I grew up in a bird-watching, nature-loving family. We camped for summer vacations and had bird books on the coffee table. My parents still hike out to the middle of nowhere at 4:00 a.m. once a year for the Christmas Bird Count. With my own kids, we have found there are so many fabulous places for nature walks in Virginia. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Encourage children to make related art projects – This may be drawing or painting pictures, crayon rubbings, making a leaf collage, painting pine cones or rocks and weaving flower jewelry.
- Encourage children to make a collection – It may be shells, rocks, leaves or flowers. Allow the collecting and help create a place to display. It helps to take a collection bag on your walks.
- Encourage nature photography and videos – With so many point-and-click options, being a budding nature photographer has no age minimum.
- Encourage children to use all their senses – Ask how things feel and how things smell. Encourage children to sit quietly in nature and really listen.
- Bring binoculars and a magnifying glass – It’s wonderful for children to be able to see things far away and very up close.
- Bring a bug box – This can be a nice way for kids to get a really good look at bugs. As best you can, plan for a safe catch and release.
- Bring friends – It’s always more fun with friends!
- Take all the time they need – When they are really interested in something, it can take 10 minutes to go a few feet. Have patience and let them examine things fully.
- Point out and discuss colors, shapes and sizes often – Colors, shapes and sizes are all part of an academic foundation.
- A nature scavenger hunt
- Label and then label some more – Nature walks and outings in general are a great way to boost early vocabulary. Label and include definitions as much as you can.
- Be descriptive – Include lots of details and adjectives in your descriptions.
Elementary school kids:
- Discuss similarities and differences – Discuss how two flowers or two birds are alike and different. Elementary children should be able to participate with this and it’s good practice.
- Encourage journaling – This is an easy way to keep up their writing skills over the summer months. Bring a notebook and encourage them to write about the things they see.
- Keep lists, counts and make charts – To make the journal more interesting, suggest they keep track of how many and what animals, birds or flowers they see.
- Keep measurements – Early elementary schoolers may be very into measuring things. The simple idea is to take a ruler with you and have them measure flowers and sticks and rocks. This can be a fun thing for the journal.
- Introduce guide books and teach to identify – Guide books help identify the bird or plant in front of you. You can use these as you go, or take pictures and later go back to sort through the book.
Middle and high school kids:
- Encourage more detailed journaling – As they grow, their writing should be fuller and have a shape. I think encouraging writing is up there with reading and math, this is just an easy way to get that practice. This might be an interesting time to focus on poetry.
- Let them plan the hikes – Planning is a good skill in life. Have them pick the place, plan the snacks and pack the bags (might want to check this last one).
- Good idea to ban the phones – Aside from taking pictures, nature walks are a good time to turn off the talking and texting. This helps everyone to be present and really enjoy where they are.
Please share your own tips below!