Backyard Nature Activities: Nature’s Symphony

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in late June for workshops hopefully scheduled in the fall, if possible.

Nature’s Symphony

Synopsis: Everyone sneaks into the back row of a natural concert hall and listens in silence for several minutes to the symphony of sounds.

Set-up (there are no props!): The only trick is to find the right place to do it. It is nicest to pick the side of a hill so that it feels a bit like the upper rows of a concert hall with the stage down below. When you are scouting, listen for the types of sounds – you want to pick a spot that minimizes human sounds and maximizes nature sounds. It is great to be near water.

Activity

1. Lead in: Just a touch before the previous activity is winding down, interrupt and wonder about the time, and ask someone who has a watch for it. Be shocked how late it is, point out that you had arranged a concert for ten minutes from now at this incredible concert hall. Explain that the concert will give you the opportunity to meet a number of the inhabitants around here that you do not usually get to see, but everyone has to work on their listening skills to take advantage of this chance. Quickly explain that the group will obviously be late, but that if they are quick and quiet, you think they can still sneak in the back rows. 

2. Move to Concert Hall: Adopt a hushed urgent tone (this is critical to the magic) and lead the way single file to your pre-selected concert hall. You want the distance from the end of the last activity into the concert hall to be short but significant, maybe 10-15 metres, but it depends on the lay of the land. You want it long enough to give people the chance to make a transition to the new activity in hushed tones, but you don’t want to give them time to think or talk.

3. Seat Group in Hall: Stand at the entrance to the hall and point/usher the participants to the seats. Make sure they are all huddled together in a group, just about touching each other, all facing the stage. After they are seated, sit yourself on the end of the first row.

4. Focus Group on Listening: Point out that you all seem to be just in time, thank them for being quick and quiet. Ask them to hit their ears to get the “cobwebs” out. Point out that this is very subtle but beautiful music and they will have to listen intently. They could picture their ears growing like elephant ears. Ask them to try to avoid naming the sounds, but rather ask them to listen to the pure sound and represent it as a tone in their minds if they need to.

5. Dim Lights, Start Concert: Point out that when the concert starts, the lights will be dimmed – they need to shut their eyes. Point out the concert will be several minutes long. Then start the silence (if you can talk and also listen to the woods at the same time, it is neat if you can listen for a proper time to start (maybe the wind is picking up).

6. Create Ending: Listen for around 4 to 5 minutes though the length depends on the group. It is helpful to quit a bit after you get your first inclination to quit but it is up to you. End the silence by commenting on how beautiful the concert was and start a round of applause.

7. Sharing of What Was Heard: Ask people what sounds they heard and what was neat. Share some of what you heard. Discuss.

Backyard Nature Activities: Scratch and Sniff

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in late June for workshops hopefully scheduled in the fall, if possible.

Scratch and Sniff 

Synopsis: Introduce the sense of smell with an aromatic natural item. Then demonstrate the process of scratching an item to release the scent while you put special potion on the object with a scent catcher sponge. The potion helps to catch the scent molecules in your nose. Participants then scratch and sniff across an area. At the end they pair up and share their favorite sniffs. 

Props and Set-up: You need a potion bottle (neat reused bottle) with potion in it (water), a bowl to pour the potion into, plus a scent catcher (small piece of sponge) for each person. It is nice to have it in an open enough area for freedom of movement. Scout the area out so you know some of the neat smells that are there to share ahead of time. 

Source: Adapted from Earthwalks by Kirk Hoessle & Steve Van Matre, Institute for Earth Education, 1980. 

Activity 

1. Introduce Challenge of Smell Sense: Note that you have the hardest sense challenge of them all… but you think they can handle it. It’s a skill that most humans do not use much anymore – the sense of smell. There are incredible smells out here, and some are easy… try this (let them smell a sprig of spruce or balsam fir). But most smells are tough to find, so I will share a couple of my tricks of the trade. 

2. Introduce the Scratch: “Most natural scents are hidden just below the surface of whatever it is that has them – they’re just waiting to burst forth and be released to the world outside. We’re going to try to find some of these scents, and I know a special way to help us find them. It’s called scratch and sniff. Simply scratch the surface of a natural object with your fingernail, and let the scent burst out! Then you must sniff before the scent goes away.”

