Stop, Look, Listen, Touch, Feel

One of the best ways to create meaningful nature experiences is to STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, AND SMELL. TOUCH only when it is safe! I remind Nature Detectives to make the day a multi-sensory experience.

garden, insects, grass, Nature Detectives, outdoors, curious


  • Take shorter hikes with children (and even into their teens) because they want the hands on experience of small, intimate spaces. My son prefers playing in a creek, making a floating leaf raft, or climbing on a group of rocks than walking farther to impressive panoramas.
  • Stop regularly for snack breaks. Without snacks, by the time kids (and adults too) feel hungry, they are already grumpy, tired and not willing to go another step.
  • Respect nature. Remember we are guests in other creatures’ homes. Avoid disturbing plants and animals. Stay on marked paths.


  • Keep kids within sight at all times – as difficult as that may be.
  • Follow a trail guide or map that describes animals and plants that inhabit the area so you know what to look for. Ask of the children to carry the guide and “resident expert for the day.”
  • Look ahead and side to side. You never know what you can catch a quick glimpse of before it hides back into the forest. It is common to see deer eating along the trail of the American River Parkway. I looked farther into the woodland and saw a coyote strolling by.
  • Even when you picnic, keep your camera handy. Sitting at a picnic bench well off the main road of Yosemite National Park, we watched a coyote stroll past us with his latest proud catch – a deer head in its mouth.


  • Repeat all instructions regarding breaks, toilet stops, trail rules because five minutes into the hike, kids will forget everything.
  • Make a game of listening for things that are harder to hear: the snap of a branch as a bird lands on it, a squirrel climbing a tree, a woodpecker searching the bark for worms or a deer roaming the brush enjoying a snack.
  • Travel as a group, so everyone is seeing the same thing at the same time. My son often runs ahead. Then I remind him, “you were so far ahead, you missed …”


  • It is okay to touch the soft, spongy bark of a redwood and the sticky sap on a branch. Don’t peel lifted bark off the trunk.
  • Hold a Douglas fir cone in your hand and look for the pointed feet sticking out. Those are the “squirrels digging for seeds.”
  • Sugar pinecones may sound sweet. These extra long, have sharp points and are extra heavy. Look out for falling cones!


  • When I walk in the forest, I approach pine trees, smell the trunk and know it is a Ponderosa pine when I smell butterscotch or vanilla.
  • Enjoy the sweet smell of wildflowers in bloom and spices growing naturally in the wild.