Kids in the Wild…Nature Detectives

Unstructured time in nature unleashes incredible creativity in my children. Recently, we met our playgroup in a redwood forest and with the aid of a notebook, pencil, and a camera enjoyed hours of fun as “wilderness detectives.”

On this occasion, I simply didn’t have the time to be bothered with much preparation. It worked perfectly, however, because I simply followed my daughter’s lead and ended up with a wonderful educational adventure.

Here’s what we did:

We arrived at our hiking spot and I took out my notebook and pencil. As Jasmine (nearly 5 years old) began to race up the trail, I asked her to describe what she saw. She ran just a few feet up the trail and began to tell me about a plant with pink flowers. I began to write what she wrote in the notebook and she was impressed. Somehow, recording her words made everything feel very important.

I asked for more details and she counted the petals. She described the shape and color of the leaves. She touched the stems and announced their texture. I wrote it all down in my notebook, asking clarifying questions, “what texture are the leaves? How many points do they have?” checking to make sure I’d accurately recorded her information.

(Interestingly, she does not like to spend time on counting or geometry if we’re working with paper and pencils. But in this environment, she was captivated. It didn’t even occur to her that she was doing “math.”)

I walked up the path and began “searching” for her plant. Because she’s been desperate to use my camera recently, when I found her plant, I handed her my camera and let her take a picture of it. We repeated with all kinds of plants and creatures.

banana slug

She was thrilled. Meanwhile, little 2-year-old Chloe was racing around the trails picking up sticks, poking in the mud, and galloping after her sister. Whenever she stopped long enough to take notice of something special, I’d stop to talk about it with her.

Jasmine and I filled two pages of notebook paper with her discoveries, which included:
Large banana slugs
Baby banana slugs
Pink flowered bushes
Purple flowered bushes
California newts (Chloe found this one)

After we returned home, Jasmine enjoyed hearing the descriptions of the plants she’d found and then viewing the pictures she taken to go with the descriptions. We even tried to learn the names of some of the plants she’d found.

What nature adventures have you enjoyed with your children? Share them here!


Vanessa S.
Vanessa S5 years ago


Vanessa S.
Vanessa S5 years ago

I have three kids. Two daughters, ages 7 and 9, and a son, age 5. They would absolutely love an activity like this. I think I am going to get them each a notebook and disposable camera and let them make their own nature scrapbooks. They can take pictures of the different things that they find, record their observations and take a picture. After the pics are developed, we can place the pics next to the recorded info and do research on wgatever it is. I think they would absolutely love this!!!

Elvira S.
Elvira S8 years ago

What a cool thing to do with your kids

Denise Muhammad
Denise Muhammad8 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this story and I'm now inspired to share this idea with my son. Thanks!

Dave Brew
wiz wi8 years ago

i stated a fairy garden and it surprizing what come into the garden a few i name fredy the frog hungry horace (*sea gull) we had a lame duck name daisy but i took it back to a near by pond as there cats luckying around
but it fun try nameing our animal friends

Mikey S.
Mikey S8 years ago

grown ups have a lot to learn from children. to experience the world with an open heart, live in the moment, and be free. mother earth is a child, so you can't play with her unless you are in your heart and not your head.

Pamela Walker
Pamela Walker8 years ago

each person has that inner child,tapping into our world should be an every day event, watch for detail, its fun

Jessica Min
Jessica Min8 years ago

I would love to learn how to be a detective. But this is definitely NOT what I want to be when I grow up.