The arrival of fall means cooler temperatures, changing leaves and harvest celebrations. It’s the perfect time to head outdoors and take in all the beauty that our surroundings have to offer.
A great way to explore the amazing sights, sounds and smells that the season brings is to take a fall nature walk. Just find a local hiking trail, visit a park or go discover what is lurking right outside in your own backyard.
Fall Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt
A fun and easy way to include the whole family is with a scavenger hunt. Beyond providing hours of entertainment, a scavenger hunt is a hands-on educational opportunity that will allow both kids and adults to connect with nature on a creative level.
It’s all about enjoyment, breathing in the fresh air and looking at your surroundings for artistic inspiration. Whether you’re in the mountains or a city park, there are natural treasures just waiting to be found.
Scavenger Hunt List
Let me share some ideas to help you plan your nature walk scavenger hunt. First, make a list of items you’re likely to find in nature. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Leaves – Oak, Maple, Birch, Hickory and Ash
- Plants – Milkweed, Cattails, Mushrooms, Wild Flowers and Ferns
- Nuts – Acorns, Black Walnuts and Hickory Nuts
- Animals – Squirrels, Chipmunks, Deer, Turtles, Salamanders and Snails
- Birds – Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red-tailed Hawks and Geese
- Insects – Ants, Caterpillars, Butterflies, Grasshoppers and Ladybugs
- Animal Homes – Bird Nests, Spider Webs, Beaver Lodges, Burrows and Dens
- Bodies of Water – Ponds, Creeks, Rivers and Lakes
- Types of Soil – Clay and Sand
- Wild Animal Tracks
- Pine Cones
If you have preschool age children, create a list using pictures instead of words. Or, simply give them a list of colors and have them find items matching each color.
Engage the Senses
Another idea is to let children play and explore using their senses. To stimulate your child’s curiosity, ask them to look around and brainstorm things they can hear, see, smell and feel. Use these examples to create a fun sensory awareness exercise.
Things to Hear:
- Leaves crackling as you walk
- Birds singing
- Crickets chirping
- Wind blowing in the treetops
- A bee buzzing
- Water running in a stream
- A frog croaking
- Animals rustling in the leaves
- Woodpeckers knocking on wood
Things to See:
- Leaves falling from trees
- Squirrels and chipmunks gathering nuts
- Reflections in the water
- Birds soaring in the sky
- Bees collecting pollen and nectar
- Shadows being cast on the ground
Things to Smell:
- Wild Onions
- Pine Trees
- Damp earth
- Freshly fallen leaves
- Swampy areas
- Roots and twigs of trees
Things to Feel:
- Rough tree bark
- Soft moss
- Prickly pine needles
- Different textures of rocks
- Rigid scales of pine cones
- Warmth of the sun
- Sticky pine sap
It’s important to build anticipation for your nature walk scavenger hunt. These activities will spur your child’s interest and enthusiasm for adventure.
- Pack a nature backpack for the journey. Choose to include items that will enhance the experience such as a journal, pencils, crayons, paper for sketching, containers to collect insects, binoculars, camera and a magnifying glass.
- Read a book about the forest or wildlife to introduce your child to the wonders of nature.
- Before heading out, decorate a tote bag to collect small items to bring back for nature crafting projects.
- Search for books, internet sites and apps with field guides to help identify plants and animals you might encounter on your walk.
Inspiration through Exploration
Now it’s time to add some extra layers of clothing, put on your boots and go outdoors. Remember to incorporate different forms of art as you explore.
- Take a camera to photograph everyone as they explore, plus the spectacular scenery and wildlife along the way.
- Sketch or paint one of the many interesting subjects in the air or on the ground or simply capture the beautiful landscape.
- Collect objects to be used later for a designated art project.
- Sit and enjoy the tranquility of nature and the many colors, shapes, and textures depicted in the natural environment. Study the rings on a tree stump, the veins in a leaf or other unique features or characteristics in the environment.
- Write a poem or short story to describe your experience or emotions.
Infusing Nature and Art
Ready to craft some fantastic nature-inspired art with your kids? From simple leaf crafts to more intricate projects, it’s always rewarding to complete an art project with materials that you collected yourself. Just have fun with it and let children experiment with multiple textures, patterns, styles and colors. Here are some fun crafts that will entertain all ages.
- Leaf Rubbings – Place leaves or ferns under a sheet of paper and gently rub across the paper with a crayon. It works best to remove the paper from the crayon and use the side of the crayon to do the rubbing. Your child will see an etching of the leaf appear like “magic” before their eyes.
- Nature Impressions in Clay – Give each child a small piece of clay. As a very inexpensive option, you can make your own homemade version of air dry clay to use for this project. Then, help your child flatten the clay into a disc using their hand and let them press an item from nature into it. Carefully remove the item to reveal the nature imprint – you may need to use a butter knife to remove thinner items such as leaves. If you’d like to hang your clay imprint, poke a hole at the top of the disc with a straw. Let them dry thoroughly before displaying your works of art, this may take a few days. If desired, you can paint the finished product with acrylic or tempera paint.
- Pebble Crafts – Collect small river pebbles that are lightweight, smooth-surfaced and flat on both sides. Then, have children use their imagination to paint the rocks. Let the shape of the stone inspire the design – does it resemble a bird, a flower or maybe a pumpkin? Once the painted rocks are fully dry, attach magnets to the back for a fun decoration.
- Journey Sticks – Create a memento of your nature walk with a journey stick. Feature items collected during your walk such as leaves, twigs, flowers, feathers and acorns. Children can make traditional journey sticks by choosing a larger stick to attach items to using pieces of string or elastic bands, or another option is to secure items to a piece of cardboard using glue or double-sided tape. Now, your child can tell the story of their adventure just by looking at the items they collected.
- Nature Paint Brushes – Collect different items from nature – fern fronds, evergreen sprigs and flowers – and use them as paint brushes. Give your kids the opportunity to experiment with different brushstroke effects using tools found in nature. This is a great sensory craft and your kids will love getting their hands dirty.
- Paper Plate Wreaths – This is a fun craft for any age. Kids can use the leaves they collected to make a nature wreath to hang on their door. You will need paper plates, glue, scissors, ribbon and approximately 20 colorful leaves. Fold the paper plate in half and cut out the center of the plate to leave a 2 inch paper plate border. After cutting the stems from each leaf, begin gluing each leaf to the border of the paper plate. Slightly overlap each leaf to cover the entire white space of the paper plate. Tie a bow using a pretty fall-colored ribbon and glue the bow onto the wreath. Allow the glue to dry completely before hanging your beautiful fall wreath.
- Winter Owl Pine Cone Critters –To make these cute critters, all you need are pine cones, some cotton balls, white felt, plastic googly eyes, ribbon, glue and scissors. Start by tearing up cotton balls and stuffing them in between the scales of the pine cone. This will give them a textured look to mimic feathers. Next, from the felt cut two double-pointed ovals for wings and two circles for eyes. Glue the felt wings and eyes onto the pine cone and glue the googly eyes in the center of the two circular felt eyes. Just tie a ribbon onto the top of the pine cone and you’re ready to hang these adorable decorations.
This fall I challenge you to take advantage of the unlimited creative resources found in our natural world. Just take a walk…observe…and appreciate the splendor of the outdoors.