Here’s a followup to 5 Activities to Share Nature with Kids, with more things you can do to get your kids outside and engaged in the natural world. Some are incredibly simple and require no preparation or equipment, some are a bit more involved, but all are good fun and will encourage children to actually ‘see’ and experience the world around them.
1. Sights and Sounds
- Pick a spot that has a lot of visual appeal and variety, and have the kids stand in place. Have them name all the colors and shades of colors they can see from that spot. They’ll probably almost immediately say “green.” Ask them to look again in more detail. If someone says “green” again, quietly and calmly go to that child and thrash him soundly, then resume the game. In time they’ll realize that the green of a spruce tree is very different from the green of a birch, and that the brown bark of a pine is completely different than the silvery bark of a beech. Fall, with its multicolored foliage, is obviously a great time to play this game.
- Take the kids to a forest, a stream, even a secluded spot in a city park, and have them sit (or lie on their backs) silently, with their hands in the air. Every time they hear a new sound – a bird singing, a cricket chirping, critters rustling in the leaves, wind in the trees, rushing water – have them raise a finger and quietly name the sound. (No shouting out allowed.) Who has the best hearing? It’s amazing what you can hear when you stop for a few moments and really listen. Or if you want to keep the game silent, have them raise their fingers without saying anything, and when most of the kids have reached ten you can talk about some of the sounds you’ve heard.
2. The Matching Game
- While you’re on a nature walk, stop for a snack and while the kids are busy munching away, quietly slip off and collect five to ten easy-to-find natural objects in the immediate area – pine cones, leaves, seeds, flowers, stones, etc. Put them on a small cloth or napkin, and cover them with something. Call the kids over and tell them that for 20 seconds you are going to show them a number of natural objects they can find in the area, and that after they see the items they should scour the area to look for matching ones. Let them go search for 5-10 minutes, then call them back. Pull objects out one by one, telling them what each one is (if you can), a bit of interesting info about that item (again, if you can), and asking them if they’ve found a matching item. (They’ll probably try to make it a competition, and argue about whether or not the others’ objects are in fact matches. Again, thrash soundly, and emphatically tell them it’s not a competition. Then give the one with the most matches a chocolate bar.)
3. Scavenger Hunt
- Everybody likes a good scavenger hunt, and the kids can be arranged by individuals, pairs, or small groups, depending on how many kids there are. Here’s a list of possible items to find, but you’ll have to customize the list according to what they’re likely to see where you are. If you’re really well-prepared you can give each child (or group) a small bag for collecting things in. It’s probably best to organize this at the beginning of your walk, so you allow the kids plenty of time to find their items. Remind them that they shouldn’t harm anything, or they’ll be yanking out protected lady slipper orchids by the roots.
- A feather
- A living flower
- A seed pod
- Something red
- A leaf with leaf miner trails
- A leaf that’s been chewed by something
- Three pieces of human litter
- Something that makes a noise
- Something sharp or pointy
- Ten berries
4. Fall Foliage Stained Glass
- This is a two-parter, to be finished at home, but can often be done in your own backyard or neighborhood. Have the kids collect colorful leaves that interest them, but encourage a variety of shapes, textures and colors. When they have a sizable selection, bring them back home for stage two. Spread out several layers of newspaper on a table, take a sheet of wax paper, A4-size or larger, and artfully arrange leaves on it, leaving spaces at the edges of the paper and around the leaves. Then take a cheese grater and crayons of different colors, and grate the crayons all over the paper, being careful not to neglect the edges (the wax is ultimately what holds your ‘window’ together). Place another sheet of wax paper on top, then an old dish towel. Take your iron, and on a medium setting gently iron the wax paper until all of the crayon shavings have melted. (Be careful not to get crayon wax on the iron, or it’s pretty much done.) The melted wax holds the sheets together, and you can hang the ‘stained glass’ in a sunny window for maximum effect.
5. Take a Night Walk
- Right now is the perfect time of year to take the kids out in the evening for a short nature walk, as the sun is setting early but it’s not yet too cold and animals are still out and about. You don’t have to descend into the depths of the primeval forest – your neighborhood or a nearby park will probably do just fine. Where we live in Budapest is blessedly leafy, but it’s still in the center of a city of 2 million. Even so, we see (and/or hear) bats, moths, assorted insects, hedgehogs – even the local cats get the kids excited when it’s dark outside. Depending on where you live you might spot foxes, racoons, skunks, deer, nightcrawlers, opossums, and nocturnal or crespuscular birds like nighthawks and owls. Bring alone a strong flashlight and maybe a headlamp and scan open spaces for eye shine. You’ll probably even see the eyes of spiders gleaming back at you out of the darkness. Kids get quiet and contemplative on these walks (and sometimes a little scared, so expect some hand-holding even from older ones), and even the more mundane aspects of the natural world take on more meaning at night.
This is just a handful of fun activities you can do with your kids. If you like, check out our review of “The Nature Connection,” a book you may be interested in picking up for ideas for teaching children about the natural world. We’ll leave you with a few images of the kids out in nature, hopefully to inspire you to get your own little ones out there.