One of the best ways to de-stress is by taking a walk and it is especially helpful during these uncertain times. In fact, Ottawa Public Health recommends we go out for a walk, as long as we maintain social distancing by staying two metres away from others. Nature walks are a safe outlet for parents and children going a little stir crazy from being cooped up in the house together. As Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes says, movement is medicine and getting out in nature is the best medicine of all.
Children love a challenge, so how about a scavenger hunt? There are several templates online that give you a list of items to search for, but it is just as easy to put one together yourself. Simply write down the items or creatures you want to search for; you can even use photos or drawings. Then it’s off for the walk! The length will depend on the age and attention span of the children, but the excitement of a scavenger hunt might keep them going longer.
Our library may be closed, but we still offer some wonderful online resources to help you enjoy your walk with children. Tumblebooks, available in our online resources, offers non-fiction read-alongs that will surely interest young nature lovers. Our Seasons, written by Grace Lin, uses haikus and prose to cover weather, the natural world and the physical changes of the seasons. The animal section of Tumblebooks contains a two-part series, Birds: Nature’s Magnificent Flying Machines by science writer Caroline Arnold. She explores feathers, body and wings, and she explains how flight really works. The books are beautifully illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne. Tumblebooks videos that might be useful for your walk include Tales of a Tadpole, Beavers are Geniuses and Trees, all from National Geographic. Tumblebooks also has two compilation playlists of picture books that may be of interest: Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, which includes nine favourite bug stories; and Ecology.
Available in eBook on the library website is the lovely picture book from Alison Farrell called The Hike, a story of three friends who love to hike and explore their local forest. On a more humorous note is Mr. Monkey Takes a Hike, a wacky picture-book adventure from author-illustrator Jeff Mack about a monkey who loves playing video games and ends up chasing a bird that steals his controller.
As for where to take a nature walk, there are many options nearby. For example, walk through Brewer Park and over the berm to a pond connected to the Rideau River. In spring, many migrating birds stop on their way back north and frogs will soon be singing songs. Be careful around the pond because water levels rise this time of year. There’s also the Arboretum, the Experimental Farm, many parks in the Glebe and the path along the Rideau Canal.
You may want to venture further afield. MegK is a local mom-blogger who hikes with her one-year-old and offers a great selection of curated hikes that kids will enjoy. She has launched the Ottawa Hike Challenge at adventurereport.ca. The National Capital Commission also oversees many trails (ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/hiking-and-walking-greenbelt). But please check first to make sure trails are open; many have been closed or access has been restricted because of the pandemic.
Once back from your walk, you may have collected a number of items. It is important to talk to children about exploring nature but leaving most of what you find where you found it. However, it is fine to bring home a couple of pinecones, a rock, some leaves or seeds. They can be turned into an art project, perhaps mounted on paper and displayed. To help with such a project, our eBooks can offer some tips. Try A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature by Asia Citro. Scott Sampson, the host of the PBS kids’ series Dinosaur Train, writes about how to imbue your child with a love of nature in his book How to Raise a Wild Child. He stresses the importance of childhood exposure to nature in reducing stress, depression and attention deficit.
Wishing you a wonderful walk!
Susan Townley is a children’s programs and public service assistant at the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library.