3. Introduce the Potion: “Now, some of these scents, even though they burst out, are difficult to capture long enough for us to sniff. And some of them are just too faint to detect. To help overcome these problems, we’ll use the aid of this special potion and a ‘scent catcher’. This bottle contains a very old and special potion that comes from a hidden stream. This stream flows from a spring deep in the earth, and it is the special waters of this stream that are perfectly suited for capturing scents”. Adjust the story and fill in details as you see fit. 

4. Demonstrate Use of Scent Catchers: Pour some potion out of the bottle into the bowl…”These scent catchers can soak up the special solution and all you need to do is drip a bit on the object each time you go to scratch and sniff something. It will hold the scent long enough for you to get a whiff of it.” Demonstrate by scratching and sniffing several things and share the sniff. 

5. Prove Potion’s Effectiveness: “I can see you don’t believe this really works. I can prove it. Here, smell this sprig of fir [quickly put it under someone’s nose]. It has some smell, right? Now I will scratch it [crinkle it up] and drop some potion on it. Now smell it. It is much stronger right? [Let others try it.] You see it really works!”

6. Define Area for Scratch and Sniff: “Now see what you can discover, scratch and sniff your way over to there, where you’ll meet me. You can scratch and sniff anything – plants, roots, soil, and even rocks. Along the way, remember your favorite scratch and sniff. Lots of great scratch and sniffs are along the ground too, so don’t be afraid to get down to look for them. If you find a good sniff, share it with someone else. Oh, one more thing before you get started. This is ‘scratch and sniff’ not ‘squash and sniff’. Be gentle with what you’re sniffing!” 

7. Encourage and Model Scratching and Sniffing: Scratch and sniff yourself and point out things to the group members that give good sniffs. Encourage them to get down on their knees as there are a lot of neat sniffs near the ground. 

8. Pair Up for Sharing Sniffs: When they all arrive at the defined ending spot, have them pair up with whomever has the same color scent catcher. They then retrace their routes with their new partners and share their favorite scratch and sniff. 

Backyard Nature Activities: Faces in the Forest

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in late June for workshops hopefully scheduled in the fall, if possible.

Faces in the Forest 

Synopsis: Each participant receives a picture frame and uses it to find natural faces in tree trunks, rocks, on the ground, etc. 

Set Up & Props: A picture frame (approximately 24 by 30 cm) for each person made of wood or cardboard. The site can be flexible. Find a demo face ahead of time when you scout the area. 

Activity 

1. Intro: “Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of faces out here in the forest? So many of the creatures, and trees and things around us actually have faces that you may not have known about! And…they portray many different feelings as well!” 

2. Practice Feeling Faces: “We can tell people’s different emotions by their facial expressions. Here…let’s practice! Everyone close your eyes, and on the count of three, when we open our eyes, let’s have everyone make a different expression. (Count and then open). Wow! Oh, look at everyone! I see… (name expressions such as happy, sad, angry, surprised, etc).” 

3. Show Some Forest Examples: “Well, the extra challenge for you right now, is to find the faces in the forest AND to try to find different emotions.” (Demonstrate… find and describe a couple of faces in trees or rocks) “Oh look, I see one. What kind of face is the one I found here? How about this one?” 

4. Demonstrate Finding Faces Technique: Since it is hard to see these Faces in the Forest, I have a Character Finder to help. Here’s how to use it: 

1) Hold it at arms-length from you.
2) Look at the object through the frame. 
3) Search for the faces. 

5. Create Partners and Explain Search Task: As you go, remember where you found each face because at the end we are going to ask you to show the coolest face to everyone. Stick together and share your faces with each other. 

6. Participants Search for Faces: Encourage them and remind them to see if they can find different types. 

7. Remind Them to Pick & Prepare to Share Coolest Face 

8. Do Tour of Each Pair’s Coolest Face

Backyard Nature Activities: Meet a Tree

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

Meet a Tree (Tree Friends) 

Synopsis: Participants are split into pairs, a leader and a visitor, and the visitor is then led to and introduced to a tree friend while his/her vision is “blocked.” The visitor gets to know the tree through the sense of touch, and then is led back to the starting point. The visitor takes the blindfold off and then must return to find the tree by sight. The pair then switches roles. 

For older youth and adults, this activity may be pitched as an open ended “tour of touch”. Instead of the leader taking the visitor to a specific tree, the leader gives the visitor a tour of the area and lets them explore various objects and touches while blindfolded. 

