Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Digital Scavenger Hunt & Spring Nature Walk

We decided to get out and enjoy the spring weather this week by taking a nature walk combined with a digital scavenger hunt. Here's what I packed to keep the boys happy for a few hours. 
  • clipboard, tweezers, & magnifying glass
  • drinks and snacks
  • layers, coats and hats
  • 2 digital cameras (a small one for Caleb and an SRL for me)
  • essential diaper bag items; diaper, wipes,  
  • a large bag to hang on the jogging stroller
To plan the trip, I tried to keep the mood light. I often struggle with over-planning (do I hear an Amen?).

Sixty second parent had great suggestions of ways to engage kids with nature with sample questions to ask. They also have tips on ways to enjoy a night hike. Valerie at Inner Child Fun had an idea of an outdoor color match using paint chips. And Deborah at Teach Preschool suggested that little ones collect items and then later organize their finds into categories. 

For our trip I went with a digital scavenger hunt theme. Here's the idea in a nutshell;  photograph items off your list. I prefer photographing items to "collecting" them so that we are not taking specimens out of nature, but leaving them there for others to enjoy.  Before we left the house Caleb and I brainstormed items we wanted to put on our list to identify. 

Our yellow clipboard with a pen tied to a string held the following list: 
  • Insects and spiders under rocks
  • budding branches (check)
  • robin, nest, eggs, baby robins
  • large fallen tree (check)
  • poison ivy (check)
  • purple flowers (check)
  • wooden bridge (check)
  • tree in the shape of a "Y" (check)  
  • Acorns or Buckeyes (check)

However, our list was ever evolving. While on our hike, Caleb would yell back at me (he, of course was the leader), "Mom, is animal tracks on the list? No? Can we add it?" So that's what we did. Whenever we came across something cool, we added it to the list, and photographed it. We've done photo scavenger hunts before, so he's gotten pretty good at working the camera. He takes photos of the listed items, and I take photos of him taking photos! Fun! 

The items we added to our list:
  • animal tracks (didn't find because the soil was too dry)
  • water bugs (check)
  • butterflies (check)
  • river (a big check!)
  • wolves & foxes (we didn't see them but Caleb was on the lookout!)

Caleb prefers counting, pattens and adding, and getting him to practice writing letters is no easy task, but when we stopped for our snack break, he took the liberty to add "rocks" to our list, asking me which letter was next, and what that letter looks like. 

Caleb tired of taking photos, so our scavenger hunt lasted about 20 minutes, and the focus was just on the hike. I was careful to ask questions about his observations.  What do you notice about that? Why do you think it looks/smells like that? Where do you think this path will lead? How do you think we can get down to the river? 

 In the spirit of life-long learning (not formal lesson plans, objectives, and assessment plans) I didn't have any goals of what I thought we might learn. I allowed Caleb's interest to dictate our conversation.

One science-y thing we discussed was the life cycle of trees. We looked carefully at a decomposing log (photo above on the left). Caleb understood that it was a fallen dead tree and that bugs (bacteria) and fungus help to break down the wood into soil. Several minutes after this discussion, he pipes up and says that someday there will be no trees because they will all become soil. [Cool...he's thinking about what we talked about, and the implications!] So then I ask about "baby trees." He got it! Oh, trees won't disappear as long as trees can get their seeds to good soil. So he took it upon himself to dig a hole and carefully plant an acorn into the soil to grow a baby tree (photo above, right).

While we hiked the trails, Caleb decided to work on his ability to distinguish between right and left. Whenever the trail weaved one direction he'd yell back, "We're turning left!" or, "Mom, guess what direction we will be going next?" Corban happily hung out in the jogging stroller for most of the trip. An hour into our hike we stopped for a drink and snack and to update our clipboard. I tipped the stroller back so that Corban could have his bottle. 

A major priority for Caleb was getting down along the river. Remember I'm loaded down with a fair amount of baggage so I had him looking out for a manageable path. And boy was it worth it. Caleb had a blast. At first timid about getting wet, then all hesitation was gone. I let Corban out of the stroller to toddle around a bit. He was getting tired and it wasn't long before he was crying, and fell asleep on our hike back to the car.

As I consider homeschooling, on this day, I was totally convinced it is the right thing for us to do. I mean we really were learning and connecting what we learned to our experiences. While worksheets have their place, we really enjoyed teaching/learning this way! Below is a video montage of our nature walk! Enjoy. 

What ideas do you have for nature walks? 
Want more ideas...I've linked up to these pages:



  1. What a wonderful nature walk and I love the digital scavenger hunt! It would be lovely if you'd like to share this with our Spring Carnival. :)

    1. Thanks for the invite! Lots of great idea at your Spring Carnival. Isn't spring wonderful?

  2. Great idea! My kids sometimes need something to spice up our nature walks. This would be great to try!

    1. Hi Marci, I don't know what it is about giving them a camera, but kids become all business! My 5 year old son will view each photo after taking it, to make sure it is just right, delete it if its not, take it again. I figure at this age, he's not good at drawing or writing, but he can record his observations about the world around him digitally! :) Thanks for the comment! (Also, looking forward to the FB Homeschool Science Party, next Tuesday.)

  3. Hi Darci,
    Thanks for following my blog! Now I'm following back. I can't wait to explore your blog more, it looks fascinating! I'll have to try a digital scavenger hunt next time we take a family hike. I think you would be great at homeschooling, by the way!

    1. Patricia,

      Thanks for the follow. Let me know how your digital scavenger hunt goes. Its one of our favorite twists on the regular nature walk. And thanks so much for the encouragement regarding homeschooling!


  4. Great post! I'm definitely following you now - it looks like we have a lot in common!

  5. Looks like you guys enjoy exploring nature as much as we do - yay! Thanks for stopping by & checking out the Photo-a-Day Scavenger hunt. It's been a lot of fun!


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