Cheap Dates with Toddlers: Nature “Shopping” and scavenger hunts


Are the long months of winter/spring/rainy season getting to you and your kids? Are your kids starting to make you crazy? Here’s a quote I love:

“If your kids are bouncing off the walls, remove the walls.”

Even if it’s pouring rain, you can still go out in nature. That’s what rain coats and boots are for! On especially rainy days, I like going for hikes in the woods, where the trees help to shelter you from the worst of the rain.

Try Nature “shopping”:  Take your kids out in the woods, and let them make collections. They can gather rocks, or seashells, or autumn leaves, or pinecones. Whatever they choose. As you explore, let them gather as many as they want (you may even choose to bring along a bucket or bag for them to collect into.) Near the end of your hike, pick a sheltered spot to examine the collection. Talk about colors, sizes, shapes, textures. Compare and contrast them. Sort them into categories. (Not only is all this fun for kids, you’re also teaching some foundational skills for science learning here… did you know that many Nobel winning scientists talk about the time they spent exploring nature as a child as one of their fundamental learning experiences?)

When you’re done examining them all, tell your child they may choose one special item to take home, but that you will leave all the other items out in nature. Remind them that these things serve a homes for animals and are also there for other children to see and discover. [Note: it helps to tell your child at the beginning of the process that they will need to leave most of these items in the park at the end of your time there.]

Collecting photos: You could also tell your child that you want to collect photos to make a nature book with. Tell them that on your walk, they should point out to you anything they think is special, and you will take a picture of it. Later on, it’s easy to do some quick cut and pasting into a word document or whatever to make up a page with a collection of photos that you can print and post at home. (If your child wants to take the pictures, check out these tips.)

Note: if your child wants to collect bugs, this may be a way to satisfy them without letting them pick up and carry the bugs home!

Scavenger Hunts: for ages 3 and up, you can prepare a list of things you would expect to be able to see or hear or do on your outing. Bring stickers along and as you’re out on an adventure, any time you find one of the items on the list, your child can put a sticker on it. Then when the scavenger hunt is complete, you can have a snack together as a reward. Ideas for scavenger hunts (some borrowed from Teacher Ann at Tiny Treks… )

  • Things to listen for: crows, woodpeckers, running water, wind in the leaves, people’s voices in the distance
  • Things to look for: pinecones, mushrooms, ferns, moss, spider web, bugs
  • Things to do: balance on a log, jump off a log, splash in a puddle, throw a rock in a stream, build a ‘log house’ with sticks, make a circle of rocks

If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, I have a series of handouts about plants you’ll find in our woods, and a scavenger hunt where kids search for salal, Oregon grape and more. Find them all here.

I find that being inside with my toddler and trying to encourage him to use his inside voice and inside manners all the time can be exhausting. Letting him run outside and be as loud as he wants is such a relief. Both of us feel much better after our time outside.

There’s also lots of great benefits to outdoor time:

More tips for scavenger hunts:

7 thoughts on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers: Nature “Shopping” and scavenger hunts

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  4. Pingback: Cheap Dates with Toddlers series | More Good Days – Parenting Blog

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