Nature Walk

By Angela Zimmerman, Manager of Editorial Partnerships, Common Sense Media

Cold weather and short days making your family a little stir-crazy? Get the kids outside by turning a simple walk into an all-day adventure. Whether you have one child or are responsible for a larger group, kids of all ages will relish and remember this interactive adventure.

Categories: Active Play

Target age: 4 to 12 years

Skill level: Beginner

Materials: Stuff you probably have at home

Prep time: 1 to 30 minutes

What You’ll Need

  • sneakers or sturdy shoes
  • a backpack or knapsack
  • plastic baggies or collapsible container
  • ingredients for trail mix (nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, etc.)
  • bottles of water
  • sunscreen or raingear
  • crafting materials (construction paper, glue, glitter, paint)
  • smartphone with GPS tracking app
  • nature apps (optional)

The Activity

  • Pack a snack

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.

  • Load your device

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.

  • Bundle 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.

  • Find a trail and hit it

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.

  • Head home and recap

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!

Share a photo and win!

Share a photo of your family doing this activity in the comments on our Facebook post or on Twitter with #31DaysofPlay! Every Friday we’ll choose one photo from the week to win a Toca Boca Play Kit full of swag, stickers, and a $15 iTunes Gift Card.

About the Author

Angela Zimmerman, Manager of Editorial Partnerships, Common Sense Media

Angela is a lover of nature, music and books. She is expecting her first child in January, and looks forward to many baby nature walks. Common Sense Media is the nation’s leading independent non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology.