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Connecting Children to the Outdoors Through Nature Hikes

I love when children participate in our BioBlitz nature walks. Having children carry hand lenses, which we provide during the event) really gets them up close and interested in the small details of whatever they find. I enjoy asking children questions about nature on the walks. Their enthusiasm grows when we find new critters or see unique plant features.

A girl scout examining something of interest using a hand lens at a BioBlitz event. Photo courtesy of Karan Gathani.

One of my favorite things to do is to ask them about what they find. This is a great way to engage them, encouraging them to describe what they see, inquiring for more detail. By getting children interested in nature at a young age, studies have shown that this can help foster their curiosity in the outdoors for years to come. By introducing the Seek app, which is designed for kids by iNaturalist, children can use mobile phones to identify the different species that they find interesting. For some children, learning the names of things helps lock in their interest.

Children using mobile phones to identify ants. Photo courtesy of Merav Vonshak.

One thing I particularly enjoy is to introduce the concept of plants having adaptations to survive. As we walk, I like to point out plants and share some fun facts with the kids. My favorite plant to introduce to young people is Catchweed bedstraw (Galium aparine). The leaves and stems of this plant have tiny hook-like hairs called trichomes that allow it to adhere to clothing and animal fur. This is one adaptation this plant has in order to help it reproduce. Some fun common names for this plant are sticky willy and nature’s velcro.

Catchweed bedstraw growing in Hellyer County Park. Photo by Annette McMillan.

Children are particularly interested in edible plants. One that is easily identifiable is called miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Miner’s lettuce has disc-like leaves and are sometimes described as resembling lily pads. The stem continues up through the leaf and the upper stem flowers from February through May. This California native plant received its name from the miners who ate it during the California Gold Rush. Children usually describe the flavor as green, fresh and sweet. Once children are exposed to which plants are edible, they want to eat them all the time. It must be explained that this is food for herbivores, such as deer and rabbits, and we need to leave some for them. Usually, the next question from them is what else can they eat?

Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) found in Kelley Park. Photo by Annette McMillan

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