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Developing a Child’s Sense of Place:
A Lesson Plan for Ages 5-7

Originally intended for the day care time of
half-day kindergarteners and 1st and 2nd graders

By Margot Bevington [EMAIL]


  • To gain “empathy between the child and the natural world”(4 13).
  • To develop visual and aural senses of spatial awareness.
  • To initiate activities that will cultivate the fact that “At five and six, children are still immersed in early childhood and their world is small, contained, and dominated by sensory perceptions. The right hemispheric mode of spatial and visual perception dominates, and feelings andpictures are main forces in the organization of the child’s world”(5 21).
  • To initiate activities that will heed the advice of survival skill instructor Tom Brown, who says children should first become aware of the sound of their environment as a whole, and then try to focus on finding the source locations of more specific sounds. (1 27)
  • To initiate sound and space awareness, movement, indoor/outdoor, map-making and nature activities that will correlate with a child’s sense of play but also accomplish the above goals.

Learning Outcomes

  1. By becoming aware of aural and spatial aspects of their local environment children can become more aware of “friendly sounds,” such as those of squirrels, birds, and of water running in a creek, and of “danger sounds,” such as car motors, train whistles, barking dogs etc., and learn what kind of distance relationships are desirable between them and the sources of these different sounds.
  2. With Ohio Proficiency Test, Fourth-Grade Learning Outcomes in mind, children should be able to gain preliminary skills in understanding details and variety, in how to represent those details with words and pictures, in how to infer meaning from words or pictorial symbols, in how to associate symbols with spatial relationships, in direct use of maps, in making scientific observations, and in awareness of local, natural, environmental variety. (If you are utilizing this lesson plan in a different state, you may have different learning outcomes required by your state. These learning outcomes should be readily available on state department of education web pages.)
  3. By making big and often 3-D maps of small, familiar, local places, a child can form “metaphoric bridges to understanding…smaller maps of bigger places”(5 23).

Materials Needed

  • Art supplies necessary for making maps by drawing, cutting and pasting, sculpting, or otherwise making 3D models.
  • Tape recorder/ CD player
  • Access to recordings of different local environmental sounds, including those of local animals. These might be recorded beforehand by the teacher, be available at the local library via nature sound recordings or be on the web.
  • Access to pictures (or specimens!) of common local birds, mammals, fish and insects.
  • The distance traveled, preferably by walking, from school to daycare center, and daycare center to a nearby place in nature. *
  • These 3 children’s books, available at your local library: Stellaluna, Janell Cannon. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1993. , All the Places to Love, by Patricia McLachlan, paintings by Mike Wimmer. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. , and My Father Doesn’t Know About the Woods and Me, by Dennis Haseley. New York: Atheneum, 1988.
  • Blindfolds
  • Access to aerial photos of the local area. Local universities, historical societies, or parks might have this type of photo.
  • Additional pre-made maps as described below

*If a nearby place in nature, such as a creek, woods, pond, lake or field, is not readily accessible from the daycare center via walking- because of fences or other man made barriers or dangerous terrain- but still very close- consider getting permission from the property owners whose land intervenes between the day care center and the place in nature to build a small, safe walkway through their land. The direct access and avoided hassle in safely transporting children will be well worth the effort. The writer of this lesson plan will be undertaking a similar effort.

Time Line
The time span noted here, 15 once- a week activities (at 2-3 hours each), is intended for a weekly volunteer at a daycare center, but could be modified based on teacher availability and local weather conditions.

Week One- On the walk from the school to the daycare center, have the children see what different sounds they can hear on the way. First, encourage them to try to hear as many different sounds as they can. Then, have them choose one of those sounds, and see if they can figure out the source of that sound. Makeit a weekly routine to listen up for new sounds each week. When the group arrives at the daycare center, ask each child to whisper the sound they chose to you before they receive their snack. Make a list of all sounds heard in a place where all the children can see it, and add to it each week. Today, read the book Stellaluna, (4 43). Then, initiate a game in which one child is blindfolded (blind like most bats) and tries to find other, moving children by calling out “Bat!”-to which the other children are required to answer with their own made up animal sound. Be sure to define and realize safe boundaries for this game. (2 94)

Week Two- (Before this week, the teacher should make a simple, 3D model of the classroom, appropriate for the activity below.) Then, “Have the children sit in a circle, show them the model and ask them if they recognize this place. If you have first graders or other children, there’s a good chance that one of the children will get it. Explain that a model is a copy of a real thing, only much smaller, and ask the children to describe other examples of models that they have seen. Point to parts of the model, and have individual children stand up and walk over to the object in the classroom that you are indicating in the model. Start with solitary objects that are easily recognizable, such as the door or the teacher’s desk. Then explain that you have hidden pennies in the classroom and that the little gold stars show where they are hidden. Have one child at a time go to find a penny. Be prepared to have some children who are not able to find the object and encourage other children to provide some clues when you think it’s necessary. Ask children to explain how they knew where to look”(5 27). Practice this game until the children know how to play it in groups on their own. Leave the model, stars and pennies for them to play with throughout the week.

Week Three- On the walk from the school to the center this time, ask the children to pick up a small (safe) object along the way. The sounds from the weeks before plus the object they picked up today, will all help to make a map of the walk from the school to the center as follows: “First, create some worksheets that ask children to draw the following pictures.
1. Draw a picture of the school and a picture of the center.
2. Draw a picture of yourself walking.
3. Draw a picture of the source of the sounds you heard.

