With entertainment and tech gadgets readily available, it’s not always easy to encourage your kids to get some fresh air. However, there are fun ways to get them excited about the outdoors.
Try luring them outside by adding a little flavor to your family hikes. Introduce your budding naturalists to the wonderful world of animal and plant identification. This is a great way to not only get you and your kids moving, but also to appreciate nature on a whole new level.
Here are some ideas to help you explore and learn about plants and animals while hiking with kids:
Have Book, Will Hike
When setting out on a nature hike that focuses on animal and plant identification, you want to bring a few items. Aside from snacks, water, and first aid supplies, add to your backpack a camera, binoculars, and a field guide (to identify plants or animals).
Search your local library or bookstore for guides on the types of plants to look for in your region. Nature-Watch has a comprehensive, kid-friendly list of books that make identifying animals and plants extra fun. Field guides are filled with colorful drawings or photographs—so even your youngest naturalist can identify flora and fauna without difficulty.
When hiking with kids, it’s a good idea to bring along some colored pencils and a nature journal. Nature journaling is an enjoyable activity for any outing like this. When your children record their observations through art, it fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature. Their journal could also serve as a hiking scrapbook where they can add photographs from different excursions or flowers and leaves that they press at home.
Who Goes There? Identifying Animal Tracks
Looking for animal tracks to identify is always great fun while hiking with kids. Once a track is found, match it to what you find in a field guide. You can also print an animal track identification guide from the Internet to bring along on your trek.
Another exciting activity to do while hiking is making a plaster cast of any animal prints your child discovers. Plaster casting will add a few more items to your pack, so you may want to do this while on a nature outing close to home—but the excitement your children will have in displaying their animal track casts in their bedroom is worth the extra effort!
Mindful Nature Observation
To help boost your children’s appreciation of the natural world, try a mindfulness exercise. When hiking in nature, encourage your children to observe all that is around them. Being mindful of your surroundings by using all of your senses helps ground you in nature, brings out your natural instincts, and broadens your capacity to learn and discover.
Simply call out one sense at a time, while your child quietly observes his surroundings with that sense for a few moments. What do you see? What do you hear? Smell? Feel? (Taste should be avoided here.)
When you see an interesting animal or plant, you both can apply your senses to that object. For instance, if you see a great horned owl, you can observe with sight and sound. For sage, you can feel it, look at it, and smell it, which will help you narrow down what type of sage it is with your field guide.
Through mindfulness, your children will lead their own way toward the magic and beauty of nature discovery. Tell us about your family’s hiking adventures by tweeting @TomsofMaine!
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.
Why It’s Good
Hiking with kids is a wonderful family activity and a great way to discover the abundant world of nature. Adding animal and plant identification activities while hiking can broaden your children's knowledge of nature and spark their enthusiasm for outdoor exploration.