Let’s do some activities to help us see (and hear, smell, and feel!) the world outdoors. You don’t have to travel to a “wild” place to do these activities. You can do them in your own backyard or on a walk around the neighborhood, or even from a window.
Nature is all around us…we just have to notice it!
day one: nature journal
Welcome to day one of noticing nature! Today we have something to make, flowers in the nature challenge, and an idea for play.
One of the best ways to help strengthen your observational skills is to record what you observe—either by writing about it or drawing it! So, before we get out there really observing nature, we want to make a nature journal.
Here’s how to get started, from super easy to super crafty.
option one: Use an existing notebook or journal If you have an empty notebook or journal, and just want to go ahead and use that, go for it! This doesn’t have to be fancy.
option two: Decorate an existing notebook or journal If you have a notebook you want to use, but want to get a little crafty, you can decorate the cover. You could do this by covering it in blank paper and then using paint or markers to make a picture, or you could cut out nature pictures from magazines and make a collage.
option three: Make your own journal If you’re feeling really crafty (and you have the supplies), this is the choice for you. This option also lets you use a mix of lined and blank pages, if you want a mix for writing and drawing. There are LOTS of resources online for how to make your own journal, so find one that works for you.
Here’s a video we like that shares how to make your own handmade book.
We’ll be doing some activities this week that you can put in your journal, but here are some ideas to get you started:
What’s your favorite animal? (Draw a picture.)
How many plants and animals around your home can you name?
What’s a plant or animal that you have questions about?
Describe a plant or animal in as much detail as you can.
Write a short poem about nature. Use a simple poem structure, like a haiku.
Today’s ID challenge is one of our earliest spring ephemeral wildflowers. It’s one of the first pops of color to appear in the woods in the spring, signaling that other flowers won’t be far behind.
Answer: This is round-lobed hepatica (Anemone americana). The leaves that you see with the flowers are actually last year’s leaves—they overwinter and start photosynthesizing early in the spring, which is why the plant has enough energy to produce flowers before many other species. New leaves will grow on the plant later in the spring.
Dig in the dirt!
Dig for buried treasure, make a mud pie, help out in the garden, or just dig a hole for the fun of it. Get your hands dirty!
Here’s a song for washing up after you’re done playing in the dirt.
day two: sensory scavenger hunt
sensory scavenger hunt.
Often when we’re playing outside, we depend on our eyes to do the exploring. Today, we’re going to use (almost) all our senses. We’ve made a scavenger hunt that uses sight, smell, touch and sound to explore. (We’ll be skipping the sense of taste since it can be dangerous to eat things from nature without an expert to guide you.)
Head outside with the checklist below and see how many things you can find. If you can’t go outside today try this indoors—find as many things as you can by looking out the window, and then take a look around your home.
See something that is each color of the rainbow:
much bigger than you
much smaller than you
that doesn’t have a smell
sound from something that ISN’T alive
sound from something that IS alive
nature id challenge.
Today’s challenge comes from a muddy patch on a trail through the woods. Each track is about one inch wide.
Answer: These are the tracks of a gray squirrel. You can tell right away that the tracks are from a rodent, because the front feet (in the center) have four toes, while the back feet (on the outside) have five. The pattern of the tracks, with the back tracks outside of and slightly in front of the front tracks shows that the animal was bounding. The size of the track is what points us to Gray Squirrel—there’s a slight possibility that the tracks are actually from a chipmunk, but they are a little bigger than you usually see in chipmunk tracks.
Find a hiding spot!
Outdoors or indoors, search for a place you could hide. Behind a tree? Under a table? If you can’t find a place you can hide, look for places a bird, bug or beaver might hide.
Remember to tell your grownups that you’re going to do this, so they don’t worry when you disappear.
day three: micro-safari
There’s lots going on in nature that we don’t notice because we don’t look closely. Today we’ll be focusing our attention and discovering what’s happening on a micro-scale. This activity can be done in a “wild” natural area, a yard, a garden or even a book with pictures of nature.
Something to mark off an area – a hula hoop or a ~6-foot string tied to make a circle are ideal
magnifying glass (optional)
Put whatever you’re using to mark off your safari area down on the ground.
Get down on your hands and knees to get close to the ground.
Carefully explore every inch of your safari space in detail. Move aside leaves to see what’s underneath. Look for plants starting to poke up from the earth. Can you find any bugs?
Repeat in different places as often as you like! Or, if you’ve set up your safari somewhere you can leave the plot marked, come back to the site over the spring to see what has changed!
nature id challenge.
