Monday, March 30, 2009

Nature Activities

I have got to say the beautiful weather of the past few weeks has started to make it harder to sit indoors and work, especially when the days are full of sunshine and warmth.  I can think of a thousand things to do outside on a spring afternoon, even raking pine needles to get some fresh air sounds therapeutic.  For those of us who live in the outdoors it seems natural to step outside, but I know when the city streets seem to fill your backyard instead of the mountain's forests, it can be hard to talk kids into getting out there.

Sanborn staff recently presented a session at the National American Camp Association Conference titled "101 Nature Activities."  Our goal was to help demonstrate how accessible the outdoors can be and that you don't need a lot of "stuff" to have fun outside.  Like Jane mentioned in her post,  April is Children and Nature Month, why not get out there and take advantage of what Mother Nature has to offer?  Here are a couple of quick activities to enjoy that will help to create a sense of wonder no matter how old you are.  They have been written to be used in a camp setting, but part of the beauty is taking them and adapting them to work anywhere: your backyard, a city park, or an open space nearby. 

Special Spots:  When out on a hike look for an area where children can spread out and find a Special Spot.  Explain to them that they will be "a giant" (think Horton Hears a Who) in their Special Spot, so they will need to inspect it closely to discover what is going on there.  When they enter their Special Spot, they will be entering a little community that already existed before they arrived, so it is important not to do anything which would disturb or damage their spot.  Look carefully at rocks and sticks.  What shapes are they?  Where do you think they came from?  what living things do you find? How do they depend on the non-living things in your spot?  What sounds or smells do you experience?  Take time to just be, to sit and take in the view.

FBI Hike: This fun activity can take place anywhere.  The FBI (Forest Bureau of Investigation) can also become the CIA (City Investigation Agency).  Kids are challenged to explore their environment to find evidence of criminal activity within the natural world.  Examples might include trees which are "littering" by carelessly scattering needles or leaves, birds "murdering" insects or worms, or squirrels kidnapping the "children" (seeds) of trees.  The possibilities are endless and can lead to discussions about food chains, interrelationships within the natural world and many other natural principles.  Investigators can use digital cameras to document the crime scene and make notes about the evidence they find.  At the end of the hike, the detectives make "Wanted" posters describing each criminal they uncovered.

Paint Chip Hike: Give each child a paint chip sample from a hardware store.  They can be all colors pinks, reds, greens, blues; they don't even have to seem like natural colors.  As you are hiking have the kids try to match their color with natural things they see like a purple flower or neon yellow lichen.

We would love to learn about any other great activities that help children gain an appreciation of the natural world around them, so let us hear what you have done and ideas you have.


  1. I like any activity considering different perspectives. Thinking of limited outdoor space, you can work in a small area. Sectioning off a portion of land or part of a tree talk to your child about an ant's point of view. How would that area look to a tiny ant? How does that area look at first glance to the child? How would that area look to a bird flying by? This is a simple activity, but allows your child to think in a different way and think about different perspectives. You can take the conversation beyond physically looking from a different perspective to a conversation about people's varying perspectives on life in general.

  2. Challenge young people around you to see the world around them and react to it in positive ways. Remember, getting into nature or simply getting outside with children does not have to be a big production. I've seen children make an imaginary bow and arrow from a bent stick or sail a dead tree like pirate ship or search for dragons around a pond. The outdoors is a never ending environment for imagination.

  3. Eighth graders from Manitou participated in programs at High Trails this week as we opened the school weeks season with a bang. Special spots are an important activity we use to 'Set the Mood' with students, raise sensory awareness and try to create a personal connection between the students and their natural surroundings. We ask students to write down their thoughts, and they create brilliant, emotional comments, that consistently, weekly reflect their comfort and sense of freedom in the woods. Here are a few things they wrote while sitting in a spring snowstorm at their special spots...

    "My perspective has changed since this morning about the outdoors. My mom says I don't get out enough, and I didn't realize why she wanted me getting outside more, but now I do, because the world is a great place."

    "A place where you can feel free to be yourself and have no worries. It makes you feel comfortable"

    "The open, quiet, peaceful, harmonious freedom of nature can teach a person many things about themselves."