Nature is full of wonder and intrigue – especially for young minds and adventurers. It is full of lessons, life cycles at every conceivable stage, vibrant colours, rich and complex scents. Things that are essential for a growing and curious mind – and a reminder for us adults to find enchantment in nature.
Yet it’s not just the sense of wonder that is nurtured by nature. Other benefits of being outdoors and connected to nature include enhancing physical health, instilling feelings of calm and relaxation, as well as fostering connection.
Free play in nature is a wonderful way to promote curiosity and adventure, but if you’re looking for inspiration on how to connect deeply with both your children and nature, I’d like to share a game that is a favourite in our family when we hit the trails.
Sensory eye spy
To say that our family is trail mad is a bit of an understatement. Yet even though our son loves running and hiking the trails, sometimes he does need some encouragement when his legs turn weary. So we around two years ago we started playing eye spy. Over time it has transformed into a multi-sensory game that allows us to really connect with nature.
We start off with the usual, “I spy with my little eye” but depending on the age of your child, you may wish to look for colours rather than letters. For example, “I spy with my little eye, something that’s the colour green.” This makes the walk a little more interesting as we start noticing more nuanced details in nature – leaves, bark, flowers, moss, fungi, birds and animals. We like to incorporate the sky into the game too, which helps us to look up and notice the different layers of the forest.
When we’ve exhausted the sense of sight and colours, we move on to textures. “I feel with my little hand, something that is rough.” Now we’re tactile. We touch and feel different aspects of nature. The different textures of bark – rough, soft, spiky, smooth. The different textures of leaves and flowers. The roundness or length of seedpods. The wetness of creeks and bubbling brooks.
Listening to the sounds of nature
Next we move onto sounds. “I hear with my little ears, something that is chirping.” Now our sense of hearing is heightened as we become aware of the different sounds around us. Birds chirping, the wind rustling the leaves, the rocks and stones crunching under our feet, sounds of other hikers, the sound of running water, the sounds of airplanes flying overhead.
What can you smell?
And the last sense we use in our little game is that of smell. This can be a little trickier to articulate with younger children, but fun nevertheless. “I smell with my little nose, something that is sweet.” (Or strong, or pungent, or rotting, or yucky.) In the Australian bush there are some distinct smells, of eucalyptus and wattle in more temperature environments, or the rich and pungent smells in sub-tropical forests of leaves and forest fruits breaking down.
Out on the trails we usually refrain from using our sense of taste, being unaccustomed to what’s edible and what’s poisonous. However, if you were doing this in a garden full of herbs and edible plants, this is another fabulous sensory opportunity of “I taste with my little tongue.”
Of course the game doesn’t need to be so structured, and after everyone is familiar with the patterns, it’s fun to mix it up. One person can use sight, the next person can use smell, etc. You’ll find that as you become accustomed to noticing the different senses in nature, you’ll notice a patch of soft moss to touch, or the smell of some wildflowers.
Being out in nature is so full of rewards and gifts, and using the Sensory Eye Spy game is one way to help notice them and fully breathe, smell, touch and see the delights on offer.
If you hit the trails (or gardens or park) and play Sensory Eye Spy, feel free to comment back here and let us know how you went.
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