Saturday, April 14, 2012

Learning Science on the Trail

 This week our family hiked along an old favorite trail of ours. We enjoyed the sunshine and each other's company, and I was astounded at all the learning opportunities that presented themselves during just a couple of hours "on the trail." So here I'm sharing with you a few of the strategies we're using to encourage scientific thought in nature.

1. Bring a notebook or clipboard and encourage your child to "take notes." This can mean pictures, sentences or scribbles, depending upon age. The point is to ask them to be reflective about what they're seeing, and to process the thought onto paper in some form.

2. Bring your iphone. (I'm not kidding here.) Not only will you be able to snap some great pictures of things you want to check out when you get home, but you'll be able to get some on-the-spot answers when your child asks what butterflies eat and what their poop looks like. With a smartphone you'll be able to find the answer together, in the moment, when the question is still relevant.

3. To the extent your trail or park allows, encourage your child to collect "artifacts" like stones, pine needles, sticks, etc. Bring them home and continue the conversation about your hike all week long as you are reminded by your small collection. (Do be careful about which plants your child touches, however- for safety encourage them to touch only with your direct supervision.)

4. Encourage even non-readers to check out any signage (like trail markers) along the way. Talk about distance and direction as the opportunity arises.

5. Jump start the reluctant child with scavenger hunt-like questions such as, "can anyone see something that is the color blue? What is it?" Try asking for things that start with a certain letter, signs of spring, etc.

6. Encourage your children to classify as they walk. For young children this may mean simply determining if an object is living or not living, but older kids might be able to classify deciduous or evergreen trees, signs of drought, or a variety of other topics.

7. Take at least a mental note, if not a photographic or written note, of the types of questions your child is asking. By noting what she's interested in during the hike, you'll know what to focus other learning opportunities on in the future. For example, if your child is asking about the raspberry bushes you passed on your walk, it would be a great idea to follow up those questions with a raspberry dessert or a trip to a local nursery to check out different types of plants.

A few conversation starters for us this week:
"What is that fuzzy plant?"

"Is that one big water or lots of little waters?"

"How did that tree fall out of the ground?"

"Whoa! What happened?!"

"Is this the way we have to go?"

{No words here, just squeals of delight when we finally found the waterfall}

"Does it hurt the water when it falls like that?"

"Can I touch it?"

"Butterflies live in the woods?"

{Terrible picture, I know. It's a garter snake.} "Would the snake eat the butterfly if he could?"

"Why is there so much more water now than when we started the trail?" {We were hiking in an estuary and the tide had come in}
Happy trails!

This post is linked up to Homeschool Creation's Moments to Remember and The Weekly Kids Co-op link up, hosted by the Iowa Farmer's Wife. Check out the other fun homeschool/ learning moments from the week!


  1. That looks like so much fun! My daughter is a little older (she's 12), but we spend a LOT of time on many of the trails near us, and you'd be surprised how the questions are the same!

    Thanks for linking up to Moments to Remember :)

  2. Joan, I suspect that we'll find that many of the questions DO remain the same as the years pass... and yet many will change. Isn't it the most wonderful gift to spend time outside, in the beautiful sun and fresh, Spring air?



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