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While You’re Out There

Things To Do Out On The Trails

LOOK FOR WALKING STICKS

Almost every single time we go for a walk, my boys pick out a new walking stick. The back of my car is loaded with sticks that they have taken home. They are not loyal to just one stick that they bring to each hike; instead they prefer to hunt for a new one every time.

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HUNT FOR OWL PELLETS

Dissecting owl pellets seems to be a part of third or fourth grade curriculums around the country. Owl pellets are the undigestible and regurgitated parts of small animals that owls have eaten.

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USE AN ALMANAC

Mass Audubon has a wonderful outdoor almanac that offers a month-by-month, play-by-play of outdoor activity. It offers ample suggestions of what to look for and explanations of what is happening in nature.https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/outdoor-almanac

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GO ON A SCAVENGER HUNT

A scavenger hunt is a great and easy way to combine outdoor exercise and learning. There are literally thousands of scavenger hunt worksheets out there on Pinterest and blogs. They are often based on seasons (i.e. fall scavenger hunt featuring acorns, leaves, etc), but really can be designed around any theme. Use the Google Machine to search for some ready-made hunts or get creative and make your own!

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CLIMB BOULDERS

My boys love to climb and slide down boulders. If a trail has big rocks, they are all in. Their favorite spot is the big boulder near the dam at Ames Nowell State Park in Abington. They climb it over and over again and then slide down one side of it. As a parent, it’s hard to watch, and last summer they came home with scraped backsides and ruined pants from sliding down the rock, but they were happy! A trail with interesting rock formations will undoubtedly create various points of interest that keep your kids happily moving and exploring.

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MAKE FORTS

It’s common to find forts along many hiking trails in the South Shore. If they are already started, you can venture into the woods and expand or modify the forts that are already there. Or, start your own! Find a spot with lots of downed trees and look for relatively long and skinny sticks that your kids can carry. Then start building! Our kids can spend hours doing this.

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FIND YOUR OWN LANDMARKS

One of the most daunting things for kids when hiking is having no sense of how long the trail is, what a “mile” even means, and how tired they will be when they are done. To give kids a sense of control over the trails, identify landmarks that are fun that will help them remember and break up the trail. That way, if you return again, they will know what to look for. It helps create a way of measuring and understanding the space.

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DOCUMENT YOUR HIKE

It’s fun to take pictures or videos of your hikes. Let your kids carry the camera. Many of the pictures on this blog were taken by the kids. It keeps them entertained, gives them something helpful to do, and teaches them to hone their eye for a good photo and lighting.

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MAKE ART

If your kids like art, take a small light sketch book and some colored pencils and let them stop to draw cool stuff they find along the trail. They could sketch a wild mushroom, make a rubbing of a fern or a leaf, or perhaps even capture the water shining off a pond or a lake. Or collect natural materials for art projects to do at home.

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LEAVE KINDNESS ROCKS

It’s common to find kindness rocks along trails these days. My kids love finding them. Paint your own and leave them for others to find as you hike the trails!

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COUNT SOMETHING

One of our best hikes was in May at prime lady slipper time. There were so many in the woods we actually lost count, but not before we got up to almost 100. It was so much fun to look for them, and we didn’t have one complaint from the boys that entire hike.

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THROW ROCKS

Kids always seem to love throwing rocks into water. Teach your kids to skip rocks. One of our favorite activities is throwing rocks across semi-frozen water and listening to the interesting sounds it makes. It’s fun and then you can go home and learn some science–Google why those sounds are made when you throw rocks on ice!

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LEARN TO READ A MAP OR COMPASS

Map reading and compass skills are important for everyone to know. Relying on a GPS alone for navigation is not a great idea–for numerous reasons. You could also help your kids draw a map of the trail you hike. Include your landmarks and fun things you discovered and then use it the next time you go there!

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PLANT A GEOCACHE

There is a lot more information about how to do this on the Geocaching website. But essentially, get yourself a waterproof container, a small notebook to serve as a log, a few pens, and some small trinkets and you have yourself a Geocache. I’d recommend purchasing a travel bug to plant in it as well. Then go find a spot to hide it, log it with the Geocaching website, and it’s good to go!

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SEARCH FOR OUT-OF-PLACE ITEMS

While on our hikes we love to look for strange things in the woods. Some of our favorites are a flip-flop tree (flip flops have been nailed to the tree in various places), abandoned plastic school chairs, old car parts, hunting platforms, shovel parts (common in Easton, known as Shoveltown because of the shovel factory that used to be here), etc. It’s fun to make up stories about how these out-of-place items got to their place in the woods!

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LOOK FOR MARKING TREES

Marking trees were made long ago by Native Americans as trail markers. There are lots of trees out there that look like marking trees, but odds are very few of them are “real”. Still, they are fun to look for, and you’ll find lots of trees with cool shapes in the process.

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IDENTIFY ANIMAL PRINTS (OR SCAT!)

Scat and animal prints are everywhere, and they are especially easy to find in the snow! Print out an easy-to-cary sheet with pictures and bring it with you as you hike. We’ve easily found raccoon, opossum, and deer tracks. Look especially carefully around streams and water sources.

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HEAD UP–FOR A VIEW!

Climbing up hills and mountains is hard work–but the pay off is great. Around here, Blue Hills is a very rewarding and popular hike. Go early to avoid the crowds, but many small children (as young as 3 years old) can do the hike from the Trailside Museum to the Observatory at the top. The view from high places inspires my kids to walk!

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DISCOVER LOCAL LEGEND

The Bridgewater Triangle and the Hockomock Swamp contain lots of local legend. There was even a documentary made about the supernatural activity that has supposedly happened in these parts. Freetown State Park also has a lot of scary stories associated with it, as do the towns of Rehoboth and Dighton. Google away–you’ll find some super cool stories and places to investigate–if you dare.

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HAVE A PICNIC

Make a day of it! Pack snacks, but also a fun lunch for everyone. Find yourself a good picnic rock and declare it yours! Thirty years later, my brother and I still use “our” picnic rock at the top of Blue Hills, and now our kids enjoy the spot as well.

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BIRD WATCHING

Mass Audubon and other websites have great tools to help identify birds. Grab some binoculars, find a place with bird blinds (although not necessary), and start looking! This cool interactive chart will help kids identify what they hear/see.

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