Small children rarely need help staying engaged in nature. They are tiny scientists, testing the hardness of rocks, how different kinds leaves crumble, and the sound sticks make when you hit them together.
But as kids get older, sometimes they begin to lose their inborn sense of wonder and discovery. In turn, they easily get bored outdoors.
A friend reminded me the other day that sometimes we, as parents, get bored watching our kids play outside. We try to keep ourselves entertained by playing with them or taking photos, but typically, we’re ready to go inside long before our kids are.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to do a series on easy and fun nature activities that parents can do with kids. No skills or knowledge required!
In this post, I’ll discuss an activity called a wildlife walk.
I’d love to have your feedback on this activity! Please leave comments below or feel free to comment on my Facebook page. What worked with this activity? What didn’t work? Were the directions confusing? Was the post organized in a way that wasn’t intuitive? Any help is appreciated! Thank you!
What is a wildlife walk?
A wildlife walk is exactly what it sounds like: taking a walk and looking for wildlife.
- Go outside with your kids.
- Look and listen for wildlife. What do you see? What do you hear? Try to identify signs that wildlife leave behind: tracks, scat, markings, etc. Do you see wildlife symbols like a metal lizard on the side of a house or a ceramic bird in the front yard? Why do you think people have these?
- Talk with your kids about the types of wildlife that might live there. What do the animals eat? Drink? Where do they live? You’ll find a list of questions below that can be used to start a conversation with your kids about wildlife, habitats, animal behavior, the sky is the limit!
- Continue walking and talking until you and your children are ready for something new. Make it casual and light-hearted! You may spend the first 10 minutes on a wildlife hunt and end up in a sword fight with a shrub. Just go with it and have fun!
When we think of the word wildlife, we tend to think of large majestic animals like lions, bears, or elephants. We think about endangered animals showcased on National Geographic or Animal Planet. But wildlife isn’t a term restricted for large or endangered species; wildlife is everywhere. You can find wildlife in the national forest, your neighborhood park, your front yard, and even your house (don’t look, but that spider you saw behind the toilet is still there!).
Our definition for wildlife is very broad. Essentially, it’s any animal that is not domesticated. That is, any animal that hasn’t been tamed, trained, bred, or kept as a pet. Wildlife are not dependent on humans for their survival and include insects, spiders, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc.
What should i take on a wildlife walk?
You don’t need anything but curiosity to go on a wildlife walk.
But, if you’re wanting to make the walk a bit more focused and purposeful, here is a list of items you could bring:
- A nature journal and draw the wildlife you encounter.
- A camera so the kids can take pictures of the wildlife they see and later make a photo essay.
- Binoculars. They give you the opportunity to get a closer look without scaring the animal away. (We are a family of birders and love identifying birds on our hikes. My kids and I both have our own pairs. Neither one of use want to miss anything!)
- An old plastic container to collect insects for further observation at home. After you’ve studied your insect friends with a magnifying glass, return them outside (preferably in the place where you found them).
But none of these are necessary to enjoy a wildlife walk. All you’ll need are your children and a sense of adventure! Depending on how long you’ll be outside, you may want to bring water, snacks, and sun protection. Nothing ruins the fun of a wildlife walk like a dehydrated, hangry, sun-burnt mom.
How do we find wildlife?
LOOK. Look for birds flying by or perched in a tree. Keep your eyes open for squirrels foraging along the ground. Turn over rocks and leaves to find insects. Wildlife is everywhere!
Depending on the time of the day, the season, or where you’re walking, you may have a hard time seeing wildlife. Don’t be discouraged! You can use other senses to uncover clues that wildlife do, in fact, live where you are.
LISTEN. What do you hear? Do you hear a bird calling? Maybe you hear an insect chirping? Point these sounds out to your kids and let them brain storm what animal they think could be making the sound.
FIND CLUES. Do you see tracks in the dirt or snow? Do you see scat (animal poop) on a rock, baking in the sun? Perhaps you’ll find a leaf or branch with a large growth that looks like a plant tumor. All these are signs that some kind of animal has been there. Talk with your kids about what animal they think might have left the clues that you found.
NEIGHBORHOOD. Your yard or neighborhood is a great place to start wildlife walks. It’s familiar and I bet you’ll find that you already know many of the wildlife that live there. Walking through your neighborhood also allows you to look for wildlife symbols like ceramic deer in the yard or metal geckos hanging on the walls of houses.
PARK. A park is a great place to see birds, insects, and small mammals like squirrels.
WILD SPACE. If you look closely, you’ll find a lot more diversity in wild spaces like national forest or state parks. This is because the plant life is more diverse. In wild spaces, you find endless rocks to turn over, birds singing in the trees, and insects along the ground.
YOUR HOUSE. Okay, stay with me here and don’t freak out. There are insects and arachnids living in all our houses, regardless of how good your exterminator is. If the weather is awful outside, why not spend an afternoon looking for wildlife in your own home? Where do you always find spiders? Why do you think they live there? If house critters bother you, this gives you a chance to find them and relocate them outdoors. In fact, make it a game! The kids will take care of the spiders and you can relax with a warm cup of tea without lifting a finger!
What do we talk about?
Here are some great questions to get a conversation going with your child:
- What animal do you think lives here? Why?
- What do the animals eat? Drink? Where do they live?
- Judging from the scat, what do you think the animal ate? Based on their diet, what kind of animal do you think they are? Herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore? Can you guess the animal?
- Based on the tracks you found, where do you think the animal was going? What type of animal was it: insect, reptile, bird, mammal, etc.? Why do you think it was that type of animal?
What if I don’t know the animal?
You don’t need to know the answer to all your kids questions, nor do you need to be able to identify everything you see. This activity is simply about getting outside with your kids and exploring nature together.
If you want to know more about what you see or hear, sometimes a simple Google search can answer your questions. However, for more complicated questions, think about your outdoorsy friend or the one who nerds-out on biology. I’m that person for a lot of my friends, and I have my go to people when I need help identifying an animal. Even something as simple as a post on social media can help you identify your mystery animal.
Well, I hope this helps get you and your kids outside and talking about nature! Leave your comments below. Constructive criticism is appreciated!