As we enter "Earth Month," let's take some time to celebrate the one thing that all living things need - water! Now that Spring is (finally) in the air, animals that depend on the water are all around us and it’s a great time to get outside as a family to explore.
Before Your Hike
A water-themed family hike can connect children with the importance and beauty of water and remind us all that water is a shared resource, one that deserves our protection! Here are a few things to consider before hitting the trail:
- Scope It Out - Learning about nature is about making careful observations. Scientists use spotting scopes or binoculars but children are right at home using two toilet paper tubes taped together to peer through. Children can practice spotting animals and natural objects by looking at items up close through the tube and then moving back and looking at it again. To focus their attention, ask questions like, Does it look the same? What do you think it feels like? What color is it?
- Meet The Neighbors - Review common animals that might be found in your area and have your children guess what animals they expect to find on the hike. Free field guides and/or lists of local animals are available through your local Department of Natural Resources or library.
- Mind Your Manners - Walk only on existing trails when near the water to help reduce erosion. Practice the 7 “Leave No Trace” principles.
During Your Hike
Experience a familiar park or hike in a new way by directing your gaze and questions around water: what kinds of animals live in water? Who spends time near the water and who lays eggs in water? Here are a few ideas to keep the conversation flowing:
- Look in wet, muddy or moist areas, especially near puddles and stream banks. Along with bigger tracks, try to find smaller bird tracks. Look for tracks as they are easier to find and photograph well! You can encounter tracks from animals like: great blue herons, great egrets, deer and raccoons.
- One of the easiest ways to see frog eggs is to listen for frog calls and look for temporary, shallow ponds. The eggs may be floating in shallow water or attached to sticks and plants underwater. As tempting as it may be to touch, only look and take pictures.
After Your Hike
Once you’re home, find a large piece of cardboard or butcher paper and have the whole family participate in drawing a mural that includes all of the animals you found on your trek. As you're drawing, ask questions like, Where do you think the water we saw came from? Where do you think it goes? Do you think we could help keep the water clean and healthy for the animals (and us)? What ideas do you have?
As the Spring weeks pass and you continue to explore the outdoors you can begin to compare and contrast your murals, giving you and your junior trekkers an idea of how diverse the habitat in our own backyards can be and how we can protect them!