Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nature Walk: A Few of the Endless Possibilities

I wrote last week about the what and why's of nature walking.  This week I wanted to give some ideas to get your creative minds going on ways to incorporate God's glorious creation into your family's life!

Two important things to keep in mind before setting out:
  1. Keep it Open-Ended.  It is fun to have ideas of what to point out, learn, etc.  This is especially important in the beginning when you all are new to this, but be VERY open to going down bunny trails.  The point is to enhance and foster your child's love of the outdoors and stoke that spark of curiosity!  Most of our nature explorations are completely open-ended with no goals in mind...
  2. Be Prepared to Stop and Stare/Play/Explore.  It is not about the destination, but the journey.  This is different than walking for exercise.  Oftentimes, we'll just stop and camp out in one spot for a while if the kids find something really interesting or want to play with their natural environment.  (We did this once next to a Palo Verde tree.  They boys were busy collecting the dead leaves and making their own bird nests.  We ended up looking for real birds nests after that...)
Around the Neighborhood
Much of our walking and explorations take place close to home.  But where to even start...

With babies and toddlers - it is easy to start by drawing attention to things around them.  Identify trees vs. bushes, leaves vs. stems, dirt vs. rocks, flowers vs. seed pods, plants vs. animals/bugs, etc...  Once they have reached the pointing stage have them point to identify what they are seeing in nature.Have them point to each.   It seems silly really, but just pointing out basic stuff opens their eyes to the beauty and variety in nature and gets the ball rolling with observation skills!

Preschoolers - It is fun to go on a nature walk and let them collect a few treasures.
  • Masking Tape bracelet - you can make a loose masking tape bracelet with the sticky side out and let your little one collect small pebbles, leaves and flowers to 'stick' to their bracelet.
  • Nature Collage -  Let your preschooler glue their finds down on a paper and make a poster to display!
  • Bug Safari - go on a hunt for all kinds of creepy crawlies.  Little kids love to stop and follow ants, stare at spiders and flutter like that butterfly they just discovered...
  • Nature Play - building nests from leaves, houses from sticks, rock structures, etc...  Little one's benefit from having a very multi-sensory, hands-on experience with manipulating their surroundings.
  • Puddle Jumping and other rainy/post rainy day explorations!
All Ages
  • Identify plants/trees in your own yard.  Go on a walk and try to find the same plants elsewhere.
  • Tree Hunt - look for specific kinds of trees, compare bark on trees (bark rubbings are always fun if you want to take crayons and paper with you), etc.
  • Leaf Walk - Collect leaves and discuss shape, edges (smooth, jagged, curvy, etc...).  Point out veins.  Take them home and make leaf rubbings.
  • Note the birds that live in your neighborhood and try to recognize their song!
Out and About
While oh so easy to simply take walks around the block, everyone will benefit from trips out and about!  I love to find parks that emphasize the natural environment instead of just focusing on a cool playground.  (I'm not against playgrounds, but it is nice to give our children a chance to just enjoy climbing boulders and enjoying a more natural play experience.

Where: any kind of nature preserve (we love the Veterans Oasis Park and the Riparian Habitat at Water Ranch), a hidden park that is mostly 'wild' (Our favorite is a sunken soccer field that is surrounded with cottonwood groves.  It is empty except on weekends.), a botanical garden, arboretum (we frequent Boyce Thompson Arboretum), city/state wilderness parks or any other wilderness areas, etc.  The National Willife Federation's Nature Find tool is a great way to locate nature preserves.

Multi-Age Activities:
  • Any of the options in the neighborhood would be great to do in more 'wild' places as well.
  • Bird Watching - I've been getting into this one more.  We go to a Riparian area and just look to see what kinds of birds to find.  This is great for the youngest to the very oldest among us.  Taking binoculars and having kids start to identify various species is always rewarding.
  • Nature Drawing - if your kids are old enough and interested, taking a notebook out and letting them draw something in nature that interests them is a great way to hone attention to detail and patience in observation!
  • Identifying pollinators - finding butterflies and bees and noting which flowers they like.
  • Tracking - learn about animals in your area and head out looking for tracks!  Of course, the more 'wild' the area, the higher the likelihood of finding interesting tracks.
  • Scat Scouting - my boys LOVED doing this.  Scat is just a fancy word for 'animal poop'.  You can tell a surprising amount about an animal from what they leave behind.  After reading, Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert? - Scat and Tracks for Kids, they had a blast hiking through the desert in search of tracks and scat.
  • Set up a Scavenger Hunt - if you are familiar with an area, setting up things to 'find' for your kids can be a special treat.  A friend of mine did this a couple of years ago and we loved it!
  • Going to the Zoo - frequently.  I blogged last year about the benefits of frequent trips!  If you are close to a zoo, I highly recommend getting a membership and going!
Of course the possibilities are truly endless.  But here's a start!  Happy Exploring!

1 comment:

  1. These are great ideas - thanks for sharing! We have linked to you at Grow Little Seeds: