Extension Specialist, Family Life Education
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension
University of Massachusetts
Not a day passes without mention of an environment-related issue. You can help youngsters develop an understanding of the environment and improve their critical-thinking skills by incorporating nature into early learning experiences.
What better way for children to develop a sense of respect for nature than to be immersed in environmental activities year-round? The following ideas for hiking activities should get you started.
To begin, identify a theme: Spring Is in the Air, Explore Your Playground, Where Are the Leaves?, Wintertime for Animals, Search for the Early Birds, etc. Once you establish a theme, take the children on a hike in a nearby wooded area, in a field, or on a nature trail. Visit the location several times during the year so that children may identify changes within the same setting over time.
Hikes are an excellent opportunity to develop young children's observation skills. For example, have children compare the shapes, forms, and conditions of trees several times each year. Observing trees with or without bark, leaves, flowers, or fruit each month helps children develop
an awareness of the cyclical processes of nature. Or mark tree shadows at different times during the year. Keep a record of the time, date, and length of the shadows and help the children compare the records.
Hikes can also enhance all kinds of sensory development. For example, let children identify different textures along the hike. Make rubbings of the various textures. Then, try duplicating the outdoor textures with materials at home. Children will soon be able to identify the specific characteristics of each texture.
Take time for children to listen quietly to the many sounds on the hike. Ask children to pantomime the noises they hear. Later, have them draw, sing, or write about their experiences on the outdoor hike. Expressing these sensory experiences helps children to share their understanding of the event.