Learn why you shouldn’t go on nature walks with your children, and what you should do instead.
What do you picture when you hear the words “nature walk”? Is it a woman in Edwardian clothing walking briskly down a country lane, taking deep power breaths through her nose? (“Ahhh… smell that country air!”)
An adult in jeans and tank top leading a small group of kids, clapping to get their attention, then pointing at a tree and saying, “Kids, look at the trees. Observe the coloring of the leaves.” (moment of silence while the kids look at the tree and try to figure out what they’re supposed to be noticing)
Then stopping after a few more steps to say, “Look at the flower over there. When we get home we’re going to draw it.”
And the kids smile lamely, wishing they were playing Plants vs Zombies 3?
I can’t imagine any thing more uninspiring to an energetic and rambunctious child. I get bored even thinking about it!
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(At a loss as to what to ask your kids when you’re outside to get them noticing the natural world? Download free “I Wonder …” questions from my Resource Library)
Never go on a nature walk
We go off trail. We get dirty. We get mud ground into the knees of our jeans. We get sticks and leaves and straw in our hair. We crawl through the bushes as we’re stalking small animals.
We are getting down on our bellies and looking at the ants pretending we’re a zoom lens. (Anyone else’s kids love insects?)
But we never, ever go on a nature walk.
What is a nature walk?
Dictionary.com defines nature walk as “a walk on a nature trail, especially with an experienced guide.”
What is a walk? It’s a stroll. It’s putting your feet one in front of the other. Your mind may be somewhere else and you’re just moving.
The purpose of a walk is to move, right? To advance or travel on foot at a moderate speed or pace. That’s the whole purpose of it.
It’s not to explore, it’s not to have fun, it’s to get from Point A to Point B. That’s what you do when you walk someplace.
So if I am not about to do a nature walk, then what do we do?
We don’t go on nature walks.
We go on adventures.
At a nature walk information is being lectured by the person leading the walk by the guide.
It’s not being discovered.
I have visions of a man wearing khaki shorts with binoculars and lifting those binoculars to his eyes while saying, “What ho! A rare black bellied whistling duck! Jolly good.”
Nope, not for me.
Adventures all the way.
We pretend we’re in the movie Swiss Family Robinson and we have to belly crawl up to the top of the hill so we can look out over the landscape and see where the pirates are coming up after us.
We stalk animals, we stalk pretend dragons. We go on quests to find elusive lizards. We see a bird or a mule deer or a desert cotton-tailed rabbit or a pterodactyl and we stop dead in our tracks.
And then we whisper, “Let’s go really really quiet now.”
And then we slowly, slowly, ever so slowly try to get closer.
We try to make no noise as we creep forward, slightly hunched over….
….putting our feet down deliberately but gently, one slow step at a time.
We pretend we’re in a Mission Impossible movie and we’re trapped behind enemy lines and we’re trying to get out.
How to go on a nature adventure
But you’re wondering, how do you actually do it? How do you switch from walking down the sidewalk and looking at the bushes while trying to get your 12-year-old to stop chatting with his buddy about his latest Lego mock-up of the Millenium Falcon?
First, seed them with great adventure shows.
Some great ones to start watching are I Shouldn’t Be Alive and Brave Wilderness on YouTube.
Anything to get into your kids that sense of adventure.
Pretend that you’re part of a book.
Pretend that you’re Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain.
Are these trees big enough to to make a home like he did? Why or why not?
Yeah, don’t actually say, “Why or why not?” or you’ll sound like a textbook. Just bring it into your discussion.
Use these nature adventures — and I wouldn’t even call them nature adventures, just adventures— use these adventures to get your kids excited about being out in nature.
Talk about, what we could use these sticks for. Could we use them to make a weapon? Could we use them as a walking stick?
If somebody got hurt, how could we use them to help? Could we use them to splint an arm?
Is this the kind of wood that we could use to start a fire with?
And when we get into questions like these, our kids start making connections.
They start making connections to not only the natural materials but what they can be used for. It drives them deeper right into that sense of adventure.
You can bring in primitive skills even, or bushcraft or woodcraft skills. You can bring in fire making, you can bring an edible plants, you can bring in medicinal plants.
You can learn more about the animals by noticing, “Oh, this plant right here has been bitten by something. What kind of animal do you think nibbled on the leaves?”
Download FREE “I Wonder…” Questions from the Resource Library to make nature study easy.
Use them when you’re out on your adventures as jumping off points. I fall back on these many times a week, sometimes using as is, sometimes using them to leapfrog to other questions.
And then you start talking about, “Ooh here’s the animal trail. Do you see how this is trampled down more than the surrounding area? If you were in a survival situation because you got lost, how could you use this information?”
Look really closely at those flowers. These leaves that you’ve belly crawled through because you’re looking out for those pirates. Are the leaves smooth or are they rough or sticky? What are the petals like? Are there a lot of petals in a ray or are they in a bell shape? What color are they? Are they a light purple? Dark purple? Striped purple?
And then when you go home, draw that plant that you could use to poison those pirates.
Or that you could use to heal the dragon.
When you bring the adventure, when you bring the storytelling to the kids, then it it imprints the experience on their minds so much more than if you’re just walking out for a stroll and saying, “Oh, look at that tree. Oh what a pretty flower.”
The next time you decide to go out on a nature walk, don’t.
Instead go on an adventure.
And see how different the experiences and see how the experience has changed.
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