Two pictures today—one showing a close-up view of a cluster of flowers, one showing the full picture of the shrub. Because it can be hard to know how to classify flowering shrubs (sometimes they’re grouped with wildflowers, sometimes with trees), here’s a hint: if you scratched at the bark of this shrub, or crushed the leaves when they came out, the plant lets out a delicious smell.
Answer: This is spicebush (Lindera benzoin), a common shrub in woodlands in our area since deer don’t seem to eat it (at least not much).
Roll in the grass.
Find some grass on the park or nature preserve and roll around.
Warning: might cause giggling!
day four: quiet observation
Today we’re noticing nature with quiet observation, a new nature id challenge, and a plan to play.
How long can you sit quietly and still, observing what’s going on the in natural world around you? The longer you sit, the more things you’ll see and hear…a wild animal might even come wandering past, not realizing you’re there! Getting outside for this activity is ideal, but if that’s not an option, sit where you can look out a window.
Something to help you sit comfortably, like a pillow (optional)
A lollipop or some sort of hard candy (optional)
Find a spot where you can sit comfortably. If you’re doing this with other people, spread out and face away from each other, so that it feels like you’re alone.
If you’re doing this with other people (or even if you’re doing it on your own), agree on how long you are going to sit, and appoint a timekeeper to keep track of the time. Younger kids might be able to sit for five minutes; older kids should aim for 10 or 15 minutes—or more.
Get settled in. If you’re using candy to help keep quiet, unwrap your candy, being sure to keep the wrapper to put in the trash later.
Sit quietly, observing what’s going on around you. Are there insects crawling past? What sounds can you hear? Try looking up—sometimes entirely different things are happening above our heads! Can you smell anything?
When you’re done (when your candy is finished; or when you’ve sat as long as you can) take the time to share what you noticed while you were quiet. Take turns telling the other people who did the activity with you, or record it in your nature journal.
If possible, come back to this same spot repeatedly over coming weeks, so you can see how things change as spring blooms.
nature id challenge.
Today’s challenge is a great example of how you can use what you already know to identify something new. This insect probably reminds you of one that you are familiar with—they very well may be crawling around in your home! If that’s the case, use the name of the insect you already know, and start your google search from there.
Answer: This is a green stink bug (Chinaviahilarus). You probably already know the brown marmorated stink bug, which is a non-native species that has become common here—and often takes up residence inside buildings. Chinaviahilarus is native, so we’re always excited when we see them.
There are lots of cool mushrooms out there—go find some! (But please don’t eat them.)
Good places to check are on rotting lots, on dead trees, in wet leaves or grass, and in the mulch in gardens.
Can’t get outside? Look up pictures of mushrooms and try to draw some of the weird, amazing, and colorful fungus you find.
day five: drawing plants
Drawing plants is called “botanical drawing” and it’s a mix of science and art. The goal is to draw a plant with enough detail that your drawing could be used to identify the exact plant. This means paying close attention to detail.
Here’s how to get started:
Paper (or your nature journal)
Colored pencils or markers (optional)
Something to draw
Pick a plant to draw. We recommend a plant instead of an animal—they stay still much better! You also don’t have to draw the whole plant—you could do a single leaf from a tree or shrub. A single leaf is probably the easiest, but if you’re up for a challenge, you could try a wildflower. If you can’t get outside,try drawing a houseplant or the photo below.
Start by drawing the outline of your subject. If you’re drawing a leaf, you can even just trace the leaf onto your paper.
Once you have the outline, fill in the details.
If you’re drawing a single leaf: What does the edge of your leaf look like? Is it smooth or ragged? How are the veins in the leaf arranged? Are they parallel, or do they fan out from a central point?
If you’re drawing a wildflower or something more complicated: How many petals are on your flower? How are they arranged? What are the leaves of your plant shaped like? How are the leaves arranged? Are they clustered at the bottom or spread along the stalk? Are they in pairs or alone? How big is the plant? If you’re not drawing it life-size, estimate how many times bigger or smaller your drawing is than the real plant.
If you want, you can go over your pencil lines with pen to make the drawing more permanent, or add color.
If you know what kind of plant you drew, label your drawing. Also be sure to date your drawing and sign it.
nature id challenge.
Here’s a tough ID challenge to round out the week.
Answer: This is a red-backed salamander (Plethodoncinereus), one of the most common salamanders in our area. You might be thinking “But…it doesn’t have a red back!” That’s where the tricky part of the ID comes in—this is a dark morph of the species, often known as a “lead-back” because it is so dark in color.
Play with worms!
Look for worms under rocks and logs…then go ahead and (gently) pick them up and hold them while they squirm.
You can have worm races by putting two or more worms in the center of a circle you mark on the ground and see which one can crawl outside the circle (or dig back into the ground) first.
Be sure to put the worms back where you found them when you’re done.