Before you hit the great outdoors, get the kids involved in the packing and prep work. DIY trail mix is fun, fast and easy to make. Ingredients like dried cranberries or raisins, M&Ms or chocolate chips, pretzels, nuts and sunflower seeds are all great for mixing. Let the kids choose the ingredients (balance out the chocolate as needed!), mix it all up in a bowl, then divvy it out into individual baggies or containers so each intrepid hiker gets their own stash to nibble along the way.
If you’re taking a smartphone along, in addition to a GPS tracking app, consider downloading a few nature-focused apps that kids can explore with on their walk. Some recommendations, with reviews from Common Sense Media:
Plum’s Photo Hunt: Kids get missions to capture photos in nature and share in a safe environment. Age 7 and up.
Leafsnap: Kids collect and identify leaves with the help of this app. Age 8 and up.
Project Noah: Kids help document Earth’s biodiversity with this crowd-sourced nature collection. Age 10 and up.
Dress according to the weather and consider your terrain. Load up on sunscreen (or rain gear), dress the kids in layers, wear comfy, stable shoes, fill up some water bottles, and you’re good to go. Give each kid a paper bag or carton to tote a take-home treasure they’ll pick up along the way.
Pick a reasonable distance for the age you’re taking out. A loop is best so you don’t have to backtrack. Hit record on a GPS tracker, like Strava, so you can map your terrain and distance. Whether you’re embarking on an urban hike through different neighborhoods and a local park or traipsing into the forest, there is plenty of nature to behold, even on a barren winter day.
Wind through the scenery and marvel in the different landscapes. Circle a pond. Walk under a weeping willow tree. Stroll by a mural. Take breaks often and ask the kids to talk about (or write down) their observations. Have each kid pick up an item of interest, be it a pinecone, a rock or an interesting leaf. Of course, make sure you know what poison oak and ivy look like, and make sure the kids don’t pick any protected flowers — or animals.
Once you get back, show the kids your route and how far you walked. One mile? Two? More? However far you ambled, kids will delight in the digital evidence of the journey. Then break out the construction paper and glue, and have the kids create a piece of art using their item or write a story about their adventure. Turn a pinecone into an ornament with glitter and some string; transform a rock into a pretty paperweight using acrylic paints. They make great Christmas gifts!