Set-up and Props: There needs to be one vision mask for each pair of participants (bandana or scarf to cover the eyes). Pick an area with a lot of trees to give choice, but make sure it is an area with relatively good footing and an absence of thick bushes and undergrowth. The risk management issue for this activity is that the leading child will be silly or cavalier with the visiting child, and that the visitor will fall and get hurt. This is a major concern and must be dealt with through (1) choice of a good site, and (2) careful instructions to the participants. 

Activity 

1. Lead In: Point out that you have a great chance for them to practice meeting the kinds of friends that are most frequent out here in the forest. Move the kids to the area where they will meet the new friends. 

2. How to Visit Tree Friends: Explain that these friends are different – tree friends to be exact. But emphasize that you don’t meet or get to know tree friends in the same way you get to know people friends. In fact you have to meet them in a different way because they are shy, they do not like their friends looking at them at the very start. So, here’s what you have to do: 

-Have kids form pairs – you pick pairings to get good combinations.
-One person is the leader, and one person is the visitor.
-The leader decides on a tree friend s/he wants to introduce the visitor to. The leader takes the visitor over to the tree friend and allows the visitor to get to know the tree. 
-But there is a catch, trees are shy and you can’t look at them when you are getting to know them. So, that means the visitor must wear this vision mask during the whole time he or she is getting to know the tree friend. 

3. Review Process: So we will start here (demonstrate with a volunteer), the visitor puts on the vision mask and the leader takes the visitor to a new tree friend. The visitor gets to know the tree, then the leader leads the visitor back here, and the visitor takes off the vision mask. Then the challenge is for the visitor, using your eyes, to go back and find your new friend. After you have done this, you will switch roles and the leader will become the visitor and the visitor will become the leader. Also, to make it tougher, the leader can spin the visitor around at the start and the end so that it is harder for them to know where they are headed to meet their tree friend. 

4. Important Expectations: Two things are very important about getting to know a tree [Cover these next two points in a serious tone]: 

-When you meet your tree friend, you have to get to know your friend very well – without using your eyes. You want to feel its shape, the touch of the bark, how many branches there are. You might want to rub it with your cheek, give it a hug to know how big it is (include your own ideas). Get to know it really well. [While you are saying these things, demonstrate with a nearby tree] 
-Second, the leaders have to be very careful when they are leading the visitor. You have to hold the person carefully and lead them like this [demonstrate with one of the children—hold the visitor at the shoulders or side, do not pull the visitor using their arms]. Lead the visitor slowly and carefully and tell the visitor if the footing is bad. If I see that any leader is not being careful, the leader will lose the chance to continue and will have to sit over here. Everyone will get the chance to be the visitor so you all will realize how important it is for the leader to be careful. 

5. Do Activity: Start the activity and supervise to make sure everyone is being careful. If a given pair is too slow or fast, talk with them to help everyone finish at near the same time. 

6. Final Sharing About Friend: When everyone is done, have everyone sit in a circle. Go around and have each person share one thing they really liked about their new friend. Each person has to come up with something different. 

Early Childhood Adaptation: We do not recommend using vision blockers with this age group. It works without the vision-blockers just fine. 

Backyard Nature Activities: Human Camera

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

Human Camera

Synopsis: Participants work in pairs with one being the photographer and one the camera. The photographer positions the camera to take neat photos of natural objects by rapidly opening and closing their eyes.

Set Up and Props: None. Pick a locale with good footing as one person keeps their eyes closed while moving.

Activity

1. Introduce Human Camera: Ask if anyone has brought his or her camera. Explain that you bought yours. In fact yours is not one of those expensive varieties.

2. Explain Camera Features: Ask one participant to stand up next to you and close his/her eyes. Introduce a person as a camera by noting film is inside the top (head) and it has two lenses (eyes). Shutters (eyelids) cover lenses and must stay closed until the camera is positioned just so for the picture. The picture button is either engaged by tugging on the ear or by having the camera make a fist and then picking up the thumb (you choose). The camera is versatile as it is a bipod and can be positioned. One must be careful when moving the camera about and positioning it as it is fragile.

3. Demonstrate Use of Camera: Carefully move the camera (person) with their shutters closed into a neat position so as to capture a picture. Demonstrate a close up where you manipulate the camera into a position and then tilt the head properly. Push the button and take the picture. Point out some of the other possibilities – sky shots up into the trees, close-ups on trees, close-ups where the camera is on its knees, etc. Emphasize the need to handle the camera with care. Emphasize safety when one person is leading the other in a pair with their eyes closed.

4. Split into Camera/Photographer Pairs: Split the crew into pairs with one being the camera. Ask them to take 6 pictures and then trade roles. Ask them to remember their neatest photo and encourage the photographers to be creative.

