Children are little scientists at heart. They love to explore the world around them, and their curiosity is boundless. With the great outdoors as their classroom, learning is simple, seamless, and almost intuitive. When a child is outside, s/he can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see the world around him. All of the senses are alert and engaged. Learning experiences that take place out of doors are as real as they come, and are much more likely to be retained than vicarious ones.

It’s October, and the cold weather is looming nearer, so now’s the time to don those jackets, make the digital disconnect, and go out for a few last nature walks before frosty bite of winter sets in. Your nature walk can be maximized by planning what skills, concepts, or benefits you hope to achieve with your child. Here are some ideas and themes to experiment with.

  • Language and Discovery Walk (Appropriate for ages 2+)
    • Walk in a wooded area if you can find one. Take advantage of nature’s offerings by bringing an empty shoe box with you. Let your child create a cache of leaves, pine cones, smooth stones, pine needles, and small sticks.  An egg carton can also be a great nesting box for smaller treasures. Develop your walk into a language-rich activity by engaging your child in conversation about his/her treasures. When you bring these things home, let your child sort them by size, shape, color or texture. Use descriptive words like big and little, bumpy and smooth, red, yellow, and green.
    • Linger over each item, noting details like the veins that run through each leaf. Take pictures with your phone and ask your child for a few words to label each picture. Writing down your child’s words, thoughts, and ideas lends them a feeling of importance, and connects them to literacy through the medium of a meaningful experience. 
  • Critical Thinking Walk (Appropriate for ages 3+)
    • Do this just about anywhere; in a nature area, a park, or just around your own community. Tell your child that as you are walking, you will be playing the “Something” game, and looking for objects that meet a specific criteria. You can prepare these ahead of time, or just make them up as you go along, which is always my own preferred method of doing things!
    • In the Something Game, you will ask your child to find “something a squirrel can hide in”, “something that was part of a tree but isn’t anymore”, or “something that is the same color as your shoes”. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination. If your child responds very quickly, your questions are probably too easy for him, but if he keeps getting stumped, you may want to simplify. The key is to keep him/her engaged and challenged, but not frustrated.
    • A variety on this is the Silly Something Game, where you create lots of giggles with silly criteria like “something that wouldn’t fit in your nose”, “something that could be used as a hat” or “something you could give an ant for his birthday”.
  • Turn-Taking Walk (Appropriate for ages 4+)
    • Preschoolers are beginning to develop their sense of autonomy, control, and the ability to make choices and decisions. In the turn-taking walk, the adult and child walk together, but they take turns as “leader”, deciding which way to go during the walk. This activity gives young thinkers an incredible thrill, as they are given the rare opportunity to make choices for themselves, and to take an adult along.
    • The turn-taking walk gives the child an opportunity to lead, as well as to practice turn-taking, and engaging responsively in a joint activity.