When I grew up, the second we woke up we went into the woods and didn’t come back until the street lights came on. We taught ourselves how to climb a tree, build a fort, we caught frogs and snakes, and we were true explorers.
My fondest memories are the ones of me and my brother out adventuring. We would pretend we were raised by wolves and even made sure to bring toilet paper for when we had to go to the bathroom. (I was serious when I said we really didn’t leave until the street lights came on.)
Those are the memories I want my kids to have. I want them to feel like they are one with Mother Nature like I did. We didn’t worry about technology and we made up our own activities as we went and it never got old or boring.
Most kids these days don’t want to spend their time outside. They get bored and they’d rather play on their tablets, watch TV or spend life on their phones. To get them outdoors, they need a push in the right direction – a fun game may just be what they are looking for. It has certainly worked for us!
It doesn’t have to be complicated either. For example, on a recent hike we used a nature journal to inspire some fun!
The morning before the hike we made our nature journal out of construction paper, twine and added our own personal cover. My three year old son Lorenzo got really excited about making his journal and for us to document all of our nature finds. He wasn’t complaining about not watching T.V. – he couldn’t wait to get out the door and start exploring.
For this hike, we chose one of our favorite places – a trail at the Retzer Nature Center near were we live in Wisconsin. The kids know this trail like the back of their hand and headed straight for the trail entrance. Our hikes usually consist of free play and exploring but today I wanted to mix it up and do a little learning and exploring with the nature journals we made.
We brought some letters in our backpack and I went around and hid ones that spelled out words that correlated with the object it was placed on. Lorenzo was eager to use his magnifying glass and find the words. When he came up to the tree he saw the letters and knew the word started with a T. He caught on very quickly and knew it spelled TREE.
As soon as he figured that one out he ran off with huge excitement to find the next word. He came up to PINE spelled out next to a big pine branch that had fallen on the ground. He instantly blurted out “that says pine”! He couldn’t have been more excited!
He then went off on his own and started naming the things he knew and we worked together to figure out the first letter of the object and how to spell it.
My daughter, Halona (17 months), was more interested in the backpack. She pulled out the tambourine (doesn’t everyone carry a tambourine?) and started hitting it. Lorenzo heard the fun noise and decided he also wanted to play, so he found a stick and joined in on the fun.
The stick he found was perfect; it had some pine needles on the tip which made some interesting noises. We sang some songs, danced a little and the most important part: we had a blast!
On our hike we gathered a few items Lorenzo found interesting and we documented them in our nature journal. We then read it at the end of the day and talked about our hike and all our fun finds. This led to a detailed conversation about where each piece came from and what exactly they were.
This is just one of many outdoor learning activities; with a little imagination you can come up with endless ideas that will make the outdoors an exciting and fun place for those little ones.