One of my goals with our nature walks is that my children learn to enjoy nature, however, I also want them to learn from their walks. Some days they seem to just want to run down the trails as fast as they can and they miss everything around them. I do not want to make our walks a chore but I do want to help them be more observant about their surroundings.
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There are some simple activities that we can do while we hike to help them. One activity that is great for all ages is the ‘pick three things’ activity. I simply ask them to find three things along the way that they find interesting. They can either collect those things or take pictures depending on what they find. Then when we finish the hike, everyone gets to share about what they found. We also enjoy trying to find something from each color of the rainbow. This one is easier in spring and summer but can be done anytime.
As the seasons change we love to go on hunts for various seasonal signs. So early in the spring we will go on a hike looking for signs of spring. We look for the first flowers blooming, leaves on the trees, birds building nests and other springtime signs. We can do the same thing at the beginning of each season.
Looking for animal’s signs is probably the children’s favorite hiking activity. This can be as simple as finding tracks on the path, seeing birds nests, or holes/burrows in the ground. As the children got older we also looked for things like scratches on the trees, scat, and plants that had been partially eaten.
We also have edible wild food cards and a collection of nature guides. We can choose one of these before we hike and focus on finding various varieties from with-in that guide. So, if I take the trees book, we can see how many different trees we can identify. We also have a wildflower guide, mammal guide, and even a fungus guide. (Though harvesting fungus is a whole different ball game for which I am not yet trained.)
For my older children, they will sometimes bring their nature journals and colored pencils or chalk pastels and choose something to draw. I have found that doing some nature based art lessons beforehand helped them to feel better prepared to draw what they saw. I am always very careful to not expect perfection but to have them just enjoy the process of drawing what they see.
One final simple way to keep children engaged and learning on a nature hike is to give them a magnifying glass. This does not have to be an expensive tool, sometimes you can even find them at the dollar tree. I have found that often children, especially young children, can spend hours looking at ants, bugs, leaves, and more with their magnifying glass that they would simply overlook if they were hiking without it.
All of these activities keep things fun while helping them learn. They feel more like an adventure than a ‘school assignment’ but they become so much more aware of their surroundings and develop a love of nature. Does your family enjoy hiking? How do you engage your children on hikes? I always love new ideas and I would love for you to share in the comments.
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