5. Encourage Photo Sharing: As pairs finish, encourage sharing of some of individuals neat photos, do this as a group when everyone is done if there is time.

Backyard Nature Activities: Sound Map

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

Sound Map 

Synopsis: Participants listen to and record the sounds of nature around them. Select a site where your group is likely to hear a variety of nature sounds, such as a meadow, forest or marsh. Your backyard will do as well. Try to pick a time of day when car and other human sounds are less noticeable. 

Set Up & Props: Index card and pencil for each person 

Source: Adapted from Sharing Nature®: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Cornell.

Activity

1. Explain Listening Place: Explain that each person is to find a special listening spot and settle down with a pencil and index card. Define boundaries for how far they can go (stay within sight).

2. Explain Making Sound Marks: Explain that the participants are to mark an X in the center of their cards to reflect where they are sitting. When they hear a sound, they should make a mark on the card to symbolize the sound (e.g., wavy lines for wind, a musical note or picture for a bird). The placement of the mark should indicate roughly the direction and distance of the sound. Demonstrate this while you are explaining in relation to the sounds heard at that moment.

3. Go to Listening Posts: Participants find their spots within site and nearby. Have everyone listen for 5 minutes.

4. Share Sound Maps: Afterwards, have everyone gather to share their sound maps 

Backyard Nature Activities: Whiffs

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

Whiffs

Synopsis: Participants have a party and make whiff sundaes with natural scents crushed on top. They name their whiffs and share the scents of the season by smelling, not tasting 

Set-up & Props: Choose a place with good materials for scents – fir, wintergreen, dead ferns, etc. – and know what you can use for a neat example. You need a small cup or dish for each person. An ice cream scoop for the leader is optional.

Source: Adapted from Earthwalks by Kirk Hoessle & Steve Van Matre, Institute for Earth Education, 1980.

Activity 

1. Invitation to Party: “How about a break for a party? Maybe some of you have heard of an ice cream party where you make your own ice cream sundaes? Well this is sort of like that only you make your own earth scoop flavours instead of using regular ice cream. Let me show you.”

2. Explain Whiffs: “We call these flavours whiffs because they are different from regular ice cream. You don’t eat these flavours, instead you smell them, and you can come up with some great sniffs. Let me show you.” 

3. Demonstrate Making of Whiff Sundae: Pull out scooper and a cup. Scoop up ingredients into a cup and then add some crushed natural materials that make for an interesting smell – leaves, evergreen needles, mint leaves, etc. (pick nice and strong smells).  Smell your sundae, “wow, that’s good, I think I will call it “earthy ripple” (make up your own name). Does anyone want a great whiff” – share it around.

4. Create with Care: See if everyone can come up with a neat and different flavour. Call it something new. “Let’s be careful not to destroy living things in the process, you only need a little flavouring if you crush it up and let the scents out.”

5. Distribute Props/Make Sundaes: Distribute cups. “Once you have your whiffs put together, come on back here for the party.”

6. Initiate Party: Start the sharing and the party as most people are finishing up their whiffs. Share your whiff sundae with others and encourage sharing all around the group, including the names of the flavours.

7. Propose a Toast: Comment “What a lovely party and great sundaes, they bring out the best smells of the season! I would like to offer a toast – to the beauty and wonder of spring.”

Early Childhood Adaptation: Emphasize not picking living plants, and to not eat anything. 

Backyard Nature Activities: Rainbow Gems

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

Rainbow Gems

Synopsis: Participants find and collect colours in nature by matching diversely coloured gems with the same colour in nature.

Set Up and Props: A white handkerchief or cloth and a collection of diversely coloured glass gems (like those from a dollar store for planters) or create rainbow chips: cut postage stamp-sized pieces from different coloured sheets of construction paper (including blue, green, red, orange, yellow, purple, pink and brown). Have them in a nice cloth sack or paper bag.  Any area works. 

Source: Adapted from Earthwalks by Kirk Hoessle & Steve Van Matre, Institute for Earth Education, 1980.

Activity

1. Interrupt to Find Rainbow Gem Colour: Suddenly interrupt and notice a special natural colour on ground and pull out your sack of rainbow gems, open them on the white cloth, and be very pleased to find the gem that matches that colour— because it is hard to find a gem colour! Hold the gem and item next to each other (a coloured leaf often works well).

