"Wait, where did you see a beetle?" a voice floats back to me, across the dusty trail.
"I still haven't found any cottonwood," my youngest niece intones.
"I'll show you where to look," her older cousin offers, leading her to look down the hill and pointing toward the river. "They seem to grow more down there," he surmises.
We are on a hike. A very hot and very uphill hike. The scenery is beautiful but I would be lying if I said that these kids wanted to be here. At least initially. Until I whipped out a homemade scavenger hunt and offered a prize for all who participated (pack of gum) with a bounty (cold hard cash, people) for the one who found the most items the quickest.
Now, instead of complaining, the older trio is practically running the trail in search of lizards, dragonflies and wildflowers. Their younger counterparts have taken a more thoughtful, methodical approach and have even spotted a mule deer and dung beetle.
By the time we get to the top of the hill, almost all of the scavenger hunts are complete. (Mental note to make longer ones next time!). My teenaged niece has diligently completed hers, noting "bonus" items such as ravens (seen and heard), algae and squirrel. My son has counted 27 tadpoles and made a checkmark on his sheet for each and every one.
I couldn't be happier!
Not only did I get to enjoy the hike but six kids learned about local flora and fauna, developed a better understanding of how animals and plants interact and became interested and invested in the natural landscape.
I cannot take credit for the idea of a scavenger hunt. While reading the book, How To Raise a Wild Child, I came across this and several other practical ways for getting the next generation off of their screens and out into the wild. This book is part of a burgeoning movement to reconnect kids and nature. The benefits of getting outside are well documented. When we do it, we become healthier, happier, even smarter. Parents consistently rate connecting children with nature as second only to reading in importance. Yet most children spend 6-7 hours daily in front of a screen and only a few minutes outdoors.
What ideas have worked for you?