Photo credit: Shannon Polson
In any season, a daily dose of Vitamin D outside does much to raise kids' spirits (and expend extra energy!). Need an activity to get around the block, or in the woods, especially as the days begin to get shorter? Try your very own treasure hunt. Mother Nature provides the props, and they change every season. After you're back inside, the treasures you've collected are perfect for projects, for display and for studying the natural world, the perfect combination of art, science and education.
Here are some easy-to-find treasures to start with; use these as jumping-off points to create your own nature hunts. Browse all the treasures; or skip ahead:
Pine cones 2. Rocks 3. Ferns 4. Leaves 5. Chestnuts 6. Lichen 7. Moss 8. Bird feathers 9. Bird nests 10. Trees and bark
Have your kids find and identify the pine cones of the conifers in your neighborhood. A
helps with distinctions such as the difference between ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The guides are good for other flora, birds and bugs, and laminated so sticky hands can use them again and again. Mac’s Field Guide
with pine cones are endless, from pine cone owls to wreaths and snowmen. Display them in mason jars or other containers at home. craft opportunities
for kid crafts. Bring them home to paint as ladybugs or dominoes or make a bookend out of a larger rock. Make a cairn. Martha Stewart loves rocks
Talk to older kids about the three main types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic) and find endless information, activities and learning games at places like
. Kids Love Rocks
Ferns give a show in the spring, and our rainy Pacific Northwest has a lot of them. Look at the new ferns as they emerge tightly curled and gradually open over the weeks of spring.
At other times of the year, pick a mature fern and bring it home to
Leaves, of course, are treasures that are everywhere. Kids can identify them by their size and shape.
The American Forest Foundation suggests
to encourage discussion about the varieties your child discovers! They are perfect for crafts at home, too. these ideas
Most of the chestnuts you’ll find in the Pacific Northwest are horse chestnuts — not good for roasting and eating, but perfect for collecting.
Stuff your pockets and bring them home
and counting games and then display proudly in a mason jar. for crafts
Kids will also enjoy pounding chestnuts with rocks to slough off the prickly exterior for the smooth, burnished chestnut inside.
Read about the lichen you find on rocks and trees in the classic
. Identification leads to ideas: the chartreuse wolf lichen, for example, was used by First Nations peoples to color different fabrics. Cascade-Olympic Natural History
Much lichen is dry enough that it can also be stored in an open jar for display.
In the Pacific Northwest, moss is everywhere, but did you know there are more than one hundred different kinds? In addition to learning to identify different kinds, kids can bring moss home in small quantities to use for painting (the same way you might use a sponge) or to learn about the qualities of water and plants.
with your kids to learn how water moves through moss. this experiment
Why do birds lose feathers? How are they going to fly? Feathers left by our migrant and local bird populations are a special treasure for kids. They display nicely, and Pinterest will give you
for crafts. endless ideas
For your little scientist,
using resources such as the identify feathers . (Don't forget to National Geographic Bird Identifier to attract birds!) set up your backyard
This is best for spring, of course: Keep your eyes in the trees and look for evidence of home-building by our avian neighbors to kick off discussions of nest-building techniques and the different kinds of birds that share our region (here’s a
and checklist.). printable guide
For more exploration, research birds' migration paths for a geography lesson. If you’re inspired, educate yourself at one of
for adults or Birdwatch for high school kids. Younger kids will find excellent bird-related activities through Seattle Audubon’s classes . Seward Park's Audubon Center
Trees and bark
Those twigs your child likes to bring home can be great conversation starters and the foundation for many an
. Of the 192 species of trees in Seattle, 28 are native; the most common are red alder, big leaf maple and beaked hazelnut. Can you pick those out? art project
for trees, and your checklist with more information on the most common varieties. Bark is perfect for pencil rubbings. Let your scientist discuss the differences she sees among the different varieties. a guide
Now, go off and search out your own treasures. (Seattle residents can find more adventures in Maria Dolan's excellent
.) Nature In the City Seattle This article was first published in 2014 and updated for 2015.