Inside: Practical nature walk tips and fun nature walk activities for families with toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age kids.
As a mom raising 2 young boys on a 300-acre residential summer camp, I’ve acquired many practical tips for taking kids on fun and educational nature walks. Because a healthy connection with nature boasts many social-emotional and physical health benefits, I’d like to share them with you!
Whether your family lives in a city and enjoys access to public parks and gardens or lives in a rural setting such as mine, making time for outdoor play every day is a lifestyle choice you won’t regret.
Related: Outdoor Play Ideas for Kids
What Do You Do on a Nature Walk?
Nature walks need no agenda! You can search for wildlife, plants, or geocaches. You can explore vernal pools, hunt for edible mushrooms, or collect colorful leaves.
Or, just stroll, breathe deep and enjoy the fresh air, weather, and sounds of nature.
What Should I Bring on a Nature Walk?
When you are going on a nature walk with kids, get everyone dressed appropriately for the weather! It is also helpful to have:
- Close-toed shoes (we love KEEN sandals in the summer)
- A backpack
- Water bottles
- Insect repellent and/or sunscreen
- Healthy snacks
- Travel first-aid kit
Tip: Keep a change of clothes and a towel in the car just in case your kids decide to play in mud or water!
Family Nature Walk Tips
In my twenties, I worked for the local YMCA as an outdoor educator. Leading groups of kids and adults on nature walks was part of my work day. Let me tell you, there is nothing more thrilling than watching a child’s eyes widen at the sight of a deer or seeing him catch a toad for the very first time!
So lace up those close-toed shoes and grab your favorite water bottle! Shared below are 5 of my best tips for enjoying meaningful and engaging nature walks with kids.
1. Invite Your Child to Lead
For the simple purpose of supervision, I prefer to have kids walking in front of me rather than behind me. More importantly, letting kids lead a nature walk builds confidence and decision-making skills while satisfying their innate curiosity.
If your child is a toddler, you may feel inclined to strap her into a backpack or all-terrain stroller. I would love to encourage you not to do so! If a child is in a stroller, she cannot stop to examine pine needles or gently touch lichen growing on a tree. When carried in a backpack, he may not notice the beetle crawling over a rotting log, or the stunning orange leaf in the middle of the path. There is so much for children to see, touch, smell, and discover on a nature walk!
Sure, you may not get very far while walking with a little one…but that’s okay! Allow your child to set the pace, and avoid hurrying her along.
2. Start a Nature Collection
Bring a bag and invite your child to collect interesting items that have fallen to the ground. Pine cones, bark, leaves, sticks, small stones, and seeds can all be saved and used for nature crafts.
We store our nature collection in a basket outside on the porch. Right now, there is even a small mammal skull in it!
3. Practice Mindful Listening
There is satisfaction in listening to the not-so-silent sounds of the forest. Mindful listening is being fully present and aware of yourself and the sounds around you. Through mindful listening, kids will notice and feel gratitude for the sounds of wind, birds, babbling brooks, leaves, and crackling twigs.
Try it: Invite your child to close their eyes, press their face towards the sun, and listen to the sounds of nature. What do they hear?
4. Say Yes to Mud
Kids and clothes are so very washable! And a little dirt helps build a child’s immune system. Say yes to mud squishing, puddle jumping, creek splashing, frog catching, and hill rolling. Let your child’s hair become wild and unruly and their cheeks pink and streaked with dirt!
5. Bring Your Camera
Photographs of kids in nature are incredibly touching and you won’t want to forget these moments with your family. Additionally, not everything your child finds on the nature walk can be brought home to their nature collection. Instead, consider snapping a picture as a keepsake.
Nature Walk Activities
Simple nature walk activities are fun and can help kids become more engaged in the experience. Shared below are some of our favorite ideas:
1. Create Nature Art
Pack small canvases and travel-sized tubes of green and brown paint. Invite your child to create camouflage art with paint, grass, leaves, dirt, and twigs. The paintings can dry in the sun while you enjoy lunch or explore a creek.
2. Collect Leaves for Stamping
Invite your child to collect interesting leaves, like tuliptree or sassafras leaves. Back at home, use those leaves to make colorful leaf-stamped shirts.
3. Build a Gnome Home
Building a gnome or fairy home sparks imagination and creativity! Best of all? All the supplies you need for this nature walk activity are found outdoors!
4. Make a Flower Crown
The moment you place a flower crown on your child’s head, they become king or queen and are swept into the magical world of imaginative play.
5. Play a Game
My young boys love to play the color match game, I Spy, and participate in nature scavenger hunts.
6. Build a Log Fort
Kids love to work with friends and siblings to build log forts. It’s so fun to see what they create!
Things to Look for on a Nature Walk
There is so much to see and discover outdoors! When I take kids on nature walks, some of the things we look for include:
- Deciduous trees
- Evergreen trees
- Pine needles
- Fruit, such as apples, pawpaw, blueberries, and black raspberries
- Edible plants, such as cattails, wild garlic, and dandelions
- Aromatic plants, such as wintergreen
2. Seeds and Nuts
- Pine cones
- Maple keys (helicopters)
- Milkweed pods
- Shelf fungi
- Slime molds
- Mammals, such as squirrels and deer
- Birds, such as hawks and woodpeckers
- Reptiles, such as turtles and snakes
- Amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders
- Insects, such as fireflies, ladybugs, and mantids
- Crustaceans, such as crayfish and pill bugs
5. Evidence of Animals
- Nests, such a bird and squirrel
- Cracked seeds or shells
- Munched leaves (leaves with holes)
- Spider webs
- Scat (wild animal droppings)
- Woodpecker holes
- Animal tracks
- Cocoons and chrysalids
- Beaver lodges
- Beehives and hornet nests
6. Evidence of Humans
- Trails and/or roads
- Trail markers
- Stone cairns
- Carved trees
- Vehicle tracks
- Litter (pick up and throw away)
- Geocaches or letterboxes
- Fairy homes
- Tapped maple trees
- Hunting and/or bird blinds
- Bird feeders
- Bat houses
- Shelters, forts, and tree forts
7. Geological Features
- Rocks and minerals
- Landforms, such as mountains
- Rivers, creeks, streams, and freshwater springs
8. Additional Ideas
- Rotting logs
- Ice and/or icicles
- Vernal pools
- Dew drops
- Sunsets and/or sunrises
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This post was originally published on September 21, 2012.