AMC Outdoors, June 2001

With no television or computers to keep them busy, kids become restless quickly on the trail. Games are a great way to keep them occupied while having some fun at the same time. Here are some suggestions to help children of all ages stay busy as they explore the natural world around them. (Note: A hand-held magnifying glass makes many of these activities even more exciting.)

Games for the Smallest Camper

  • Colors in nature — As you are hiking along the trail, challenge your kids to find at least 10 things in nature that are, say, blue. The first one to find 10 blue things chooses the next color challenge.

  • Scavenger hunt — Create lists of sounds, sights, textures, and smells to watch for on the trail. Award special prizes for collecting trash. Do not collect plants or other living objects. Instead, search for acorns, pine cones, or rocks on the forest floor. Always remember to return your natural objects to the woods where they came from. (See an article on Leave No Trace principles for more information.)

  • Life under logs — Take some time to explore the fallen logs you come across. Encourage your kids to use their senses to listen (tap the log — does it sound hollow or solid?), smell (does it smell wet or dry? like anything they've smelled before?), and feel the log (hard or soft? rough or smooth?). Look for insect holes or nibble marks. Remember that decomposing logs are habitat for living creatures, so carefully replace any logs you turn over.

Games for the Little Explorer

  • I spy — While hiking along the trail, silently pick out something you see. Tell the group whether it's animal, vegetable, or mineral. The rest of the group asks yes or no questions to figure out what it is. The one who figures it out is the next one to spy.

  • Everyone knows it's windy — Which direction is the wind blowing? Is it warm or cold? Find two different ways to tell which way the wind is blowing, and how fast.

  • Hug a tree — You'll have to know your trees for this one! One hiker is the treemaster. While hiking along the trail, the treemaster calls out the name of a tree in the area for example, birch. Everyone scrambles to find a birch tree and give it a big hug. Try not to step on live vegetation or wander too far from the trail.

Games That Require Some Parental Planning

  • Slide show — Give each hiker a six-inch by six-inch cardboard frame and ask them to pick up a leaf off the forest floor. Be sure not to collect leaves from living plants. After they've made and studied their "slide," say "click" and pass the slides to the left. Continue until everyone has their original slide back.

  • Mystery bag — You'll need a stuff sack or lunch bag and items found along the trail. Collect items (acorns, pine cones, small stones, trash, etc. — no fair picking any living plants). When you stop for a rest, have your kids put their hands in the bag and try to identify the items they touch. Scatter the materials back in the woods when you're finished.

  • Make rain art — Paint shapes with watercolors or poster paint. After the paper is dry, bring them out on a rainy hike and let the water work its artistic magic. What kinds of patterns do different kinds of rain (drizzle, downpour) make?

  • Sniff it out — For a night hike, put scents (vanilla, vinegar, mint, etc.) in film canisters (two for each scent). Hand them out and let kids, without talking, find the person holding the scent that matches theirs. To go one step further, ask kids to think of which animals use their sense of smell during the night.