Engaging young naturalists

Nature walks and science journals are creative ways to get children interested in nature.

To engage young naturalists, bring a notebook to use as a science journal. Be observant and record the child’s ideas or let them draw pictures or practice their writing skills in their journal about what they see, smell, feel and hear. Doing so will also provide insight about what they’re thinking about and interested in.

While science journals can be used in any outdoor activity, they are extremely fun and valuable on nature walks. Nature walks can be easy, inexpensive and can happen anywhere. Simply observing the things children see on the walk makes it a lesson in conservation.

At a restaurant parking lot or driving down the highway, ask the child what they see. If they observe garbage, ask them why they think picking up garbage is important and why someone put it on the side of the road versus a garbage can. Nature walks do not have to be a fact finding mission trip that they will probably not remember.

Some ways to make nature hikes even more engaging:

  • Get paint samples from the local paint store and have your child find something in nature that is a similar color (e.g., green, blue, yellow or red).
  • Ask them to find something that feels smooth, prickly, hard or soft.
  • To help build an early foundation in math, ask them to find a leaf as big as their hand, a tree as tall as them and you, and a flower as long as their finger.
  • Look for animal signs including fur, tracks, rubbings on trees and, of course, droppings.
  • Reading books or listening to animal sounds before and after a nature walk can be very helpful to young children. Reference books are particularly engaging.
  • If possible, give each child a magnifying glass to be nature detectives.
  • Be a good role model and have your own nature journal. A child that sees you writing in your own journal will see that it is important

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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