Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Love God, Love His Creation: Nature Scavenger Hunt

I vowed that I would not saddle myself with the unhealthy pressure of perfectly-crafted summer experiences drawn straight from the boards of Pinterest.  I refused early on, for example, to serve food to my children that had been carefully crafted to look like animals of any sort!

In order to fill the hours that stretched before us, however, and seeing such alluring ideas on my “Fun for the Kids” Pinterest board, I decided at the beginning of the summer to write down one project per week that we would try to do.  Just one per week.  I didn’t think that was requiring too much of myself, and I didn’t feel as though it fell into dangerous “dog-and-pony show” territory.

I planned to do a nature scavenger hunt with the girls during the last week of June…sometime in between summer thunderstorms, and the high winds that were downing trees and power lines across our local communities.  On Wednesday morning when I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with the day, and the two days prior had been filled with less than exemplary bickering and plenty of cries of “I’m bored!” and “I’m hungry!” that were driving me to distraction, I determined that it was the perfect day for our hunt.
Lest you think it took hours of painstaking effort to prepare for, I will set you straight on the matter:  While the girls watched a morning cartoon, I hopped on the computer, typed “nature scavenger hunt” into Yahoo, and came up with lots of lists created by lots of other people of lots of things a person might look for out in nature.  I typed up a quick list of my own in Microsoft Word, imported some clip art I found when clicking on “images” related to my earlier search, and had my handout printed within about ten minutes.  Easy-peasy.
We grabbed hats, tennis shoes, lists, pencils, and magnifying glasses (sparking a pre-scavenger hunt squabble that almost derailed our plan for the morning), sprayed ourselves with my DIY insect repellent, and headed out to see what we could find.

The girls took their lists quite seriously.  I made a clear point from the start that we were working together, not competitively, and that if one person saw an item, they should clearly point it out to the rest of us so we could see it and check it off our lists as well. 
Over and over again, the girls identified unusually-shaped leaves, smooth rocks, ants, and, of course, blades of grass.  We found a very large mushroom in one of the yards on our street, and both girls wanted their photo taken with it.  Later, they were fascinated to find mushrooms growing out from the bark of one of the trees in the park up the road.  
We noticed lots of low-hanging branches, debated the size necessary to qualify as “a very large stick,” and paid more attention to holes in tree trunks than we ever had before.  We stared up at the clouds to make sure they were indeed moving by, and not just standing still. The girls were dismayed to see as much trash as they did along the way.

We were headed toward a creek up the road, but my older daughter heard rushing water in one of the drains along the way.  My younger daughter wanted to check off “animal eating” once she saw a squirrel, but we didn’t technically see any eating going on until we saw some birds busy near the park.  
We enjoyed the experience of seeing the trees, which clearly qualified as something bigger than us.  They also supplied us with something brown, something rough, and moss, though we had much of this checked off before we hit the park.  
My favorite part was picking out birdsong, and having the girls quiet their own chatter to listen.  They continued to pick out birds singing the rest of the walk.

Due to the season, I wasn’t sure how well we would do with acorns, pinecones, or trees with blossoms, but we had these checked off by the time we got home.  We had to look in our own backyard to find ferns (which are just about the only things I manage to grow successfully in my garden!).  
Since we didn’t do any digging, we had to leave “a worm” blank until we head outside to play in the mud next time, and we didn’t find a feather on this walk (though we saw one at the zoo just a couple of days later).

I think the experience was a total hit!  And I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or not, but the girls played together nicely for the rest of the day, completely reversing the trend of the two previous, excruciating days.

A scavenger hunt is such a great way to get kids (and grown-ups!) to notice their surroundings and really see the beauty of the natural world God has created.  Seeing nature interrupted by human garbage is a pretty significant lesson in itself.  Getting outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, spending time by the rushing water, and working together on a fun task all contributed to making this a perfect, low-prep summertime activity.

Side note:  As we walked, I jotted down a bunch of other things I saw along the way (garage, puddle, basketball hoop, skylights, lamppost, window shutters, parked car, flag, fire hydrant, chimney), and figured I would create a “Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt” for later in the summer.  It will take less than five minutes to type up, and we’ll have another fun experience in the bag!

How do YOU remind yourself and your children to stop and notice the beauty of creation once in awhile?

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