Children and youth of today are spending more time in front of screens than they are playing outside. Summer camp is the exception and a great opportunity for kids to really connect with nature, breath in the fresh air and take part in active outdoor activities. Most times, an hour spent walking in the woods is adventure enough, but campers might need a little nudge to become engaged with nature. Here are some activities to help engage your campers on a nature hike:
Wildlife Scavenger Hunt
One of the coolest things of walking in a natural area is observing the variety of wildlife that call that area home. Your campers could encounter a squirrel collecting pine cones, a coyote race across the field or an osprey soaring above. Encourage them to look for animals and plants by having a wildlife scavenger hunt. The National Wildlife Federation provides a great Wildlife Hike Check-List that allows nature explorers to tally and describe the types of things they are seeing. Birds, mammals, insects, plants and fungi can all be tallied and described and you can have the campers draw what they saw on a separate piece of paper. At the end of the hike, ask the group what they saw the most of, what they saw the least of and what was everyone’s favourite.
Here is an example from the Wildlife Hike Check-List. Click here or the image to download the entire worksheet.
"Give Me Five" Game
This game is simple and doesn’t require any supplies. As you walk along, ask the campers to give you five items they see in a certain category. For example, you could say “Give me five different kinds of trees you see” and they have to work together to identify five different tree species, either by name or by just pointing them out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be items they can see. You can ask them to name five different types of birds that live in the area or five different mammals. Make it fun by adding some non-nature related items like “Give me five Star Wars characters” or “Give me five flavours of ice cream”.
Under the Microscope
Give each camper in the group a magnifying glass to take on the nature hike. As a group, find a fallen tree or turn over a big rock and then inspect it on your hands and knees with the microscope. Pretend you are all astronauts looking at this little world from far away. Ask them what they see. Is there anything crawling? Anything growing? Can they imagine living in this habitat? Then move on and ask the campers to look for a little habitat that might be different than the one you just observed. Allow the group to freely explore nature.
Benefits of Exploring Nature
Studies show that time spent outdoors connecting with nature has a positive impact on a child’s development. It can help them develop healthy attention spans, emotions, cognitive abilities, self control, social skills and problem solving skills. Children need the opportunity to explore the nature world, take part in unstructured play and learn more about the natural environment around them.