How To Plan A Family Nature Walk
Nature is amazing and wherever you live, it’s happening all around you, all the time. But, in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it can be all too easy to overlook the details. If it’s been a while since you and your family have really paid attention to the trees, plants, flowers, insects, animals and birds in your area, it’s time to pack up a few essentials and head out on a nature walk.
On Your Marks . . .
First things first, you need to decide where your nature walk is going to take you. To some extent, this will depend on the age of your children and how far they’re able, or happy, to walk. You could either go somewhere you know – your local park or a nearby wood – or look a bit further afield to find somewhere new and interesting. Don’t forget to take a map, either paper or on your phone, if you’re planning to explore an unfamiliar spot.
Get Packed . . .
Get your kiddos prepared and excited by helping them pack a bag or rucksack to take on the walk; something which leaves their hands free for investigating is best. Try to keep it light (you know you’ll end up carrying it yourself, otherwise), and include a notebook, a pen or pencil, a small glass jar with a lid, a bottle of water, an airtight container and an optional snack.
Strap on a pair of comfortable shoes, grab a waterproof jacket and you’re ready to set off.
ON THE TRAIL
Use Your Senses
Try looking at nature from a variety of angles. Stand right under trees and look up at the patterns made by leaves and branches, (carefully) peep into holes or through hollow logs, crouch down and look under rocks or plants to see what’s happening on the ground.
Listen to the sounds of nature. These will change depending on the time of year and where you are. Older children might like to write down or record what they hear. If there are bird calls, you can use an app (or the internet when you get home) to try and identify which birds they belong to.
What can you smell? Always being careful where you put your nose, try sniffing flowers, plants and the air around you. Notice how different it smells if you’re in a shady wooded area, an open field, or next to a stream.
Again, you need to be careful what you touch, but feeling nature can help children learn about textures. Look out for things like gnarled tree trunks, or compare smooth shiny leaves with rougher, hairy plants.Again, you need to be careful what you touch, but feeling nature can help children learn about textures. Look out for things like gnarled tree trunks, or compare smooth shiny leaves with rougher, hairy plants.
If you’re lucky, you might spot wild berries, nuts or mushrooms in the woods. You obviously shouldn’t eat anything unless you’re certain it’s safe, but if you are, foraged snacks can really add to the experience.
As a general rule of thumb, try not to disturb anything you find growing on your nature walk. You’re probably ok to pick the odd wildflower, but don’t pull leaves from trees or plants. Instead, encourage kiddos to collect things which are lying on the ground. Look out for interestingly-shaped fallen leaves, acorns, pinecones, conkers and even shells or rocks. Store them in the plastic container you bought along so they can have a proper look at them when you get home.
Interested in insects? If you have a keen bug-hunter on board, encourage them to look under logs and leaves, on flowers and around tree trunks to see what types you can find. If you spot one, try and scoop it into a jam jar to get a closer look. How does the insect move? Does it make a sound? How is it suited to living in the place you found it? Carefully let it go after a few minutes and if you moved logs or leaves to find it, remember to put those back as they were, too.
Add some crayons to your packed supplies before you set off, and you can then use them to make bark or leaf rubbings. Place some paper from your notebook over the tree or leaf, rub gently with the side of a crayon, and watch the texture pattern appear. As well as being fun for children, this is a great bit of nostalgia for parents who did the same thing back in primary school.
If there’s a lake, river, stream or brook along the route of your walk, this can add an extra layer or interest. Make sure you don’t get too close to the edge – even shallow water can be dangerous – but do enjoy the different kinds of plants, animals and insects which gather near water.
If you’re going somewhere with lots of trees, take a flexible tape measure and have a go at working out how old some of them are. Wrap the tape measure around the tree trunk – depending on size, this may be a job for two people – and make a note of the measurement. As a rough guide, a tree grows 2.5cm each year, so divide your measurement by that number to give you an idea of how long it’s been standing there. For example, if a tree measures 80cm around the trunk, 80 ÷ 2.5 = 32, so it’s probably about 32 years old.
Do It Again
If you and your fellow explorers enjoyed the walk, why not do it again in a few months’ time? As well as finding new and different things to enjoy, they’ll also start to develop a sense of how nature changes from season to season throughout the year.