If you’re looking for summer enrichment activities but want your children to spend more time outside, check out these nature walk ideas for kids. They’re great ways for the whole family to enjoy the outdoors while still learning.
Summer Enrichment Activities Kids Can Do Outside
Nature Walk Activities to Learn Local Animals and Plants
Nature walks are the absolute best way to learn about the plants and animals that live in your area, and simply identifying the different birds, trees, and flowers that you see as you go can make for an enjoyable and educational walk. The activities below take the walk a step further to give you ideas for how to turn the walk into a game, craft project, and more.
By turning your walk into a scavenger hunt, identifying the different plants and animals becomes a game and a competition. You can keep it simple by making a list of the names of the different plants and animals that will count for the day’s walk, and whoever sees the highest number of them will win. With today’s technology, you can have the kids take a picture of each one so that you can check their answers!
Here are some ideas for items to put on your lists:
- Animals (Cardinal, crow, prairie dog, snake, turtle, pancake turtle, tarantula, mammal, reptile – you can be very specific or very general. Don’t forget options like predator, prey, insects that look like leaves, water bugs, nocturnal, carnivore, omnivore, and herbivore. Any way to categorize or describe an animal can become a part of the hunt!)
- Tracks (Since you won’t always see many animals, it’s nice to also include their tracks, and it’s extremely fun for kids to look for them and recognize them, especially in places with creek beds where animals are likely to leave tracks when getting a drink.)
- Dens & Nests (Knowing where different animals live may not only help them in school but can also make them more aware of where dangerous animals may be, which can keep them safer.)
- Trees (Trees are also common to suburban areas and cities, so you can do scavenger hunts without leaving your neighborhood or even your yard.)
- Rocks (Don’t ask me why, but many kids love finding rocks. When it comes to rock collecting, you can ask for types of rocks [sedimentary, igneous, etc.] or specific kinds like limestone, quartz, or mica.)
- Plants (Identify plants by their blooms, their leaves, or even their seed pods. In fact, you could ask for a specific part of a flower like a pistil or stamen as well as the type of flower. This lets the challenge grow with the kids. This category is also a good way to make sure they know plants not to touch – like poison ivy or cacti!)
This nature walk game is especially good for larger numbers where you can split up into multiple groups of children and adults. That way each group can go to a different area and see different things!
Nature is full of items that are perfect for crafts for kids. They can gather useful bits on their walks and then come home and use them as crafts. There are even crafts that kids can do while on the walk, and if you identify the parts they use or draw, they’ll learn at the same time.
Here are some nature art project ideas:
- Take a drawing break during a walk (Pack a drawing pad and some pencils, oil pastels, or charcoals, and you’re good to go! And the result provides a nice memory of the walk, too.)
- Make a cast of an animal track (All you need is a little plaster of paris, water, time for it to cure, and a plastic baggie to carry it back in. They even sell kits. Just make sure not to leave any trash behind!)
- Bark rubbing (Bring paper and crayons and do rubbings of the tree bark of different trees. This can help students learn to identify trees by their bark.)
- Leaf rubbings or stamps (Collect some leaves and use them for rubbings with crayons and paper. Or brush them with paint and use them as stamps.)
- Flower or leaf preserving (You can dry them by hanging them or closing them in books.)
If gathering items like leaves or flowers, remember not to take anything from a state or national park unless their rules allow it (They almost never do.). Look around your own yard or neighborhood for supplies instead!
Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with the plants and animals native to your area! You can get books from your local library or check out the visitor center for your nearest state or national park. There are also plenty of resources online to help you get started (like pre-made scavenger hunt lists with pictures).
Nature Walk Activities That Help Other Subjects
While learning about nature is a great advantage of a nature walk activity, you can also use them to explore other topics.
Creative Writing: Story Walks
One of the biggest struggles for the modern student is imagination, an essential requirement for creative writing. This game merges a walk with the realm of make-believe in a way meant to strengthen problem-solving skills and mental flexibility.
- Set up a scenario (Are you journeying through a magical forest with a message for the King? Are you lost in the mountains after a terrible storm wrecked your plane? In the beginning, you may need to make a scenario for your children, but later, encourage them to come up with their own.),
- Continue the story as you walk, and
- Make sure the story reacts to new objects and creatures that you see. (If you come to a river, how does it play into the story? Is the bridge safe, or are there trolls beneath it?)
Stories need to have conflict, but on your walk, the conflict can be completely imaginary and exaggerated. A trickle of water could be a flood, an eagle could by a hungry griffin, and a lizard could be a dragon sent by your archnemesis. Even plants can be enemies or allies. Anything is possible so long as everyone is having fun!
Science & Art: Fossil Hunting
Fossils are a fun way to explore geology and historic creatures. Areas with limestone and other sedimentary rocks are often great places to look for fossils, and some areas will even allow you to collect them and bring them home. You can check online for locations that cater to fossil hunters in your area.
Additionally, if you’re not allowed to take the fossils with you, bringing paper and crayons will let you make a fossil rubbing that you can bring home instead.
History: Exploration, Landmarks, & Travel
Natural landmarks and formations played a major role not only in how our lands were settled but also in how people traveled and developed trade. Considering and discussing these ideas on a walk can make history more real and memorable to students.
Here are some talking points:
- Why do you think most settlements were by water?
- How would you cross this river if the bridge weren’t there already?
- How far do you think you could walk in a day? How many days would it take you to get to the nearest town by foot?
- Why do you think people wouldn’t have traveled often once they found a home?
- What do you think it would be like to move a wagon across this area?
- How do you think people knew which way they were going? How did they keep from getting lost?
- How would you get food if there’s no one but you and nowhere to buy it? How would you know what was safe to eat?
- What happens if you run out of something like flour?
- What if you wear out your clothes? Where do you get new ones?
The more the children are able to imagine themselves in the situations faced historically, the more interested and curious about it they’re likely to get. Which means they might follow up with questions you don’t know the answer to, and you know what? That’s great!
With all of these exercises, it’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. Let your kids look them up when you get home. You can even have them research before you go and help you set up the nature walk activities themselves. The more involved they are, the more they’ll learn, and the more fun they’ll have.
Does your family have any other nature walk activities? How do your kids like to learn outdoors?
Author: Elizabeth F., Writer and Teacher at A Grade Ahead