Winter nature walks for kids can be a lot of fun. I still remember the winters during our homeschooling years when we walked at a local wildlife refuge almost every week. At first glance the winter landscape seems bleak and dreary. Then you notice the little birds flitting to and fro among the trees and seed pods revealed on stalks of brown.
Getting Ready to Walk
Always dress appropriately for walking outside in the winter. Plan on setting aside at least an hour for the walk depending on the age of your kids. If you have little ones, check on conditions ahead of time. Some places have nice flat trails for jogging strollers while others may be a bit more rugged. When my guys were really little (under 6 months) I carried them in a Baby Bjorn. After 6 months we moved to the jogging stroller with a nifty little sack to keep them warm.
Places to Go
To get started, try taking walks in the different habits in your area. For example, our hometown area, the Delaware Valley, is home to a fresh water marsh, salt water marsh, meadows, mountains, and woods. The fresh water marsh is the source for walks throughout the year since it serves as a stopping point for birds migrating in the spring and fall. The other spots can be visited seasonally to see what changes have occurred.
- National Wildlife Refuge System
- Local Arboretums
- Local colleges and universities – Some may host an arboretum on their campus.
- Public Gardens
What to Look For
Toddlers can look for leaf buds, common birds and animals, animal tracks, or signs of insect activity like praying mantis egg cases. Preschoolers can be introduced to the concept of seasons. They can also begin to differentiate between the different types of environments.
Elementary students and up can use nature journals to help them hone in on details in the environments such as tree shapes, different types of birds, and coniferous vs deciduous trees. Later in winter, they can look for migratory birds if they live near one of the migratory bird routes.
Elementary students are ready to understand concepts like the water cycle and the roles the different members of the environments play. Elementary students can also learn about recycling and how to preserve the environment for others.
Ways to Extend the Walk
- Make small file folder books to use as nature journals for each walk.
- Start a regular nature journal with a sketch book from an art store.
- Learn bird calls for your area. Petersen’s Birding by Ear CD is one resource our family has used.
- Have a visual scavenger hunt. Print out pictures of animal tracks, animals, birds, or trees to look for and have the kids match them up with the pictures.
- Learn about animal tracks and make air dry clay casts of tracks you find.
- Take a walk at night and listen to the sounds of the nocturnal birds and animals.
- Buy your children disposable cameras if they’re young or lend them your camera if they’re old enough and take pictures of what they see. Focus on a theme for each walk.
- Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study
- Keeping a Nature Journal by Claire Walker Leslie
- The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms
- Nature Study – Charlotte Mason Style
- Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central (Peterson Field Guides)
- Whose Tracks Are These?: A Clue Book of Familiar Forest Animals
- Track Finder: A Guide to Mammal Tracks of Eastern North America (Nature Study Guides)
- One Small Square: Woods
- One Small Square: Pond
- One Small Square: Swamp
Places to go in the Delaware Valley
Fort Washington State Park
John Heinz Wildlife Refuge
John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove
Hildacy Farm Preserve
Ridley Creek State Park
Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College
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