Nature Walk for Preschoolers
The Benefits of Going on a Nature Walk
Schedules, structure, support, teaching – these are all words that are often associated with education. Even though those things are not bad, our children can really benefit from other forms of learning. Let’s talk about nature walks.
Playing, spending time outside, and having the freedom to explore without structure all provide opportunities for our kids to develop through active learning.
The wonderful John Muir famously said, “Between every two pine trees is a doorway to a new way of life.” Get outside! There is so much for our little ones to learn just from opening their eyes to the beauty, detail, wonder, and nearly infinite variances of nature.
It was fall, and after a few weeks of cold and rainy weather we finally had a beautiful day. I knew that we would not have enough time to do all the activities that I had planned for homeschool and go outside.
As expected, when I asked the kiddos if they would rather “do school” or go outside, my 4 year old was very insistent on staying in to learn. She LOVES school. The learning activities inside would be great, but I knew that going outside would be even better.
So we compromised. We read a couple books and then headed outside to go on a nature walk. Little did she know that she was learning so much more by engaging the world around her.
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What is a Nature Walk?
A nature walk is exactly what it sounds like-you go for a walk outside and see what you find. No pressure! It is preferable to find a place that is far away from street noise or even playgrounds so that the kids can really pay attention to the sounds they hear in nature. As they walk, you can encourage them to pay attention and use their senses as they explore.
Benefits of Nature Walks
Improved Physical Health
The American Academy of Pediatrics noted in this article that “Many children less than 5 years of age fail to meet the physical activity CDC guideline of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.”
Going on nature walks gets children out of the house and exercising. As it becomes part of your routine, your children will begin to see movement and being outdoors as a normal part of life-and their desire to do both will grow.
Another surprising benefit is that as the kids are holding and examining what their findings, they are coming in contact with bacteria that is great for strengthening their immune system. As strange as it sounds, kids need to be in contact with dirt.
Jack Gilbert, a scientist who studies microbial ecosystems, was asked, “What are some things that parents get wrong?” This was his response,
“Some of the main things are over-sterilizing their environment, keeping their children from ever getting dirty. So going out into the backyard and playing in the mud, and then as soon as they’re filthy, bringing them in and sterilizing their hands with antiseptic wipes, and then making sure that none of the dirt gets near their faces. Also, keeping them away from animals. The dogs and cats, sure, but also, other animals. It’s fine to wash their hands if there’s a cold or a flu virus around, but if they’re interacting with a dog, and the dog licks their face, that’s not a bad thing. In fact that could be extremely beneficial for the child’s health.”
You can read more of the interview here.
Another health benefit of going on nature walks is exposure to vitamin D. There are many people who are deficient in this important vitamin. Sun exposure during certain parts of the day can help your child (and you!) increase your vitamin D levels!
Increased Brain Development
As your child is playing outside they are absorbing and processing everything around them. This provides the brain with many opportunities for development. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg states in this testimony on behalf of the American Association of Pediatrics,
“Play in an outdoor, natural environment allows children to explore both their world and their own minds… Nature places virtually no bounds on the imagination and engages all of the senses. For all children, this setting allows for the full blossoming of creativity, curiosity, and the associated developmental advances.”
As kids are exploring the world around them they are filled with wonder. Our tiny people are seeing things for the first time and they want to figure everything out. So naturally, they ask questions.
I know, I know, you probably already get a million questions a day, but curiosity in our kids is a great thing. They start to think outside of the box and try to problem solve. These are skills that we want to foster as they grow.
How to Do a Nature Walk
There are so many different ways to do a nature walk. I’m going to share just a few of our favorites to give you some ideas.
Fit It In An Egg Carton
When my daughter was learning her colors, we went outside to see what kinds of things she could find in nature that were a specific color. I took an egg carton and drew a little circle with different colored markers in each egg slot. We did this to reinforce colors, but you could do this with other themes, like shapes or textures.
Nature Scavenger Hunt
Give your child a sheet of paper with designated items that you want them to find. As they find the item, have them mark it on their sheet of paper.
Subscribe to get my nature scavenger hunt printable below!
Look for Treasures
This is probably my favorite way to do a nature walk because the children are encouraged to look for things that are interesting to them.
For example, I may ask the kids, “What do you hear?”, “What do you smell?”, “What do you see?” and encourage them to touch moss, tree bark, stones, and so on.
Also, I give them a magnifying glass and let them take a closer look at the details that they might otherwise miss. I love watching my kids delight in the world around them.
Last time we did this, I thought it would be fun to bring some baggies so that the kids could collect the things that they thought were really neat. It was a great idea! The kids loved it!
I used brown paper bags and taped string on for the handles… Not a great idea. The bags were not sturdy enough for the millions of rocks they wanted to collect and the “handles” fell off almost instantly. I would definitely recommend bringing something that is able to hold a little more weight. Reusable grocery bags or old Easter baskets would work great!
When we got home I took our rice sensory bins and put their “treasures” in. The kiddos loved playing and further exploring their findings with their magnifying glasses. My daughter made a “nature center” in her bin. She made hills, paths, and trees from the rice and the items that she found.
We were also learning the letter “N/n” for “nature” that week, so they decorated the letters with their treasures.
Just Do It!
We gravitate to a more care-free style most of the time. We just go out in nature and walk, pay attention to our surroundings, pick up and touch the things that are interesting, and talk about them. There doesn’t have to be an agenda-just enjoy each other and the world around you!
So, take some pressure off yourself, mama. As I said earlier, children benefit from free exploration and just being outside. So, don’t stress yourself with coming up with a fancy idea, or having the perfect printable, or using the right materials. Just go out there and do it!
Go On a Nature Walk With Your Preschooler!
I love that something as easy as a nature walk has so many benefits for our children’s physical and mental development. How do you like to get out in nature with your kiddos?