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by Lynn Kirk, Public Relations Writer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

A winter walk can help stimulate children's imagination. With encouragement from their mother, Mary Riley, Sean, left, and Kelly McGranahan complete a Kid Quest activity at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

A winter walk can help stimulate children’s imagination. With encouragement from their mother, Mary Riley, Sean, left, and Kelly McGranahan complete a Kid Quest activity at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Nature isn’t limited to three seasons – and neither are nature walks. Winter is a delightful time to explore the great outdoors as a family or with a group of youngsters. A winter hike reveals nature’s cold-weather mysteries and seasonal trends. Leafless trees bare their trunks for closer inspection, while also opening up views above and afar. Wildlife puts on entertaining shows while scampering in search of food and shelter. And only during winter can you discover the joy of icicles and the intrigue of nameless tracks left in the snow.

But before starting out on a nature hike, plan ahead and plan for fun. Random walks can seem pointless to children, whereas overly structured hikes can be overwhelming. The following tips may make your winter outings more meaningful and memorable.

Prepare. Read nature books, study bird illustrations or explore the Internet, and then talk about what you might find outdoors this time of year. Discuss the cycle of seasons, how animals survive wintry weather, differences between evergreen and deciduous trees or the purpose of nuts and berries. Light research not only readies youngsters (and you!) for learning opportunities, it builds anticipation.

Make it fun. Play games like “I Spy,” count bird sightings, conduct scavenger hunts or be the first to spot animal tracks. Encourage youngsters to use all their senses, not only seeing nature but also hearing bird calls, feeling frosty breezes, smelling the freshness of pine needles or tasting snowflakes. Climb a hill or race to the creek for added exercise. Whatever subjects you cover and whatever tactics you use, try to keep things interesting and relevant so your children develop an appreciation for nature.

Record your findings. Half the fun is talking later about what you experienced, so record your discoveries with a camera or journal entries and take a backpack to hold found objects. It’s eye-opening as to what youngsters truly treasure, including quality time with you.

Editor’s Note: This article first published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on January 8, 2012.

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