Plus ideas for games kids can play on nature trips

Sometimes our kids are not so interested in walks that they forget to look at what’s around them. Just because their parents love birdwatching and soaking up nature doesn’t mean they feel the same way, and sometimes they come right out and say that birding is boring!

Their mood only improves when the first hare scampers across the path or they get a glimpse of a roe deer. Yet when they were small, birds were still an important part of their lives. They could tell the difference between a Eurasian blue tit, a blackbird, and a robin almost before they learned to talk.

As far as they were concerned, the names of the different species were a perfectly normal, clear way of classifying things, and they couldn’t understand why some people just said ‘bird’ for everything! If a great tit was bathing in a water trough right in front of their eyes, they didn’t see the sense of resorting to that catch-all term.

Birding is seen as out of the ordinary

Once they reached preschool, however, they saw that hardly any other children could differentiate between different species of bird. They also saw how perplexed adults were when they said “my dad can’t come on the preschool trip because he’s off counting birds”, meaning of course that he was away on an ornithological survey. Somehow it seemed there was something unusual about birding, and one day it became very clear to our little daughter that our particular hobby wasn’t really for children.

It was on a family day out. We saw a European stonechat, and then the kids were fighting over the binoculars. When our little girl had finally been persuaded to hand over the binoculars to her big sister and the initial enthusiasm had worn off, she asked in a disappointed voice: “But what do I do now that I’ve seen the stonechat? I can’t tell anyone because no other kids are interested! The only person I could tell would be another teacher. Birds are boring!”

Bigger eyes, bigger body, more fur

Nowadays we focus more on animals with bigger eyes and a bigger body on our trips, because they’re simply more of a hit with the kids. There are some woods and clearings near our house where you nearly always see brown hares. Our children are genuinely impressed by how much bigger they are than the rabbits they have at home. Hares run pretty fast, but you can still spot them with the naked eye. Foxes and deer make an appearance sometimes, too.

Once a roe leaped out just a hundred meters away from us. Both kids reacted immediately by staying completely still. The roe stopped, too, and had a look around. We passed the binoculars to one of the kids and adjusted them to the right distance. Our little girl was overjoyed. “It’s looking right into my eyes!” she said. That’s how close the deer appeared to her through the binoculars. She felt an instant connection to the animal, and it left a lasting impression on her.

From the smallest beetle right up to a deer, children will ultimately find any animal interesting if they can get as close to it as they possibly can, either with binoculars, through stories, or by scooping it into their hands, as long as it doesn’t distress the animal.

From ants to weasels

Our kids have become very skillful at catching newts, grasshoppers, and beetles, letting them go as soon as they have had a closer look. The only things they feel uneasy about are slow worms and badgers’ burrows, which they always hurry past. There was some children’s book or other where the badger was one of the baddies, and even though we’ve explained it was just a story, they still don’t want to meet a badger in the flesh!

We haven’t given up hope with the birds, either. Recently the son of one of our friends excitedly pointed out a bird of prey in the sky, and our kids were able to explain how he could tell from the forked tail that it was a red kite. They always pick up something or other on our nature walks, however much they complain at the start!

Games kids can play on nature trips

  • Tracking skills: Equipped with a magnifying glass and a field guide, kids can play detective by looking for footprints and droppings on the path or in the woods and working out which animal they come from.
  • Wanted list: Start by drawing up a list of animals you are likely to come across, from beetles to mammals. Then the kids keep their eyes peeled in the woods and meadows and check off what they see.
  • Forest Olympics: Try the shot-put using pine cones, a long jump with sticks to measure the distance, log hurdling or log balancing.
  • Carnival of the animals: One person mimes an animal, imitating how it moves and the sounds it makes, and everyone else guesses what it is.
  • Giddee up, horsey: Grab a rope and get your kids trotting, cantering and galloping around as little horses. The rope can also be used as a lasso to play cowboys and cowgirls or to help kids climb trees.
  • Guess the bird: How many different bird songs can the children identify?
  • Forest memory game: Mark out a small square using branches and get the kids to create a picture using pine cones and sticks. Tell the kids to close their eyes while you remove two objects, then they have to guess which ones you took!
  • A backpack can work wonders: Walks can be seen as boring, but taking a backpack with your own provisions can turn them into an adventure. Remember to take a magnifying glass to look at insects and leaves, too!

Michaela Sulz

Michaela Sulz is a keen birder and ZEISS blogger.