I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors. We had a few acres of forest behind the house, and I would spend hours there alone, exploring, playing, and making mud pies and potions. It was absolutely glorious. Lately, I’ve had a sense of mental friction, seeing that my children seem happier watching TV and on tablets, their innate, childlike sense of wonder at nature exploration seems to have disappeared.

I’ve written a bit here about my efforts to get my children outdoors more (see: Our Unplugged Summer, and Screen Time Summer Rules). And hands down, one of the best activities toward accomplishing this goal was the outdoor, nature scavenger hunt.

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There’s nothing quite like seeing a child exploring nature. It truly is innate, but it’s also a skill that’s a bit “use it or lose it.” Today’s society, laden with electronic devices, wifi, and immediate gratification, has lost a lot of its connection to nature.

Ask your child what his or her favorite recent memory is, and I can pretty much guarantee that you will not hear, “The day I played video games.” You’re much more likely to hear about a beach trip, or water table play or catching fireflies or something that was done outside. This is what childhood should be, and what the essence of childhood is – exploring the world and learning outside.

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The benefits of children playing outdoors are countless and have been backed by actual science. I’d be willing to bet that the very best thing you can do for your child, in today’s day and age, is to get them outside more often. Their immune systems will be strengthened, fine and gross motor skills will be tuned, they will perform better in school, have better eyesight, and be less impacted by ADHD – among many, many other things.

My kids, unfortunately, are much too accustomed to electronics for my liking. Honestly, I really did start out with the best of intentions. When my first son was born seven years ago, I swore he wouldn’t have any screen time until he was at least three years old.  Slowly but surely, my resolve was chipped away, 5 minutes became 10, 10 became 30, and now we’re fighting the abyss of endless screen time. I can’t just toss them outside and hope for the best. I’m trying to reintroduce them into the world of Mother Nature, and the nature scavenger hunt was the perfect way to do this.

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I made a huge deal of this activity and printed off worksheets with great fanfare (we all know that the success of any kid activity has a lot to do with the excitement beforehand and less to do with the actual activity).

I printed the worksheets on yellow cardstock so they were easy to see and hold. Each child got a crayon to use to check off what they found, and knowing how my children are, I made sure to take yarn and tie it around the crayon, turning it into a necklace. Crayon necklaces, for the win! No crayons were lost during this activity.

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You can download a PDF version of our nature scavenger hunt printable here. I created this printable so that it’s appropriate for a variety of ages. My preschool-aged daughter was able to find things with the pictures, and my oldest son was able to read the words listing what he was supposed to find. And my toddler was just happy to be along for the ride. All three of them had a blast, and zero percent of the activity had anything to do with something with a battery or power cord.

For more of my personal column, click here.

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