Naturalist intelligence

Children have an innate desire to explore the natural world.

As children explore the natural world they make discoveries and form concepts. They learn to recognise features, categorise, sort and classify information and patterns that enable them to make sense of their world.

Naturalist intelligence is about the full range of knowing what occurs through these physical encounters with the natural world: observing, listening, touching, tasting, smelling, chasing and catching.

Natural intelligence can be enhanced through:

  • Regular interactions with nature
  • Experiences in recognising and classifying
  • Caring for and interacting with living creatures
  • Learning to appreciate nature
  • Growing and nurturing plants


    Provide natural materials for sensory play and discovery:

  • Baskets of pinecones, leaves, shells, small rocks for children to use in their play
  • Shells, small rocks, different pinecones in a basket or sand tray to feel and sort create patterns
  • ‘Hide and seek’ shells in a tray of sand
  • Feely boxes or bags with objects from nature hidden inside
  • Rocks, shells and greenery with toy fish, frogs, turtles, ducks with a shallow bowl with water
  • Natural materials for collage or cooking play- flowers, leaves, bark, wool, seaweed, gumnuts

Encourage children’s interest in the living world around them. Chat as you play outdoors. Look at the clouds, the birds flying overhead. Watch the ants scurrying back to their nest or the caterpillar moving on the leaf. Ask questions, play observation games. Use a bug catcher, magnifying glasses or children’s binoculars to encourage further interest.

Make a sensory trail on the grass with wet and dry sand, leaves, fur, fabric, water, mud and grass.

Tie a large sheet of paper around a tree for a group to rub crayons on the bark texture. 

Go for a walk and gather leaves, rocks, flowers, seed pods and feathers. Items can be sorted on return or pressed into sand or playdough for temporary collage. Empty egg cartons make good sorting trays. Gather large leaves to thread.

Look for changes in the weather and pattern of the seasons.

Offer driftwood, shells or gum nuts in a large bowl or trough to feel and pour. Make wide funnels and pourers from empty plastic bottles.

Fill a wading pool with autumn leaves to roll and jump in or bounce them on a sheet of material in the air.

In windy weather blow bubbles to chase, tie streamers on a tree branch, make paper bag kites.   


Stimulate interest with stories, songs and finger play about animals and the natural world.

Adapt well known songs and rhymes, for example, Mulberry Bush’ to ‘This is the way the bunny hops’ 

Dance with scarves, coloured streamers to embody patterns, objects and animals in nature, autumn leaves, the sea, wind, butterflies, birds

Introduce physical movement- clapping, hopping, stamping, stroking, tip toeing, swaying as well as sounds when telling stories about animals

Use percussion to create sounds from nature or animals

Go for an imaginary walk to the zoo. Pretend to be the different animals and make the relevant sound and movement

Pretend to be a bulb, a seed in the ground, a chicken, or dinosaur in an egg and grow and grow and grow


Build observation into every day experiences. Go for a walk and stop. What colours, shapes and patterns do you see? What can you hear? How does it feel? It is rough, smooth, slippery? How does it smell?

Walk in the rain or through the puddles after the rain. Look at raindrops on a cobweb or a snail’s silvery trail. Take time to wonder.

Look in the pet shop window. Who can you see today? What are his ears like? How does he move? Does he eat as we do?

Picnic at a park or beach. Visit a zoo, farm, wildlife sanctuary or aquarium. Look for ways to show your child how to care for animals and nature.

Grow a bulb, some seeds or transplant some seedlings from a punnet into pots, cut down milk cartons or in the garden.

Watch seeds germinate on damp towelling or cotton wool. Carrots and turnips tops will sprout when placed in a shallow dish of water carrot side down.

Encourage your child to garden with you. Give them their own patch to dig and plant. Start a compost heap and recycle vegetable waste. Let your child help with sorting the waste.


Eight Ways of Knowing (Teaching for Multiple Intelligences), David Lazear, Hawker Brownlow, Australia, 1999.
Playgroups Let Children Play, Kaye Plowman, Playgroup Victoria, 1995.
ABC Book of Gardening for Kids, Helen Cushing, Sydney, 2001.