Sensing Nature

Step outside on a cool fall day in Chicago and you are instantly met with a crisp breeze that makes you wrap your arms snuggly around yourself. You move forward and hear a crunch as you step on the leaves that blanket the sidewalk. An acorn falls from an oak tree as a furry, brown squirrel rushes over to collect it. Fall is a season, but it’s also a feeling, associated with all of the sounds, smells and sights that remind us of the transition from summer to winter.

Our senses help us interpret the world around us and they’re developing rapidly at a young age. Toddlers use their five senses to understand everything. As adults, we can help them hone these senses into superpowers for learning about the natural world. Next time you go on a walk together, try these sensory activities from Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community, along with some ideas of our own:

Go on a belly hike

Lay down on your bellies in the grass, inching along, only covering a few feet across the entire hike. Look out for drops of dew on blades of grass, seeds hiding underneath fallen leaves, bits of pollen on a flower and “mini beasts.”

Make a “sniffer cup”

Bring along some paper cups to collect smelly items on your walk, from flower petals to pine needles. Can your child smell the difference? What happens when you mix them together?

Use your deer ears and owl eyes

Have you ever noticed how a deer’s ears move when they’re listening? Or how an owl moves its head around in all directions? Try cupping your hands behind your ears to see if it changes the way you hear. What happens if you cup your hands in front of your ears—can you better hear what’s behind you? Once you figure out which direction the sound is coming from, use your owl eyes to see if you can spot what’s making the sound. Form binoculars with your hands to fix your sight forward. Does it help you focus?


Pick a sit spot

Find a special spot in nature, sit, and observe what happens around you. Return to that spot regularly. Did anything change from the last time you were there? What stayed the same?

Go on a color walk

Use a paint chip from the hardware store or scraps of construction paper to help you hunt for colors outside.

Sound counting

As you walk, find a good place to stop and close your eyes. Stay quiet for 10 seconds and count how many different sounds you hear. Some spots on your walk may be noisier than others!

If you like the ideas above, we highly recommend Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N

More ideas for using your senses in nature can be found here

Written by Emily Van Laan