My family loves to be outside, they would happily play in the woods for hours without complaint, my husband included. I enjoy the outdoors as well…just not the bugs. I have an ongoing “understanding” with bugs after all, they stay out of my house and I stay out of their environment. Clearly, that doesn’t jive with my nature loving family, so I try encourage their bonding time with nature. Hopefully, they won’t inherit my severe distaste for creepy-crawlies.
We began homeschool last year with a nature study and explored our local park and backyard. Our park has a lovely path through wooded areas and around a large pond filled with fish and birds. Our yard is a bit less exciting, but we do have trees, flowers, and a plethora of bird houses which makes long-term and up-close observations easier (and more convenient).
After a full year of nature study, I’ve learned how to get the most out of our nature walks and backyard. So, if you are just beginning a nature study or want to spend more time outdoors with your kids, here are some tips to help you on your explorations.
Tip #1 – Pack a bag
There are few items that you may find helpful on your nature walks especially. While these are certainly not required items, they open your field of study to later discussion and research. Here is my go-bag contents: Magnifying glass, notebook, pencil/pen, camera, map, compass, and a small field guide.
These items will allow your child to take notes of anything interesting they discover, write down questions they want to look up later, get a better view of tiny insects, leaves, or bark, record pictures of discoveries to add to a journal, and identify animals and plants they find along the way. The field guide was especially well-received with my kids because they aren’t patient enough to wait until we got home to identify their findings.
Tip #2 – Choose Your Path Wisely
If your local park or woods are anything like ours, there are a number of walking paths throughout the area. Some lead in big sweeping circles, others wind around aimlessly. It’s important to keep in mind how long you anticipate your walk to take and the ages of the children you are exploring with. For example, if you have very young children or a limited amount of time, a shorter path is a wise choice.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing your path is to consider the goal of your nature walk. Are you hoping to see wildlife or plant life? Would your child prefer to explore areas with water or without? Keep safety in mind as well. Some paths may have difficult climbs or hazards that are not safe for younger children.
Tip #3 – Prepare to Potty
Yes, you read that correctly. I know, this is not an exciting aspect of nature walks, but realistically, it’s going to happen! Children do not have the same bladder control that we adults have, so keep in mind the location of restrooms or have a plan for potty stops while in the woods. Knowing how to deal with potty stops in nature is certainly helpful, but for little ones, it may be easier to locate the park’s restrooms and schedule in pit stops.
Tip #4 – Find Teachable Moments
For homeschoolers especially, teachable moments are a powerful tool for parents to encourage a child’s natural curiosity. While it’s certainly okay to do further research later with your child, taking advantage of their attention and interest in a topic in the moment is far more productive.
Some parks even have these fantastic plaques or signs with more information about the surrounding foliage or the history of the area. These are great resources for learning more about your area as well as nature itself!
Don’t worry! You don’t need to be a flora/fauna expert! That’s the purpose of the field guide (and Google on your smart phone). I typically use my smart phone as a last resort for info on the walks, however, because my children (like most) are easily distracted by screens and we tend to lose focus on our surroundings.
Tip #5 – Stop and Stare at the Bugs
While a leisurely walk through the woods sounds lovely, the reality is that your child/children will want to stop and examine many things along the way. Expect that this walk may have moments of running and resting, stopping to examine something new and fascinating, as well as ignoring other things just as fascinating. Allow your child to take the lead and determine the pace of your exploration. Hurrying a child along will only cause frustration for them and you, just as much as moving too slowly will initiate boredom.
If your child is hesitant to explore, point out interesting plants or animals that you spot along the way and they will likely join in, wanting to share their own discoveries with you. These observation skills are just as important as any lesson learned from a book, maybe even more so.
Tip #6 – Dress for Mess
As you might expect, stomping through the woods will likely lead to dirt. Not only on your children’s clothes, but also their shoes, bag, hair, hands, and face! Be sure your children are dressed in play clothing and are not wearing a ton of accessories than can easily get lost along the path. Finding a necklace or earring in the woods is a needle in a haystack situation that is best avoided.
Shoes should be comfortable for walking in (and my personal advice is to skip the sandals or open-toed shoes because…bugs). If you are concerned about the dirt, bring along a pack of wet wipes to sop up the worst of it.
Tip #7 – Hold on to Your Trash
An important lesson that your children should learn while out in nature is to respect the environment. Be sure to keep any trash in your bag to dispose of at the next trash can. Children learn best by the example set by the adults in their lives, so be sure to point out that littering not only looks trashy, but is also harmful to wildlife.
Tip #8 – Find Your Peace
Often times taking children anywhere in public can be stressful and exhausting, trust me I get it! However, when you are out on your nature walk, try to enjoy yourself as well. Watching your children’s curiosity flourish will help, but also breathe in that fresh air and study your surroundings. I find being in nature to be unbelievably peaceful and calming, even when I’m walking with my young children. Allow yourself to absorb some of that peace too. My husband often says that he loves to camp because being out in nature is so restorative and I have to agree.
Tip #9 – Share Your Plans
Not only should you invite others to join you, play-date style, but also advise someone where you are going and for how long. Whether it is your significant other, a friend, etc, just be sure to give an outside person the information, just in case of an emergency. Even in your local park, accidents do happen and occasionally people get lost. This is particularly true when the weather turns unexpectedly. So, have a back-up person that you can check-in with before and after your walk, just to be cautious.
I usually just send off a text to my husband or Mom, letting them know we are at the park walking and about how long we expect to be there. Then, when we finish, I’ll send another quick text that we are headed home. I find that little conversation eases my mind while we are exploring.
Tip #10 – Have Fun!
This is probably the MOST important tip of all. This is a great opportunity to bond with your children and with nature, creating memories and encouraging their growing minds to adventure and explore. Falling in love with nature is one of the best gifts you can share with your child. Leave the stress of everyday life at home and join in the discoveries that are bound to happen with so much beauty all around you.
I hope these tips were helpful to you and your family! Be sure to comment below if you think of any other tips that would benefit parents exploring nature with their children.