The five Ws of outdoor exploration …


Take a walk with your kids in the wild and discover some of the incredible plants and creatures right outside your doorstep.Educating yourself ahead of time on the natural wonders of your neighborhood will leave you an “outdoor expert” armed with an arsenal of fun impromptu lessons for everyday encounters with nature.

Ask yourself these five questions to prep for family outdoor expeditions:

Who are the locals of your natural neighborhood? We mountain folk have plenty of choices — pine trees, squirrels, coyotes, blue jays, woodpeckers, crickets, rabbits, deer and more. Find an interesting fact (or a few) about one of these critters to share with your child on your next hike. There’s a plethora of great nature science books and websites you can use. Just take the time to do a little research.

What kinds of things do our wild buddies eat, build, sing or do every day? Can you find any signs of their activities? Look for woodpecker holes, hummingbird nests, gopher garden excavations, coyote howls, rabbit tracks in the snow or the piles of pine scales squirrels leave behind.

When do things happen in nature? With our heaters, air conditioning and seasonless supermarkets, we’ve almost forgotten that cycles are an important part of nature. If you are cutting wood rounds for the fire, take time to look at them with your child. Examine the width of each ring. Was it a good year for growth? No wood rounds available? Just head to the trail for pine tree sightings. Every year, a pine tree adds a new “whorl”, or circle of branches around its trunk. You can count the number of whorls to discover the pine tree’s age.

Where do all these critters and plants jump, swim, crawl and grow? Depending on who you are looking for, you’ll have to change where you look. You’ll find ravens flying high, rabbits in the meadow thickets and Caddisfly larvae camouflaged as sticks down in Strawberry Creek. How about dedicating a hike to searching for one plant or animal? If you have favorite critters, focus on finding them, their traces and tracks. Find out what habitats they prefer and head out for it.

Why do all our natural neighbors do the things they do? Why do woodpeckers tap on trees? Don’t make it up, look it up. Since most woodpeckers don’t sing, they tap in order to claim their territory — and the noisier the tapping, the better they like it. Next time you’re out, make a list of questions you can answer later. Why do some trees get rid of their leaves and others keep them? Why do birds migrate? Why do frogs croak and coyotes howl?

Based off these five questions, there are thousands of activities and experiments you can do with your kids outdoors. So instead of sitting them in front of the Xbox, think outside of the box.