My kids aren’t that enthusiastic about nature unless it involves mud puddles. I wrote about last season’s less-than-epic nature walk and the importance of cultivating a sense of wonder, and nothing really changed since that post. We’ve been on quite a few nature walks since, of course, but the kids are not happy about walking, much less inspecting nature.
We’ve started doing a weekly forest exploration walk with our fellow homeschoolers because I feel like they’re missing out on being in nature. That’s become more of a “let’s see how we can scare Mommy today!” thing than actually being in nature. One of our local homeschoolers leads a Forest School For All free play group (also free in cost) and it’s been really fun to pool our interests and knowledge and point things out for the kids to see. Including a mostly decomposed raccoon skeleton.
Still, without random skeletons lying around, it’s hard to keep the Engineer motived. He gets bored and annoyed: “can we please go home now?”
What to do when your kid hates nature walks? Nature journals, of course!
The minute I print out a nature journal, the kids get excited. I always over-print so that they can pick and chose what they want to do. The Princess wants to do a bark rubbing, while the Engineer draws a picture of the tiny pine branch that he found beside the trail. They both peer at the sky and analyze clouds, and they dither over whether it’s sunny or partially cloudy.
The problem with nature journals is that most things you find online are geared towards older kids. Kids who can read, who can write descriptions of things they see, or who will paste in leaves, flowers, and random nature stuff. My kids can’t read. They can’t write much, and I wouldn’t trust them with glue unless I have a lab set-up complete with aprons and lab-grade sink.
I did find a few options that worked, but I hate the cutesy clip-art variety! If you want kids to recognize a cardinal, then you need to show them a real picture of a cardinal. Or a darn good drawing.
With that in mind, here are a few options that I’ve found that are good for the younger ages. This one has multiple different options and is free from the Ben and Me blog. This one is lovely but is only a one-sheet scavenger hunt. I really like this one because it’s simply beautiful, but it’s not quite practical for my kids. And last but not least, I created a few (of course!) to get exactly what my kids need. The free sample short version is a stand-alone 4 page version in black and white, while the one you see pictured in this post is the expanded version in color (these links will take you to my Teachers pay Teachers store.)
Somehow, once I hand them a nature journal and a pen, the walk turns into a competition. It’s a game! Let’s find moss. Ohhh a bird! Look, I just saw a squirrel! They’re scribbling check marks and trying to find the scavenger hunt page. To be completely honest, it doesn’t last long. They get through maybe 4 pages before carrying the journal is a drag. Then they hand me the pen and race down the path. And that’s ok.
We do things at their pace. If I want to keep them interested, then I can’t be all stern and “you-have-to-do-5-pages-today” on them. It has to be something they want to do. As they get older we’ll sit down and draw things we find, or we’ll see how many birds we can identify just using our ears. For now, they’re loud. They’re crazy. Too much energy, too many wiggles.
Do you know how difficult it is to observe nature when you’re scaring it away? That’s how our nature walks go around here.
Our nature walk this week involved rain boots and a muddy stream. We were checking for frog spawn. We didn’t find any yet, but we did find a butterfly – poor thing – and a frog. And…the Engineer found this.
I’m so proud of him for observing his surroundings! I walked past this at least 3 times and missed it (mainly because I was looking for frog spawn and dealing with the Destroyer’s sitting down in the middle of the stream.) He called me back, “mommy, I found something! Come see!” My first response: is it alive? was met with “no, but it’s really cool!” He was so proud of himself, especially when I told him what it was.
What is it? A cocoon – of a giant silk moth. We’re not sure what kind it is yet. It’s probably a Luna moth, a Cecropia moth, or any number of giant silk moths native to our area. My bet is Luna, because the caterpillar includes leaves in its cocoon. We’ll see!