Going on a nature walk or scavenger hunt with your children is an excellent way to inspire a love and appreciation for the natural world. I share how we do it and give a free printable for your own nature hunt book!
Once we decided we were going to try homeschooling for pre-k, I searched high and low for curriculum that is Montessori and Waldorf based and came across Oak Meadow. They have an emphasis on child-led education that is heavily based in the arts, which is exactly what I was looking for. In one of their books, “Learning Processes,” they have a whole chapter on how to go on a nature walk with your child and it really inspired me to do with our children.
This past spring, we moved into a new house that has more than two splendid acres. About a third of it is cut and the kids can run and play in the grass, and the rest is just a thick forest. So thick that it is difficult for two toddlers to comfortably walk and navigate. So, I've been waiting for Mr. Merry to buy a machete and chop us down a path, which he was able to do a few weeks ago. He made this really cool circular path that takes us along the creek and meanders through the trees.
Focus Their Attention on the Treasures Around Them
So, with baby Griffin strapped to my back and a canvas bag in hand, we set off on the path to see what we could discover. In the curriculum, they write “While you are walking, keep your attention (and your child's) focused upon the sights and sounds around you, and not upon other things, such as conversations.” But it goes on to read, “Don't try to make a big issue of “paying attention,” or it will tend to make the walk rather tiresome for both you and your child.” Keeping that in mind, I created a nature field guide for toddlers for each of my boys to keep our focus on our surroundings but I also tried to just make it fun, with a goal to inspire them to show them the wonders of the forest. The last thing I wanted to do was to be annoying, nagging them to stay on task. I feel like that just creates stress and anxiety for them and zaps the fun of learning.
Watch Them Transform into Little Biologists
As we entered the woods, they wanted to go about their usual fun of climbing on fallen trees and running like bobcats. So, at first, I redirected them, or as Oak Meadow puts it, “shifted the focus,” back to the forest. I said things like, “Wow! Look at this leaf! I wonder what the name of it is. Here, I'll look in my book.” It was so cute to watch the boys come running over to me to see what the excitement was about. Then, I found a bunch of bark on the ground and made it sound like it was a brand new shiny toy. My trickery worked again. Before I knew it, they were walking around expressing the same excitement for everything they saw and heard and wanting to put it in the bag. Even Grayson, who's just two, got the hang of it and asked me several times, “What dat sound, mama?” He kept picking up the brown, rotten leaves and saying, “Wook, mama! A weaf! A weaf!” It was precious, and so much fun.
Gabriel, who's four, found tons of spider webs on his own and spent a lot of time watching the spiders move around their webs. With Grayson being closer the ground (smile), he was looking more at the fallen leaves, sticks and trees, so we discussed how even the dead things in the forest are important as they disintegrate and turn into soil.
It accomplished exactly what I set out to do – when does THAT ever happen?! And the woods can be an entire math, science, art and even language arts lesson in one, especially if you use a book or bring along a journal.
Tips & Extension Activity Ideas
A nature walk can be anywhere
The beach, a forest, a field, or even down a neighborhood street or your own yard. There is no right or wrong place as long as it's natural.
Bring a bag
Bring a bag to carry your forest treasures back to the house. I love how this made the walk even more special for us. Then bring the items inside and place them in a basket for observation and play (this is both a Montessori and Waldorf activity).
Incorporate math by counting leaves, sticks or stones. Symmetry is everywhere in nature, so it would be another easy thing to introduce.
Use the field guide to learn the names of the animals, insects, trees, leaves and more. Then, talk about how the ecosystem and how each thing is important to keep the forest healthy and alive, much like how each person is important and has valuable talents to contribute.
Bring along some paper and your child's favorite drawing utensils and let them go to town. I personally don't like to give much direction when it comes to art – I love to see what the kids create on their own and I hope it will encourage them to see art as an extension of the soul, not something that's right or wrong, pretty or ugly. However, for a little more structure, check out the nature field guide I created, where I included colored boxes for children to draw objects they see that match the colors.
You could use the free field guide to teach the kids how to spell the words. You could also bring along a journal and have the children write about their five senses, or dictate to you and you write it down for them.
The learning possibilities are endless!
A Note About the Free Printable
This is designed so you don't have to cut it – just fold in half along the lines and stack the papers on top of each other. Then, punch 2 holes along the middle of and tie a piece of string, ribbon or yarn to hold them together. If you have a long stapler, that would be even easier, but I don't, so this was the next best thing! Download it here!