How to start

Studying Nature

All you need to start studying nature is the ability to observe...and maybe a pencil and paper.

Step 1

Start by encouraging your child to notice the nature around them. When you’re at your local park or forest, introduce questions like, “How old do you think that tree is?”

Step 2

With your child, practice sitting in one spot and observing what you can see in front of you. You can start small with just three or four minutes of study.

Step 3

After they’ve become more comfortable with observation, encourage them to write down what they observe in a journal.

Step 4

Find a topic they’re interested in (trees, flowers, insects, etc). Go to the library and let them choose some interesting books on the subject or help them do research online.

Step 5

Find an experiment that can help them further engage with the topic. Sites like Pinterest have great ideas for easy experiments.

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Exploration Ideas

  • Keep a cloud chart

    Have your children pick a time each day to write down a few sentences on the clouds they see when they’re in a green space. What category do they belong to? Remember that curly or fibrous clouds are called cirrus clouds. Clouds that look like they’re in sheets or layers are stratus, and clouds that are heaped or piled up are called cumulus clouds.

  • Study the phases of the moon for a month

    Learn about the phases of the moon using NatGeo’s guide. On clear nights, go a green space near your home and have your kids make a sketch of the moon and try to identify the phase. To start off, you might just write down whether it’s “waxing” (growing bigger) or “waning” (growing smaller).

What to Bring

  • Plenty of water, even for short hikes — a gallon per person per day is a good guide
  • Snacks such as fruit or trail mix and empty bags to collect any garbage
  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Lightweight rain jacket


Safety Tips

  • Before you get on the trail make sure you have the local Forest Service Ranger District’s or Supervisor’s Office phone number with you. If someone gets hurt this should be the first number you call.
  • Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.
  • Avoid going if a thunderstorm is in the forecast. Seek shelter in a car or house if you’re caught in a thunderstorm. If you're caught outside, the safest place to be is crouching in a cluster of trees — not in a clearing, out on water, or next to a lone tree.
  • Be mindful of the sun. Use sunscreen, seek shade, and drink plenty of water — even in the winter.
  • Animals have their own natural food supply so please don’t feed them.
  • Fruits and mushrooms can look tasty, but some are poisonous. To be safe, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest.
  • Railroad tracks are for trains only. Keep to the side and stay off the tracks.
  • Set a turnaround time when heading out that gives you plenty of time to get back before it gets dark. Expect to spend at least the same amount of time hiking back as you did hiking out.
  • Bring a small flashlight or another source of light with you if you'll be out close to sunset.