Making Family Walks Fun: Seven Ideas to Get Creative on a Family Walk
By Tirzah Weiskotten
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, and after my family has been stuck inside all week, we are craving some outdoors time. But sometimes it’s difficult to convince my toddler that it’s time to explore outside, especially when he’s comfortably playing inside. When he’s resistant, I try motivating him with a few games, remind him of the things we might see and promise lots of fun. So when we do get outside, I want to make sure our walks are engaging, safe and fun for everyone. Here are seven simple tricks that turn a family nature walk into an enjoyable adventure for everyone:
1 Start with a game. Consider games as pump-up activities that motivate your family. Games can be super simple! If you’re on a trail, see who can spot the trail markers first. If you’re walking around your city block, see who can spot the fire hydrants first. Scavenger hunts are easy to make and can last throughout the walk. Check out the Nature Cat Scavenger Hunt and the Ruff and Smooth Scavenger Hunt for ideas. Or challenge your family to a Nature Photo Scavenger Hunt, which doubles as a fun way to document your walk together.
2 Let nature be your guide. Once your family gets moving, look for things in nature to keep you going. My son and I look out for logs to balance on and rocks to jump over. These items create a natural obstacle course that helps my son work on his observation and balancing skills. They also give me the opportunity to ask my son questions: How did the log land on the ground? How many rings does the log have? What might live in the log? When we come to a fork in the trail, I often let my son choose the direction he’d like to go in. This allows him to build skills in making choices and setting preferences—it’s also fun for me to see what he chooses. Another way to do this is to explore nature on a walk by selecting one natural object to follow and find together.
3 Use your senses. While there’s usually a lot to see on a nature walk, there are many opportunities to explore by using other senses, too. To practice listening skills, we stop when I hear a bird chirping. I ask my son to stop moving and close his eyes. Then I ask him to tell me what he hears—maybe it’s the bird, or maybe it’s the wind blowing in the trees instead. With your child’s eyes closed, ask him to smell something or to feel something in his hand. Playing sensory games together is a great way to engage with your child.
4 Sneak in some science. A family nature walk is a great time to try some simple science activities with your child. Encourage curiosity and observation skills by “capturing” a small section of ground space with a string or by drawing a circle with a stick. Examine the natural objects and living creatures that are in the space you “captured.” How many rocks do you see? Are there any bugs? What kind of bugs? Is the dirt dry or is it wet? Collect natural objects that have fallen on the trail or sidewalk to continue the fun at home with balancing or matching games and making art with nature.
5 Take a break. At some point during a walk, I like to find a clearing, an empty picnic table or a clean spot on the sidewalk to sit and relax together. We pull out a snack, sip our water, and talk about what we’ve seen. By taking a moment to reflect together, my three-year-old is learning how to tell stories and remember the experience. We also do other things on our breaks, like play tag, red light green light or hide and seek—anything to burn some extra energy in preparation for nap time. Older kids may want to take this time to make notes in a wildlife journal to help keep track of what they’ve seen.
6 Reserve some activities for the way back. To get my family’s energy going again after a break, we play follow-the-leader games, such as marching like ants, leaping like frogs and flying like birds. I also pick up my pace and walk ahead of my son, allowing for moments of energy bursts from him to “catch up with mommy.” Continue encouraging curiosity by pointing out things you didn’t notice before and ask your child to point out landmarks they recognize from before.
7 Make it a habit. When you get home from the nature walk, talk about it. Ask your child about what he did and saw on the walk. Find out what he would like to do next time. Perhaps there was a part of the trail that was difficult for your child that he’d like to try again. Or maybe there was a bird that he’d like to get a closer look at next time. Check out the PBS Nature Cat’s Great Outdoors App to get ideas for activities to do during your next adventure. Play Nature Cat’s Adventure and Nature Art Box with your child to continue building his interest in the natural world. #
For more information visit pbskids.org.