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Natural Collections & Treasure Hunts

Children (and many adults!) love collecting things and in my opinion, natural ‘treasures’ that can be found outdoors are definitely the most fun to collect.

My daughter and I have been going on regular outdoor ‘treasure hunts’ and ‘collecting adventures’ since she could walk and even prior to that when she would happily bounce along attached to me in her baby carrier or in her pram, stopping numerous times to admire, touch and/or smell our natural finds. A pretty leaf, interesting piece of bark, gum nut, flower or shell are all fascinating for a baby for whom every day is an adventure and new sensory and learning experience. And for the older child these finds can open up wonderful discussions about feel/texture, colour and if you are that way inclined lead naturally into other activities such as art/craft (leaf stencils, bark rubbings, collage etc. etc…) They also make for great material/ideas for story telling and with my daughter now 3 and a half years in age she comes up with better stories than I do during our nature walks and collecting expeditions!

Collecting is something that can be done and adapted pretty much regardless of your surroundings and is an easy often spontaneous activity.

Collections can be seasonal in theme:

Summer collections might include shells while autumn collections are likely to include autumn leaves. A spring collection might be turned into a spring crown like the ones in the photograph. Children love taking a basket (if available) and will take great delight in showing off their finds to others. We have set up a special spot in our house (it’s just a flat basket on an easily accessible shelf) to display my daughter’s most recent treasures – a collection of feathers from our flock of guinea fowl, a small nest blown out of a tree and found following a stormy night and a very large shell that her Nanny found at Rottnest during our last holiday there (a treasure tied up with lovely memories!)

Not all collections need to come home either…my daughter and I will sometimes collect together objects while on a forest walk….create a ‘pretty’ natural sculpture for example and then leave it where it is or carefully place all the pieces from our temporary collection back where we found them. Older children will be interested to hear about how leaf litter, fallen branches etc provide homes for many animals and help other plants/trees grow and are often best left where they are found (Read the book review for “Leaf Litter”, a gorgeous children’s picture book aimed at children 4 and above)… Likewise for shells and driftwood discovered on the beach…stories of how shells over time break up to form beach sand and also help provide homes for small creatures do interest children and will form their first understandings and respect for looking after our beautiful natural world.

Older children may enjoy a literal treasure hunt where you spend a small amount of time organising pads and pencils/crayons and you set out in search of certain objects that you decide on prior to leaving. If you are going on a bush walk perhaps natural objects/creatures like some or all of the following:

a leaf with a smooth edge e.g. Eucalypt

a leaf with a bumpy/patterned edge e.g. Banksia

a yellow flower

a red flower

a purple flower

a pink flower (this one has to be included for my daughter!)

tree bark

an ant

a spider’s web (and maybe the spider also)

a very tall tree

a grass tree

some moss

a hollow log

pine cones and/or gum nuts (depending on what type of forest)

an interesting shaped rock or stone

For younger children you may like to draw a visual picture list of what they are looking for or they can draw and/or colour their own. You might take some stickers or a stamp that they can place next to the picture of the treasure/natural object as they find it on your walk. Try to include natural objects that they have a good chance of finding on your treasure hunt walk…so have a think about the time of year it is and what is generally found in the area.

This is a lovely activity for both children and their parents/carers as it gets you out and about and amongst nature, encourages you to really look at your surroundings and naturally generates some excitement about finding nature’s treasures. Enjoy!

A life-long blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together. Happy memories become treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood.

—– Charlotte Davis Kasl