Stop and listen. How many birds do you hear in 60 seconds?
Encourage kids to use their hands to explore the textures of nature. Rub your hand on the bark of a Western Red Cedar and compare it to the feel of Douglas fir bark.
Let children get their hands dirty on a soft and squishy nurse log or feel the hard bumpiness of barnacles and clam shells. Smell crushed pine needles.
In the summer, encourage kids to taste red huckleberries and wild blueberries as nature offers a tasty treat along the trail. (Be sure to only taste test berries you can clearly identify).
You can’t take a real slug home with you, but you can bring back an illustration drawn on site. Bring along a small notebook and some markers, colored pencils, or watercolor paints. Take a few minutes to sit and observe the natural world. Kids have a very different perspective than adults and notice many things that adults simply pass by while hiking. Allow your children time to document their experience through drawing, painting or written word. These will be meaningful memories they can take home with them and leave natural objects behind for the next hikers to enjoy.
A small hand lens is lightweight and very handy for kids to take a closer look at critters on a stump or see the vein patterns in leaves. This is a great tool to take out when kids are showing signs of tiredness and may need to take a rest stop before continuing down the trail.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2018, and updated in July 2020.