After a long, wet winter, most adults can’t wait to get outside to observe the blossoming of a new season. Kids, however, might have a tougher time coming out of hibernation. Video games, good books and screen time can be hard to get away from, but spring is a great time to start spending more quality time outdoors. It’s also a great time to learn and bond together as a family.

You can make almost any seasonal change into an engaging and exciting way to learn and discover the natural world. All it takes is a little curiosity and the willingness to dive into a project together as a team. Here are some great ways that you and your family can engage your own curiosity and enjoy the beauty of this glorious spring to its fullest.

Geocaching
Geocaching is an activity that turns any hike or outdoor walk into an exciting search for hidden treasure.

How to do it: Download the Geocaching app on your smartphone to get started, or go to geocache.com to create a free account. Once completed, open the app and input your location. The app will guide you to the GPS location of hundreds of hidden “caches” located all over Vancouver Island. The caches vary by size and difficulty, so prepare yourself to search high and low around the given coordinates—and maybe even get a little dirty!

Tips and tricks: This activity is great for group and family outings. Have the kids alternate on the responsibility of guiding the group to the cache location using the phone or GPS. Once there, everyone in your group should participate in searching for the cache. Once you find it, don’t forget to sign the logbook, search through the swag, and perhaps add a piece of your own swag for the next family to find. One special note, caches are sometimes located off trail and some parks and Nature Sanctuaries (like Swan Lake) ask that you remain on the trails to protect the ecosystem. Please do respect these rules.

Trash Tally
Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues our society faces today. A great way to teach children about this issue is by conducting a trash tally.

As a family, collect pieces of garbage and plastic from your local park, playground or beach. Record the number of pieces, sizes and types of plastic found. You could also take part in a beach clean-up, like the ones conducted monthly by organizations like the Surfrider Foundation.

Observing how and why plastics end up in our public spaces can help kids understand the seriousness of plastic pollution, and allows them to contribute towards keeping their own communities cleaner and healthier.

What you need: It’s a good idea to bring bags to put your trash in, as well as rubber gloves or trash pickers to get at some of the more tricky pieces. Bring along a notebook and pencil to keep track of what you find. Make sure you find a safe way to dispose of what you find once you’re finished.

Tips and Tricks: Not everyone gets excited about the idea of picking up trash, but if you frame it like a treasure hunt, kids can usually get pretty excited about it. Plus, nothing feels better than knowing that you did something truly heroic for the natural spaces around you. A short talk on safety is important too and may vary depending on the age of the children involved in your activity. A rule of thumb is that if it looks unsafe, ask an adult before picking up.

Flower Power in your Pocket
You’ve probably heard “What’s that, Mom/Dad?” more times than you’d care to remember, and been stumped by the question more than you’d care to admit. Plants can be especially tricky to identify at first glance unless you’ve got a background in botany.

The next time this question comes up, try enlisting the help of Apps like PictureThis, FlowerChecker or Plantify. These apps allow you to snap a photo and use it to identify most species of plants, moss, fungus and even lichens using a visual recognition software. Using this App, you and the family can start learning to ID the plants growing in your own backyard and neighbourhood.

Tips and Tricks: Once you’ve identified a couple of common plants, start tracking their growth process. Ask kids to take a picture of the same outdoor plants each day, or plant some seeds at home and track their progress daily. This is a great way to get kids to think about what factors might affect the growth of plants.

Citizen Science
You don’t have a PhD to contribute to the world of real research. In fact, there are plenty of local organizations that are actively looking for young or budding scientists to help them collect and analyze real world data. The best part is, you won’t even need any fancy scientific equipment to take part!

Oceans Network Canada has a citizen science program called Digital Fishers which allows young scientists to analyze footage from underwater webcams, identify animals and describe environmental conditions. Nature Kids BC also runs a Pollinator Citizen Science Program in which kids are asked to conduct an outdoor pollinator survey. The program also teaches young scientists about how to become active stewards of the pollinator’s environment.

Tips and Tricks: The most important parts of a scientist’s job are to be curious and to make observations. You can stoke your child’s curiosity for science by recording their nature questions, making regular observations of the plants and animals around you, and measuring how these observations change over time. These projects require committed time and effort, but the results are well worth it. Keep following your child’s line of inquiry, and you may end up raising a future scientist!

Birding
Spring is a great season to observe birds at Swan Lake and elsewhere in our region. Not only are water birds using the lake as a stopover in their return migrations up north, many birds are attracting mates, and preparing nests to house their young. Grab a pair of binoculars and your hiking boots, hop on the trails, and see how many different species you can identify.

Tips and Tricks: If your birding skills are limited, you’re welcome to join Swan Lake’s Sunday morning Bird Walk (9:00-10:30 am), led by volunteers from the Victoria Natural History Society. The group meets at the parking lot, and children are welcome. There is also a Swan Lake birding checklist, available online and at the Nature House.
All of us Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary wish you an active and exhilarating spring.

Asta Mail is a Program Naturalist at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. She loves seeing kids and families exploring the natural environment.