Once the children have completed all the pictures, have them cut out each of the drawings and
construct a collage of their route on a large piece of art paper…Ask the students to follow these directions:
1. Glue your picture of the house and the school on opposite ends of your piece of paper.
2. Connect the school to the center with the path you walk each day. Try to remember corners where you make big turns.
3. Arrange the pictures of your sounds and your found object along the path between the school and the center. After you’ve described them to your teacher, glue them in the right places.
4. Place the picture of you walking to the center along the route.
When the children are done, have them describe their maps to the rest of the group”(5 33).

Week Four- (Before this week, the teacher should draw a map of the classroom that shows an aerial perspective of the objects in the room, including individual chairs and tables.) Hand out copies of this map to the children. Ask one of them to describe the picture and what it represents. Then, ask them to put an “X” on the chair where they are sitting and to put their name on the back. Check to make sure each “X” is in the right place. Collect the papers and redistribute them randomly. Ask the children to find the “X” on their map. If a child has trouble, the mapmaker can help guide him or her. (5) After this activity, show aerial photos of the area to help them learn more about aerial perspective.

Week Five- To help the children learn orientation, an activity can be done where everyone is blindfolded, and they all have to guess from which direction certain sounds are coming. Any instrument or noise can be used. The teacher can move around the group and call on certain children to say whether the sound is coming from their left or right, or from in front or behind them.

Week Six- Obtain recordings of local environmental sounds. Play the sounds for the children and ask them if they can identify the sources of the sounds. Sounds should be distinctive and of a relatively loud volume. It’s OK if they don’t know them all. Then, play the same game as in week five but use the recorded material as the sound source.

Week Seven- Review the sounds from the week before. Have the children try to imitate the sounds and associate a word with each of the sounds. Have each child pick three of the sounds and write their associated words down on a piece of paper. Pick one child’s list and three groups of volunteers to make the different sounds. Then blindfold the listmaker, and have the three groups orient themselves within a moderately small area, preferably outside. The listmaker, while holding the hand of the teacher, can then try to orient him or herself toward each group of sounds. Give each child a turn.

Week Eight- In a relatively small area, (a garden with a path is a good spot), have each child pair up with a friend. One child will be blindfolded and the other must lead him or her to the end of the path by walking behind the blindfolded with both hands on his or her shoulders. The pair should then switch roles and do the activity again. Ask the children to go as slowly as possible and emphasize the object of getting the partner safely to the end of the path. Ask the children to see if they can use their senses of hearing and touch to help them experience the area while they are blindfolded (2 25). An optional follow up activity is to have each child find descriptive words to write down so they can remember their blindfolded experience.

Week Nine- Read the book, My Father Doesn’t Know about the Woods and Me, (4 43) to small groups while others play. Songs such as “Going on a bear hunt” or “In a cabin in the woods” could be included to maintain interest. If you have access to the web from the classroom, guide the children through a visit of the Kid’s Ear Page: This activity can take place over the next two weeks.

Week Ten- Read the book, All the Places to Love, (4 43) with the same scheme as week nine. Have the children draw a picture of a place they love.

Week Eleven- This will be the first walk from the center to a place in nature. During the walk have the children remember a sound they heard on the way there or the way back. At this place, let the children explore. Upon arrival back to the center, show pictures and play recordings of the calls of local birds and ask the children if they have ever seen or heard any of these birds. If so, have them move and act like that bird.

Week Twelve- Follow the same procedure as week eleven, except have the children remember an object they saw on the way, and instead of birds as the topic, discuss local mammals.

Week Thirteen
- Again, follow week eleven’s procedure except have the children pick up an object they found on the way, and this time discuss fish and amphibians.

Week Fourteen- Follow week eleven’s procedure, and if there is a natural water source at the place in nature, have the children carry a small cup to gather some of the water. Have them deposit the water in a sizable jar upon arrival back to the classroom. This time, discuss insects.

Week Fifteen- Have the children make a map of the walk from the center to the place in nature, following the same procedure as described in week three. The sounds and found object from weeks 11-13 will help to make this map. If water was collected, mix it with blue dye that the children can use to paint their picture of the water source.

Evaluation- Since this isn’t a “school” environment; a quiz or a test would be highly undesirable. A gift of a recording of some of the sounds you studied and also some of the sounds of the children themselves might help them to remember these activities for years to come. Have the children write their name on their gift and any words that they think might help them to remember their own experiences.

Works Cited

1 Brown, Tom. Tom Brown’s Field Guide: Nature and Survival for Children. New York: Berkley1989.
2. Cornell, Joseph. Sharing Nature with Children. Nevada City: Dawn Publications, 1979.
3. *Masi, Brad (ed.) Explorations of a Watershed: The Natural History of the Black River. Oberlin: The Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College, 2000.
4. Sobel, David. Beyond Ecophobia. Great Barrington: The Orion Society, 1996.
5. Sobel, David. Mapmaking with Children: Sense of Place Education for the Elementary Years. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.

* For a list of common wildlife in the Black River Watershed area, request a copy of this book from the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College.

Special thanks to the children and teachers at Oberlin Early Childhood Center who helped me with this project

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