Monday, July 7, 2014

Five Fun Things to Do with a Kid Along the Trail This Summer

By Sandi Funke, Education Director

Now that summer is underway, you may be looking for ways to explore the outdoors with a young person. Hiking can be a lot of fun in and of itself, but when little legs get tired or attention wanes I wanted to share a few ideas of activities you can do on the trail to deepen observational skills and have fun! These are amusing distractions for kids ages three and up but don’t be surprised if older kids will have fun participating too!

1. Build a Faerie House

Our educator Jesse Robinson recently introduced this fun activity simply by starting his own creation. During a break in our Budding Biologists summer camp, Jesse sat down in a large trail clearing and began gathering small sticks and rocks. He then began carefully piling the sticks in a hexagonal shape. The campers asked what he was doing and he explained, “building a faerie house,” and that the campers could build houses too. They immediately got to work gathering sticks, pines cones, rocks, and moss as construction began. Little mystical cottages began to spring up, some with little rooms one even had a basement. Once the group was satisfied with their work, they took a quick tour of the “neighborhood” and left the houses for their future Lilliputian inhabitants.

2. Rainbow Walk
I rediscovered this activity one day while trekking back to our car in Golden Gate Park after a long day of exploration at the California Academy of Sciences. My son, then five years old, was pretty tired and was walking very slowly. I looked around and challenged him to see if he could find anything that was red, and then orange, and then yellow, etc. The idea of the activity is to find leaves, flowers, bark, non-living things - anything along the trail that correlates with each color of the rainbow. This activity can be quite engrossing but be warned the color indigo can be tough to find and controversial. What color is indigo anyways?

3. Shapes Walk
The Shapes Walk is adapted from a lesson in the Project Learning Tree science curriculum. It’s basically the same idea as the Rainbow Walk. Instead of looking for colors, you look for shapes. You can cut out and bring along shapes to use to compare to the shapes of leaves and rocks or just wing it. Either way it’s really fun.

4. Make a Collection
As evidenced by his pockets as well as his little travel bag Velcro-strapped onto his bicycle, my son, like most kids, loves to collect! Some of his favorites include sticks, acorns, rocks, buckeyes, and more sticks. Recently we went beach combing and took home a few choice (uninhabited) sea stars. Just be sure where you are exploring allows collecting and that your collecting activities will not unduly impact the ecosystem. Taking one shell when there are thousands is probably okay, but not so much if there are only a few. A hermit crab may need that shell for a home. Once you have multiples, lay out your collection and have your young scientist compare and contrast what they have found.

5. Make up a Crazy Nature Story
This can be quite entertaining especially if you can make your story relevant to what you are experiencing on your adventure. My son and I have an ongoing saga about two adventuresome ducks - Duckling and Quackers. Our stories always start with, “Once upon a time Duckling and Quackers…” We then take turns adding pieces to the story weaving a new adventure every time. If you’re exploring the forest, start a story about Fred the Fox. At the beach? How about Carlos the Crab? Just use what’s around you and don’t be afraid of being silly!

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