Looking for a totally unplanned outdoor activity that you and your kids can do at the drop of a hat? Go for a nature walk in the neighborhood. Picture this: the kids are out of school and they’re bored. What’s this? Could it be that they’re tired of the 7 ½ hours daily that they spend on electronic media? Well, tell them to put on their shoes and head out the door and down the street. When’s the last time they went for a walk in the neighborhood? When’s the last time you went for a walk in the neighborhood?
When our pet desert tortoise got loose, I asked my grandson to help me look for him. “He couldn’t have gone far,” he said. “After all, he is a tortoise.” I didn’t want to tell him how much ground these animals could really cover. So off we went, combing the neighborhood, yard by yard.
You don’t need a planned hike route with designated interpretive stops. Just walk! If the weather’s hot, it will be a short walk. During the rest of the year, you can go a little further and become more explorative. Explore nature – look for tracks and other signs of wildlife. Look at plants and the life they hide within their stems and leaves. What flowers are blooming right now? Do they provide food for insects or animals? Has something been chewing on the plants? Are there seeds that birds could eat? What happens when animals eat? Kids love to discover scat. Ask them if they think it’s from a domestic or wild animal. Throw some trivia in and tell them how to tell herbivore scat from carnivore scat. Plant-eaters leave neat little pellets and meat-eaters leave long strands of meat, fur, feathers, etc. Now you can challenge them and ask what an omnivore’s scat might look like. If you’re averse to the Cocoa Puff or granola bar analogy, just go by shape and texture. Grossed out yet? Most likely your kids won’t be. Also check gravel areas for scratchings. Does it look like an animal could have bedded down in the bushes? Are there nests in the trees? What other signs of wildlife can they see? Evidence of the four components of habitat – food, water, shelter, space – lets you know that wildlife might be around.
Now ask the kids if they see anything around that could harm wildlife. Before you go out the door, grab a plastic bag to throw trash in. Picking up litter helps kids develop a sense of neighborhood pride and ownership and starts to build environmental ethics.
Hopefully, when you come back from your walk, the kids will have used up some energy and will be ready for some quiet time. If they’re not, have them journal their discoveries with writing and drawings. They could even make a landscape map of their block. After you’ve savored your time together in the outdoors, it’s time to relax!