What better way to spend quality time with your kids or grandkids and get in touch with nature than a fresh, invigorating walk in the woods, along a river, or the beach? What’s more, family hikes make for fun learning opportunities for everyone. So maybe this Spring would be the perfect time to try some of these hiking activities with some of your favorite people.

A stone is a stone is a…mineral?

Go on an excursion to learn about rocks and minerals. Shorelines offer a variety of stones. Before you go, learn which rocks and minerals are abundant in the area, and have everyone choose several to scout for. Take along a magnifying glass for viewing the colors, layers, and details. When identified, discuss their uses and other neat facts.

Sounds of nature

Wander through a forest and listen for a variety of bird and animal sounds. Before you go, visit your library for a DVD or audio CD of birds and wild animal calls. Then download an audio recorder on your phone and carry it on your hike to record some of the sounds you hear. Listen to the recording again at home and try to determine the source of the sounds. 

Photo adventure

Capture nature’s splendor. Hiking trails provide plenty of photo opportunities, and kids will love snapping the shots. Discuss in advance what each person wants to photograph, such as a huge oak tree, a monarch butterfly, deer tracks, or a close-up of a nibbling squirrel. Print out the photos and create a nature scrapbook.

Tree tales

These giants of nature are not only intriguing because of their size but also because of their many variations. Borrow some books on trees from your library that describe the unique features of trees and their history. Have fun with clues such as the shape of the leaves, texture of bark, and size of the trunk to identify the kind of tree.

Which way do we go?

Teach directional skills such as how to read a map and use a compass or the sun to determine direction. Choose a trail system that provides maps. Take a trail that branches off several times, allowing for plenty of skill-building opportunities. For even more fun, turn the excursion into a treasure hunt. Hide a small prize just off the trail under a bush or pile of leaves, mark the location on your map, and let the journey begin.

Animals all around

Take a quiet hike in a wooded area with grassy clearings and see how many animals you meet. Watch for snakes, turtles and geese if there’s a nearby lake or stream. Also, look for chipmunks and squirrels playing chase or gathering food; birds of prey circling overhead; or grazing rabbits and deer. Discuss the animal’s unique characteristics and how those qualities help or hinder the animal. What do the animals eat and where are their shelters? Also, keep eyes peeled for animal tracks to identify and determine how recently they were made.

Creepy crawly things

Scouting for insects is an all-time favorite among kids, and the variety of creepy-crawly creatures in the woods is remarkable. Carry an insect book, and a magnifying glass for close examination of the fascinating features. Read about insects’ defense behaviors and characteristics such as colors that indicate danger to predators.

Plant life, old and new

Discover the fantastic diversity of plant life. Before you head out, review some books on plants to spark the kids’ interest. On each trip, choose a different trail or area and see what plants grow in certain types of soil, climates and in each season. Look for the plant’s seeds, and notice the variations. Talk about how seeds travel by blowing in the wind or catching on the fur of animals. Carefully brush away the ground cover and look for seeds that have sprouted their roots that will soon develop into a new plant or tree. Learn how individual plants have evolved to have natural defenses to protect against creatures that would otherwise devour them.

Where to find trails

You might be surprised to discover nearby trails that you never knew existed. Check with city, county and state parks and for trails along rivers or near lake shores and beaches. There are also national forests and parks throughout the United States with extensive trail systems. If you have access to a wooded area near you that isn’t too dense, a trail may not be necessary. 

Before you go

Plan your activities before you leave so you’ll arrive prepared. Carry a small daypack, extra clothing for cold weather, and don’t forget hiking boots. And don’t forget to bring hats, sunglasses, sunblock and insect repellent. Be prepared for emergencies by carrying a small flashlight and batteries, watch, map, bandages, and don’t forget plenty of water and snacks. Finally, make the most of your nature quest by carrying binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a small camera.

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