the library, so the next several posts will be devoted to the creation of these exhibits. The goal of the provocations, which will be modified seasonally or monthly like the new post office, is to give kids hands-on exploration opportunities as well as a chance to flex their creativity and self-expression. I’ve been fervently reading about the methods and philosophies of several educators over that past few weeks, two of which have been the biggest  inspirations in my research and practice working with kids in the library: Loris Malaguzzi and  David Hawkins. Loris Malaguzzi was the founder of the Reggio approach, an emphasis on providing children an environment with materials and tools to express themselves and explore the world around them, to observe, document, and communicate with a strong emphasis on community and inquiry-based learning. Reading Malaguzzi’s “The Hundred Languages” for the first time this summer had a very strong impact on me and my relationship with the children I serve and with my own children. David Hawkins was a scientist, philosopher, and educator who conducted a variety of studies/projects with children involving “unscripted explorations of materials and surroundings” in an outdoor environment. 

But before I fall down that rabbit hole (I will go into this more in-depth at another time), lets get to the Nature Center! Since the weather has started to cool here in Tennessee, the girls and I try to go on nature hunts daily. We have so much fun taking the time to watch the sun filter through the leaves of an oak tree, looking for snails, and picking mushrooms. After each hunt, we layout whatever treasures we’ve found that day to observe and discuss. I also use that time to note what my 4-year-old picks up and how to further those areas of interest. 

nature collection 1

mushrooms in a row

Each day at work I interact with and learn from children and families who come from neighborhoods that aren’t safe to walk around and explore. While reading a story the other day, a child around the age of 6 or 7 pointed to an image of a pinecone and curiously wondered what it was. He had never seen or held a pinecone. It was from these types of experiences that I decided to create a space where they could touch and discover items found in nature from the city which they live. The goal would be to spark a connection with themselves and the natural world around them.

Nature Center in library


nature center 4


nature center 2

I purchased a wood serving tray on clearance and everything else I found around the library. Magnifying glasses, fabric, clipboards, paper, pencils, as well as image-heavy identification guides. The leaves, pinecones, acorns, branches with lichen, and all natural items were found by my daughter and me. I posted a few prompts at the end of the table such as:

  • Look closely at the specimens on the table – What do you see?
  • How do these objects feel?
  • Can you identify what these objects are?
  • Did you know scientists document their observations by drawing illustrations of what they find? Can you draw a picture of one or more of items on the table?
  • Look for these plants when you are outside next time on a walk or at recess. They all from our Chattanooga neighborhood!

A couple days after setting up this station, my coworker told me a child saw the Nature Center and said, “Mom, look at all these treasures!” Bingo. Ever since, kids curiously walk up to the Nature Center daily and take the time to touch and feel and observe what is displayed. Weekly, I refresh what’s on exhibit. I also posted some information about Leafsnap for families with smartphones that would like a fun way to explore and identify plants they happen upon. Personally, the best part is finding the drawings the kids leave behind:

ginko illustration


naya's illustration


nature center 3

I have been keeping them all in a folder and hope to bind them into a field guide and add it to the Kids’ Library (a new station that holds books created by kids – more on that in a day or two!).

And since a certain someone has been having a hard time sharing our findings with the library, I set up a Nature Center for her at home:

Home Nature Center

I created our home Nature Center on a bookshelf close to her art space. It is comprised of a placemat and 2 wooden trays found on clearance at Target, a magnifying glass from Dollar Tree, a recycled olive jar to hold flowers, an old notebook, and a pencil. I also printed out old botany illustrations for display/inspiration.

I’ve had a very large perspective shift in the past few months that has strongly influenced my services, research, and interactions with youth in the public library. This includes the above refernced teachings of Malaguzzi and Hawkins, but also equally as inspiring are the many early childhood educators that incorporate like-minded concepts in their practice. So much growth and learning has happened that it’s difficult to articulate. 

Until I’m able to find those words, I will leave you with the newest Nature Center additions, courtesy of Crabtree Farms:

snake skin




5 Responses to “Provocation to Connect With Nature in the Library”

  1. Anne Clark says:

    Rebecca, this is a phenomenal idea! I cannot express how much I love it and how beautiful your presentation is. You are absolutely love that kids love hands-on nature time and collecting treasures. I also love the idea of calling a “provocation”–an invitation to explore. Fantastic!


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