Growing Student Naturalists through the NatureHoods Program

by Izzy Mize, NatureHoods Coordinator


NatureHoods is an early childhood nature education program put on by the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon.  I’m Izzy Mize, and am serving an 11-month term of service through AmeriCorps with the Children’s Forest.  I’ve had the honor of teaching the NatureHoods program for the fall season for first and second graders. The NatureHoods program is composed of four lessons with activities teaching students about plant and animal life, habitats, pollination, and more. Each of our lessons aligns with Next Generation Science Standards and are taught outside in the schoolyard.  The overall goal of the NatureHoods program is used to promote students becoming and seeing themselves as naturalists, which are people who study nature. 


With the time spent inside and online being higher than ever before, connecting with nature has never been more important. Time outside reduces stress, improves health, and helps students focus in the classroom. Spending time outside as a child also fosters a greater appreciation of nature through adulthood, helping to instill a stewardship ethic to care for the land.  With limited opportunities for outdoor learning last school year because of the pandemic, we were so thankful to be able to connect with students and teachers in nature’s classroom this fall.


NatureHood lessons are composed of discussion, games, and hands-on activities connected to different scientific concepts about the natural world. One cool new aspect we implemented this year has been introducing the practice of nature journaling to the students.  We provide each student a nature journal to keep and do one journal activity at the end of each lesson.  The journals allowed students to make closer observations and ask questions about the natural world around us. The students were so excited to make the journals their own and continue to use them after the program ended.  Teachers were provided follow-up journal prompts and classroom posters about naturalist and journaling skills.  Our hope is that these tools help students continue their journey as naturalists after the program.


I taught the NatureHoods program to over 20 classes at 6 different schools from Redmond, Warm Springs, Madras, Prineville, and Bend this fall. Over 450 students participated!  We received so much positive feedback including: “[The students] now point out things they see out at recess and have used the term naturalist after our classes,” “During the lessons I was able to see my students interest evolve as they did their journal prompt each day,” and “My kids are noticing things they wouldn’t have before and are demonstrating curiosity about the world around them.”  Additionally, with a simple thumbs up and thumbs down survey, we were able to track the number of students who self-identified as naturalists before and after the program. The percentage of naturalists increased from 54% to 76%, showing that the program had a positive impact on students’ connection to nature.  


I have learned a lot too through the NatureHoods program. As a new resident of Central Oregon, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to travel and explore each of our unique towns! I learned of the cultural importance of our land and was able to experience the diversity in flora, fauna, and landscape firsthand. Not only have I taught students how to be a naturalist, but my naturalist skills have also improved greatly. I have learned so much from these students — new responsibility and leadership, finding the excitement in the little things surrounding us, and to always have fun!  I look forward to continuing the NatureHoods program next spring with new classes and students.