As part of the national Children and Nature Awareness Month, we wanted to share some extra special outdoor activities that you can do with your friends and family to get you outside and enjoying the spring weather in your neighborhood. A great thing to create, and to bring with you to camp, is a nature journal or sketchbook. If you start collecting all of your experiences (and a feather, cool leaf, and pressed flower or two) in a journal, then you will have a great record of seasonal changes, observations, and all of the outdoor fun you experienced in 2010.
Using our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) is a great way to interact with the natural world and to learn and experience things you have never noticed before. And, in spring, the natural world is coming alive again…so you should get out and enjoy it!
Think of every walk outside as a Five Senses Hike. Be mindful of not only what you see, but what you can hear, smell, feel — even (with caution) taste!
Here are a few activities that will help you use your senses while you are outside this spring:
- Nature Journal or Sketchbook
- 100 inch piece of string
- A day pack with everything you need for a fun afternoon outside (just like at camp!): water bottle, sunscreen, warm layer/rain layer, and wear sturdy shoes!
Hike up to the top of a hill, or anywhere you can find a view and see how far you can see. Can you see a distant mountain range, a far-away hill, a tall building downtown, a really tall tree? How many miles away is that particular place/object? Bring a nature journal to jot down ideas about distance, and to sketch an image of what you are seeing. When you get home, look up that place/object using Google Earth, or pull out a map with the features/intersections you could see. Did you underestimate or overestimate the distance?
Before you head home, though, pull out your 100 inch piece of string and find an interesting natural area. Place the string on the ground and explore the area along the string very carefully. Look for signs of animals, birds, or insects; distinctive characteristics of any plant along the trail; texture of soil or sand; different colors, etc.. Record your findings in your nature journal.
By closely examining a very small area, one can discover wonders which otherwise might be overlooked. Shrinking our field of perception often adds to our awareness. Now think about how far you could see when you were up high, and how much you saw when you were down low. How much more of the natural world would we appreciate if we just took time to see near, far, and everywhere in between?
Do You Smell What I Smell?
- An imaginative, descriptive mind
- Your nose
Take a walk focusing your sense of smell on the nature around you. What does the bark of the trees in your neighborhood smell like? (We think Ponderosa Pine tree bark—which grow at camp—smells like vanilla or butterscotch) What do different plants, flowering trees/bushes, or grass smell like? Why do different things have different smells?
Once you have descriptions for the smells around you—have a smell scavenger hunt with your friends and family—see if they can find a “plant that smells like a skunk” or “a flower that smells like peaches.” Creating the descriptions will be almost as fun as finding the correct natural object!
- Nature journal/sketchbook
- Colored pencils
- Attentive ears
Take a walk to a park or local open space—find a comfortable, special spot in the outdoors (if possible, have some of your friends sit in an open meadow, others down in the trees and bushes, and others still near a stream or water). Sit quietly and listen for birds, grasses, and other sounds in nature for 10 minutes. As you listen to each distinct sound, think about what that sound “looks” like. What color is it? Is it a smooth, wavy, or rough sound? Is it loud or soft? Once you have an idea what the sound looks like, use your colored pencils to draw a picture of each of the different sounds you hear. After your ten minutes of listening and drawing, create a “key” for the sounds you heard at the bottom of your sketch.
Bag of Rocks
- Rocks of different sizes, shapes, textures collected from the outdoors
- A cloth bag big enough to reach into
- A heightened sense of touch
Head outdoors and find a collection of different rocks. Have each person in your family, or each of your friends, chose a rock and “get to know it”. How does it feel? How many sides does it have? What color is it? Does it have any marks on it? Is it heavy or light? Then have everyone put their rock into a bag. Mix up all of the rocks. Each person must reach into the bag and attempt to find their rock WITHOUT using their sense of sight. How easy is itto find a particular rock? How is one rock different from another rock? How does your sense of touch compare to your other senses?
Oh The Wonderful Things Mr. Brown Can Taste
- Edible plants field guide
- Adventurous adult
- A sophisticated palate
Remember the “5 Second Rule”? or the phrase, “God made dirt, so dirt won’t hurt?” Though we do not recommend eating plant material or other items found in the natural world…there are certain things you can taste—and see ifthey taste like they smell! (To make sure you aren’t tasting anything that could make you sick—check out a book on edible plants in your area—and never, ever, ever bite or taste a mushroom.)
Things you can bite, taste, lick in the outdoors:
- Honeysuckle flowers and nectar inside
- Pine tree sap
- Juniper berries
- Wild onions
- Tree bark
- Herbs like sage or rosemary
- Grass (chew on the base and the leaf parts)
- And, if you are brave enough, you can lick an ant…it tastes like lemon!
After using all of your senses in the outdoors, you can share your love of the natural world with your friends and family by creating a Nature Table to display your sketches, collections, natural treasures at home. (from nwf.org)
Make a Nature Table
There are many ways you can display natural treasures in your home:
- Nature Table or Shelf: Designate a flat surface for shells, acorns, etc. Use colored fabric to protect the surface (and to add a decorative note). For a little extra fun, make it a mini-museum, using folded index cards as name plates for each item.
- Vase: A clear vase can store a lot of less delicate items — rocks, shells, nuts, etc — in a relatively small space.
- Shoe Holder: Place objects in a hanging shoe organizer with clear pockets, found at many dollar stores or other discount retailers.
- Box It Up: The many different compartments in a tackle, sewing or tool box are great organizers.
What are your favorite sensory awareness games or activities to do in the natural world? Do you have a nature space at home?