Nature is teeming with critters, noises, and small objects that pique children’s interest, making family hiking more exciting than ever. By sleuthing for outdoor surprises, parents can channel some of their children’s curiosity and give the trek a fun focus. Here are eight ideas for engaging your kids and making the most of a family hike.
1. Minerals and rocks.
The state’s numerous shorelines are a treasure trove for stone hunters. Learn which are abundant in the area before you go, and have each family seek out a few. Bring a small plastic container with dividers, a descriptive guide, and a magnifying glass to view the colors and layers.
2. Natural sounds.
Listen for bird and animal sounds. First, check your library for a DVD or CD of bird and wild animal calls. Take a recorder with you on your hike and record some of the sounds you hear. Listen at home and try to figure out “whodunit” with the help of the Internet and books.
3. Have some photo fun.
Capture the splendor of nature! Hiking trails offer numerous photo opportunities, and kids enjoy taking them. Plan what each family member would like to catch ahead of time, such as a massive oak tree, a monarch butterfly, deer tracks, or a nibbling squirrel. Put them in a nature scrapbook later.
4. Tree stories.
These natural giants have equally compelling stories to tell. Learn about trees’ life cycles and histories by searching the internet or borrowing books. To identify a tree on the trail, look for clues such as the shape of the tree’s leaves, the texture of its bark, and even its size.
5. Which way?
Help your kids become more independent explorers by instructing them to use maps, compasses, and the sun as navigational tools while out and about. Choose a trail system that provides maps and branches a little to help you develop those skills. Make a treasure hunt if possible: Hide a small prize off the trail, under a bush, or in a pile of leaves. Mark the location on your map and begin your journey.
6. Numerous animals.
Look for grassy clearings in wooded areas. If there’s a lake or stream nearby, keep an eye out for snakes, turtles, and geese. Look for chipmunks and squirrels chasing each other or gathering food, as well as birds of prey circling overhead and grazing rabbits and deer. Discuss what they eat, where they live, and how they are related to other species. Look for animal tracks as well.
7. Crawly things.
Scouting for insects is a childhood favorite. Bring an insect book, a clear container, tweezers, and a magnifying glass for a closer look. Keep a journal of the different types of insects you find. Learn about their defense strategies, such as changing colors to hide from predators.
8. Plant life.
Discover which varieties thrive in different soil types, climates, and seasons. Look for their seeds and learn about their differences. Discuss how seeds travel by blowing in the wind or catching on animal fur. Discover how certain plants have evolved natural defenses to protect themselves from predators.