2. Tell Gem Story: Realize others are looking at you funny. Ask if they have gem collections. When they look puzzled, explain how you started yours (make up your own story) or use this one…

“One hot summer afternoon an old gnome was happily dozing on some grass overlooking a big vista. A small thunderstorm passed in the distance, and on the edge of it, there was a beautiful rainbow extending from the cloud almost back to his feet. Now he was not sure exactly what happened next, but the rainbow seemed to dissolve in the sunshine and little drops of colour splashed everywhere. And the gnome swears that most all of the colour drops dissolved into and became part of the colours in nature. But a few of them seemed to solidify and become gem drops. So the gnome ran around and collected the solid gem drops and that was the start of the gem tradition among gnomes. Pretty soon every gnome was carrying a sack of gem drops and using them as a tool to help people discover all the wonderful colours in nature. I received my sack from a pair of woodland gnomes and they challenged me to find every colour in it. So I am always looking out for the gem colours.”

3. Challenge Them to Find Colours: “Would you all help me? Take 2 or 3 gems and between here and the next spot, and see if you can find the perfect colour in nature that matches each of your gems. Find the colour in something small and dead so you can bring it back here and put it on this display cloth. If it is something too big to bring back, then simply share your colour match discovery with someone else. Don’t pick anything living.

4. Colour Search: Role model by finding your own colours, and help participants and be enthusiastic as everyone searches. 

5. Create Rainbow Colour Display: At the gathering spot, have the group display their gems and the associated colour objects on the white cloth in a rainbow of colour… the reds start, then the oranges, yellows, greens, blues, & the purples end the rainbow. First place the gem with each natural colour, then remove the gems. Then pick up natural items as a bunch in cloth and have them decide which plant they would like to help by putting the natural materials under it to decompose.

Early Childhood Adaptation: Use something larger than the flat marbles (which are choking hazards and looks like candy). Use the rainbow chips idea above or larger glass stones, polished stones, paint colour strips, crayons, etc. Demo very clearly; use examples.

Backyard Nature Activities: A Dozen Touches

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in May for workshops hopefully scheduled in late June and in the fall, if possible.

A Dozen Touches / Touch Box

Synopsis: Participants work in pairs to find small natural objects that they put in a “touch box” with each compartment labeled with an adjective describing a touch word. They then trade their box with another pair and while blindfolded or with their eyes closed, they have to guess what the word is based on their touching it. 

Set-up & Props: Tape or glue a strip of paper over the top of an egg carton and print “Touch Box” on it. Decorate the box and label with crayons, markers or coloured pencils. Write the following touch words in the bottom of the compartments of the carton: wet, dry, rough, smooth, soft, hard, round, flat, dull, sharp, fuzzy, prickly. Put a different word in each compartment. Have a blindfold for every two participants. Any area is suitable. 

Source: Adapted from Earthwalks by Kirk Hoessle & Steve Van Matre, Institute for Earth Education, 1980. 

Activity 

1. Intro Touch Box Challenge: Has anyone ever collected a box of touches? I have, I am an expert at it. I challenge you to see how good you are. Here is a box for a ‘dozen touches’… You thought it was an egg carton but it’s not! Here is the challenge. There is a touch word written in each compartment of the box. I want you to work in pairs and find a small natural object that has the feel described for each word. Put that object in the right compartment. When you return with your box full, we are going to have a guessing game. 

2. Pairs Find Touches: Help pairs as they search for touches to fill their box. Separate the pairs from each other. 

3. Split Pairs, Trade Boxes & Guess Touch Words: When the pairs return with the boxes full, have one person from a pair share their box with a person in another pair. In turn that person’s partner shares their box with the first person’s partner. In each case, give the guesser a blindfold, and then (s)he tries to guess the words in each compartment by the feel of the object. The person with the box helps the guesser and tells him or her if (s)he has the correct answer. 

Early Childhood Adaptation: Young children cannot read the labels, so call textures out verbally. Use a simple tray (e.g. aluminum pie plate) instead of egg carton; give one to each child to put their collection in. “Get your fingers warmed up, wiggle them and do some stretching moves.” Remind them not to pick living things. Have the entire group look for the same “touch” (ie. rough, smooth, hard, squishy, etc). When finished make a “gift for a tree or plant” by dumping the tray at its base. Discuss what plants and trees need to grow, decompose, etc. Or, make a Touch Box by cutting a hole in the side of a shoebox for a hand to fit in. Someone puts something to touch in the box, and someone else puts their hand in and tries to guess.