Sensory outdoor walks to help kids appreciate nature
Nature and nature substitutes
What is a sensory walk?
A sensory walk is an outdoor walk with your children intended to engage their senses and imaginations. This walk inspired by a local environmental education program that does this as a class and works best for children ages 6 to 8. The local school district takes kindergarteners on sensory walks once a quarter to help them experience the changing seasons in nature
As you walk through the natural landscape, the sensory walk focuses on the things that the child sees, hears or smells. It increases their awareness of nature and their own senses.
Why is engaging senses important?
A lot of people lose connection to nature by living in cities and being entertained by video games, TV, internet, social networking. The opportunity to spend time outside is often not present. Without knowing how to appreciate or what to expect from nature, such opportunities are feared or ignored or resented!
Teaching your kids to appreciate nature will help them deal with the challenges of the modern world. Plus it's really fun!
What the future holds.
Books, internet, video games, cars, corporate conference rooms. All of these things are good and useful, but they are man-made and event he simplest plant would be a thousand times more complex than even the most elaborate video game.
Enjoying the outdoors
Sample sensory walk
A game to play with your children outdoors
Here's a fun and simple game that you can play with your kindergarten to 2nd grade kids.
Invite them outside and play a game with them. Ask them to tell you about the things that they see, smell, or hear
Visual - sight:
Ask your kids to spot 3 interesting things visually and tell you about them:
- One thing on the ground
- One thing at an eye level
- One thing above eye level
This helps kids maintain 360 degrees awareness and is really fun! There are so many things to notice! Living creatures, like squirrels, field mice, frogs, fish, tadpoles, etc. Plants - berries, flowers, mold, interesting leaves. Inorganic things - pretty rocks, different color soil, different color water, etc. There are so many things to observe outside!
Auditory - sound:When you feel comfortable with the visual exercise, ask them to tell you about 3 things they hear during the walk:
- A living sound, such as birdsong, crickets, dog barking, etc
- A nature made sound, such as rustling of leaves, sound of a running creek
- A man-made sound (tires at a distant highway, an airplane flying overhead, a lawnmower in the distance)
Chances are your child would start to notice big sounds first - automobiles, man made sounds, followed by bird song, squirrel calls, rustling of leaves, footsteps. Then the bird song breaks into individual bird calls, then bird conversations and warning calls! Sounds are all around us, and seeking interesting sounds will help you find more interesting and alive nature areas to visit!
Olfactory - smell:
Smells are harder to notice, because they are more local and are invisible. A plant or a tree may have a few feet of fragrance around it, but you will not know that unless you come close! When your kids become good at spotting and hearing things in nature, add third component: smell. Find 3 things to smell:
- A plant smell, such as flowers or pine needles
- A natural smell, such as marshland, a creek
- A manmade smell - gasoline, rubber, cigarette smoke are examples.
Flowers are easiest to notice, and kids quickly learn that flowers emit smell. Noticing the smell of fresh pine or cut grass or wet earth will take more time!
Tactile - touch:
The world nowadays is getting more paranoid over germs, bacteria and is moving towards more and more individual portions. Touching things is frowned down upon. Add this if you desire. Find 3 things to touch:
- An interesting plant material - a leaf, a stick, a flower
- An inorganic material - a piece of clay, sand, rocks, water.
- An animal or an insect - caterpillars, spiderwebs
Kids love to grab things and this way you can make it more focused!
By making this discovery of nature into a game you can help engage your kids and help them to love outdoors! Chances are you will re-discover nature as well during walks like this.
Making it matter
Encourage your kid to talk to you about their sensory experience. This helps them define their feelings and senses in words and make it more important. You can help them define some words. Make learning vocabulary a pleasant learning!
Walks like this create a stronger bond between the child and nature and between the parent and the child, because you are sharing a similar experience outdoors!