Asking your kids if they want to go for a walk might be met with a groan. But asking them if they want to go on an adventure might have them running for their shoes. Although their imaginations can keep them busy on a simple stroll through the local woods, adding some fun activities while they’re walking might have them asking if they can go every day.
Ages 1 to 4
They might be in a carrier or a stroller but that doesn’t mean young children can’t learn as they’re being toted around. Since they’re building their vocabulary at a rapid pace, it would be beneficial to point out objects and repeat the name and the sound the letters make in the word. For a tree, you could repeat the t, r and e sounds and also identify other objects in your surroundings that start with the same letter – trail, tall, tiny and so on. Have your kids repeat after you so they can practice their enunciation skills.
Ages 5 to 9
Before you leave the house, make a nature scavenger list for the kids (the adults will most likely get in on it too!) Have them look for pine cones, flat rocks, leaves that have fallen off of trees, wildflowers (not picked), bird feathers, moss, something square, something rough, something red, a type of seed or add your own criteria. Going on the hunt for a list of items will encourage kids to run, climb, see and feel. They will hardly notice how long they’ve been walking.
Ages 10 and up
You can get more detailed with older kids. They may want to take part in the scavenger hunt but the quiet of the woods can also trigger their imaginations and turn them into story tellers. When my girls were little, we used to walk on a trail near our house that had a tall, wide tree stump. It looked like a fairy house and we would always stop to examine it. We made up a family of fairies that lived there and each time we visited we would talk about what the fairies might be doing if they were cooking, sleeping, gathering food, having a party and so on. The fairies had names and they left notes for my girls at night. They had different coloured hair, unique features and always wore certain hues of sparkly dresses. Every time we visited the stump the fairies’ lives became more detailed and their characters more developed. Many times the fairies were the basis of creative writing projects at school.
A hike or casual walk in the woods doesn’t have to be a plodding exercise. Look around, smell, and touch your surroundings and encourage your kids to do the same. As their appreciation for nature grows so can their developmental skills in many areas. Maybe there are some nature conservation organizations in your area. We have a salmon hatchery in ours. Many environmental protection organizations have very kid-oriented divisions – encourage your kids to join!