Want to raise a child who respects nature? Explore the earth with your mini scientist. You’ll find plenty of things to see, hear, and do outdoors. These tips will get you started.
Where to do it: A local park, a wooded trail, or any other spot where you can walk or push a stroller
Perfect for: The youngest babies, stroller playdates, or a change of scenery
You need: A carrier or stroller, snacks, and sun protection
Search for: Birds in flight, buzzing bees, slithering worms, and other area wildlife. Identify all by name. Mimic the sounds they make and imitate their movements. Along the path, look for green trees, blue skies, and yellow flowers—and, of course, name them.
Duration: Half an hour or longer if your baby seems relaxed and comfy
Search for Icky and Pretty Stuff
Where to do it: Your own backyard, a park, or nearby schoolyard
Perfect for: Older babies and toddlers
You need: A spoon, shovel, a small bucket to carry things, a plastic bottle or small box with air holes (for wildlife), baby wipes (because you’re going to get dirty), and a blanket to sit on
Search for: Moss, grass, weeds, ants, bugs, worms, and other things that lurk at and below ground level. Encourage your little one to dig, pluck, lift, roll, toss, and carry home some or all of his discoveries. Check out wildlife and follow their movements. Use words like big, small, wet, dry, smooth, fast, slow, rough, and sticky.
Duration: Variable. Activity ends when your Indiana Jones runs out of patience and/or curiosity.
Transform Nature into a Magic Show
Where to do it: A patch of grass, a lawn, a local park, or a patio
Perfect for: Those looking for a peek-a-boo upgrade
You need: A blanket (for sitting), paper towels, and a small collection of pointy, flat, smooth, bumpy, colorful, wiggly, slippery, and fuzzy items you seek together
Search for: Leaves, seeds, ladybugs, flowers, weeds, grass, rocks, stones, sticks, and soil. Cover each object one at a time, and ask your baby: “Where did the leaves go?” or “Where are the ladybugs hiding?” Remove the cloth to reveal the item. Continue the game with other items.
Duration: 15 minutes, counting search time
Chat with Animals
Where to do it: A park, farm, zoo, or public fairgrounds
Perfect for: Kids old enough to enjoy petting zoos, and those who grasp language, vocabulary, and the art of conversation
You need: Your animal voice and the eye of a ranger
Search for: A variety of domesticated animals you can see and touch (but only after confirming they’re baby- and people-friendly). Let your child hear how cows moo, lions roar, sheep bleat, and monkeys chatter.
Duration: 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the facility’s size and how much there is to see and do there
Pretend You’re Botanists
Where to do it: Your own backyard or anywhere else that’s green or grassy
Perfect for: Curious toddlers
You need: A blanket to sit on and a pail or bucket to hold your findings
Search for: Pine needles, pinecones, tree bark, acorns, leaves, and flowers. Grab samples of vegetation (check rules if the place isn’t your own). Look for similarities compare and contrast items for differences in color, shape, weight, and texture. (Avoid poison oak, poison sumac, and poison ivy; carry a guide to help identify them.)
Duration: 15 to 30 minutes
Host a Scavenger Hunt
Where: Your backyard or a playmate’s
Perfect for: High-energy and curious toddlers
You need: A list of items (use pictures instead of words), buckets to collect things, a magnifying glass to search for small specimens
Search for: Insects and bugs with two, four, or six legs; something wet, dry, shiny, smooth, bumpy, green, or yellow. Or ask for three flowers, or three leaves, whose appearance differs.
Duration: Hunt ends when kids grow weary, or you get tired of chasing them.