Get outside and go for a walk. You don’t have to have a beautiful, remote natural area nearby to make it a nature walk. The urban forest is everywhere and is defined as any location where there are people, buildings and trees. Look out your window. Yup, you most likely live in a forest…the urban forest. Is there a tree? Then study the base of it or the bark and branches. You are sure to find some wildlife there. No trees? Even a vacant lot has wildlife. Lift up a piece of trash that has been there for a while and you are bound to see something harmless and interesting under it, like a roly-poly bug or an earthworm. This article will describe a variety of things you can do to make any walk a nature hike. It is free and you don’t need any special equipment.
Alphabet hike – This is an old favorite, but everyone always enjoys it. Start by trying to spot something with that begins with the letter “A”, like an ant. After you find something that starts with A, move on to B and so on. I sometimes skip the letters I and Z. If a letter is proving to be difficult, then you can allow the use of adjectives. For example, if nothing can be found with the letter V, find something that has a v adjective, like a Very pretty rock.
Rainbow hike – This is similar in style to the alphabet hike. Use the colors of the rainbow as your starting point. Remember the old mnemonic device ROY G. BIV to help recall the colors in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. I also sometimes get paint chip color cards from the hardware store and ask children to find something that matches one of the colors on the card. You can have them swap cards as you walk to keep it interesting.
Look Under Things- As you walk along, gently lift up things that are on the ground. Fallen logs are the best things, because many creatures live in, on and under them. Rocks are also great things to lift up. Just remember, whatever you lift up, you place back exactly as you found it. Also, this is a ‘looking’ activity. Don’t disturb animals or creatures that you find and don’t remove anything, unless you are carefully following the 20 to 1 rule, described below.
Shades of Green Hike – If it is not winter, this hike works well as a mini-collecting hike. Try to find as many different shades of green as possible by the end of the hike. You may want to bring a little sack along for holding the items you collect. I usually do a group collection rather than each person doing their own individual collection. I often ask children to predict how many different shades we will be able to find. It is fun to see if there were any correct guesses. When collecting for this, model the correct collecting method by following the 20 to 1 rule. That is, if you see 20 of something, you can collect one of it. So, if you see 20 leaves on a twig, you can collect 1 leaf. If there are 40 leaves, then 2 leaves, etc. This goes for any species, plant or animal. It shows the children how to study nature without harming it. Whenever possible, return the object you collected back to the exact spot from which you gathered it.
Counting hike – This one can become a bit tricky as you get towards larger numbers, but by now you get the drift. You will start by spotting one of something. Then you move on to spotting two of the same thing, then three of the something and so on. When you get to really large numbers, don’t forget you can use the number of branches or buds on a tree or pebbles in a pile,etc.
Get this book online or from your library.
I spy hike – This is the classic I Spy game, just played outdoors. The adult leader can start the game by picking something and saying, “I spy something…” and then give a clue about the object. I sometimes combine this with a game of 20 questions, allowing the children to ask 20 questions about the item I spy. As a bonus, if I have picked something difficult and they figure it out, I sometimes tell them ahead of time that I will do a cartwheel if they guess it. You don’t have to do a cartwheel, but telling them you will do something unexpected if they guess it really improves group participation!
5 senses hike – I like to read the book The Listening Walk by Paul Showers before a hike of this type. Most public libraries have a copy of it. The point of this hike is to get children to use their senses to notice things. Talk about the five senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, touching and tasting before you go. You can pick one to highlight or use all five. I especially like to use the sense of smell, as many children have never stopped to smell a rock or a leaf. Listening is especially good during the winter, as sound travels well through leafless trees. Be careful and consult an expert if you decide to use the sense of taste on your walk.
Simon Says – This one is great if you have a very active group or if you just want your group to be active. Start off with the adult leader saying that the Simon Says hike is all about doing what the leader does and there won’t be any tricks to it to confuse the followers. The leader will walk along normally, then all of the sudden, might say something like “Simon Says hope over this fallen log on one foot”. Do this sporadically throughout the walk to keep them interested and on their toes. You can vary the difficulty of the tasks depending on the age of the children. Boys especially seem to like this sort of hike, especially if they feel they have to stretch their abilities. My all time favorite Simon Says hike involved asking children to jump over a small stream. Most of them didn’t think they could. They all made it!
I have taken children on nature walks in the middle of very urban areas. Even while walking with youth through government housing projects, where even the residents think nature doesn’t exist, I have found many living things to fascinate the youngsters. If you suggest to your children that you are going to go on a hike them, they will likely be intrigued, especially if it is not something you generally do together. Children of all ages will enjoy any special effort you make to spend time with them. So, get outside and participate in nature’s best free activity!
To purchase lessons for grades k-3 to go with this hike, visit http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Nature-Walk-In-Your-School-Yard-886589