Summer Sensory Exploration: Engaging the Senses, and Inquisitiveness in Nature

Stephen McHugh
This post was last updated on
August 4, 2023
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Summer is an opportunity when we take time to destress and relax away from the stresses of everyday life, especially as the days are longer and the weather is likely to be warmer. It can also be a time for children, during their school holidays, to have some fun, both indoors and outdoors(weather permitting), doing activities that may be of interest to them.  

Summer holidays can also be a challenge for parents trying to come up with ways to keep their children occupied.

Below are ideas based on my experiences about how one can use nature related activities to do this.  Some outings I talk about below proved ideal for me, especially given that I am naturally inquisitive, and wanted to know how such things turned out the way they did, especially from a scientific perspective.

Walks in parks, woodlands and hills

I developed an interest in the nature table. Wherever you go out to parks with lots of trees, you might notice  bare patches in the darker shades under more trees. Out in the open there will be more in the way of grass in such areas.  Eventually, I understood that this is to do with there being varying amounts of competition for resources such as water and light, which help plants, trees and other vegetation to grow and survive.

I became interested in trees, and working out how old they are or were. This was especially true when I found out that the number annual rings of cut down trees corresponded with their ages.

Recently I read that by measuring bark’s circumference at about a height of 4 feet and 6 inches,  and dividing the number of centimetres by 2.5,  you can work out tree ages that way.

Nature in action

Insects feeding on plants and leaves shows us that plants are the start of the food chain. Ponds can be good places to see this, and all sorts of animal feeding habits.

Wherever there are colours of flowers, you may see insects interacting with them, likely attracted by the smell of nectar which they drink, and the colour of the petals.

Seeds from weeds and flowers can be seen transported by wind and by flying creatures themselves, allowing for growth of these to take place elsewhere.

Hiking

Like walking, this is a chance to get out into the fresh air and get into a healthy habit of doing exercise. It is also an opportunity to get away to quieter settings, and relax away from the stresses of everyday life. 

Views from hilltops and seeing interesting shapes due to erosion and weathering, can inspire all sorts of questions, such as how it all occurs from a scientific perspective. All of this, along with seeing ancient forts, can inspire story scenes in creative writing.

Stargazing

I’ve enjoyed learning about stars, star patterns, distant celestial objects and planet visibility. Whenever I’ve been out in darker sights and further away from city lights, I would be in awe at seeing how many more stars were visible. All you need is what is known as a planisphere, and star chart, all of which can show you what stars are visible at any time and date of the year.

Beaches

When I was young, me and my family would go on annual holidays to Ireland. I sometimes liked to collect shells. When I got back home, I liked to listen to sea-related sounds inside them. Sometimes, at the beaches I couldn’t help but notice the varying distances of tides from the beach from time to time.  

Other things which caught my eye were seeing different stones compared to other areas. I once visited the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and was fascinated by all the rocks being hexagonal. 

Below, I’d like to share what I learned in relation to the science behind these events as I got older through my teens and onwards, as my general understanding improved.

Giant’s Causeway

This was linked to volcanic activity around 50 - 60 million years ago. The shapes of rocks formed after molten rock erupted through cracks in the earth, which was followed by cooling and contracting.

As the molten rocks cooled, pressure increased and happened to be released at 120 degrees, which is the size of an interior angle in a hexagon. Not all of the rocks formed perfect hexagons. For an event like this, the molten lava would have to have been evenly spread out.

Tide differences

These are due to the Earth and moon exerting a gravitational pull on each other. The moon, even though it is 384,000 km away, still pulls the oceans and seas towards it.  

When the sun and the moon are aligned, their gravity combined results in higher tides. In this case, on the darker side of the Earth, the Earth’s rotation will result in a higher tide there due to centrifugal force being at play. Centrifugal force is caused by a force on a mass during its rotation.

If, on the other hand, the moon and the sun are at right angles to one another, the moon’s gravity is cancelled out by the sun’s gravity. This results in lower tides.

Differences in stones

What I can think of here is the linkage to differences in the type of rocks found in two or more different places. I noticed less in terms of flat stones in the west of Ireland during annual family holidays compared to the east side of the country. This, I think, may be the result of differences in the geological processes that may have occurred in all the places concerned.

Conclusion

If I’ve inspired any ideas for keeping a child occupied during summer by doing nature related activities,  let me know in the comments section below. I’d also be interested in hearing from you if this post has resonated with you.  Looking back, I  found that some activities lead to opportunities for me to improve my learning, development and understanding. 


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