Many families have special Christmas traditions. Families with young children often start new ones, so why not try a Christmas nature walk? Without a doubt, the best Christmas gift we can give our children or grandchildren is time with them. Those of us who are grandparents know we can never get that time back, so being together now is also the best gift we can give ourselves.
A nature walk is a wonderful family activity, especially when our young ones are in early to middle childhood. Children in the magical age group from about three-and-a-half to eight years old are curious about everything, ask endless questions, learn by playing, and are natural explorers. We can help unleash their innate inquisitiveness and activate their minds by taking them outside and guiding them to explore for a purpose.
Exploring God’s Handiwork Adventures
Romans 1:20 tells us nature is God’s handiwork, so these walks could be called Exploring God’s Handiwork Adventures. Depending on your explorer’s age, a walk down the driveway or around the block could be an exciting exploration. The purpose is not to get somewhere but to see something new. These walks should be intentionally slow, with lots of stops to touch things, draw a picture, or begin learning how to take notes. Teach your explorer that notes can help them remember what they observe and that older scientists call these notes data.
Gently guide them to look, smell, and listen carefully. Tell them scientists call these actions observations. Young children want to copy adult behavior, so teach them that making good observations will help them learn the most. One way to build better observational skills is to take your adventurer to one of their favorite places. Going back several times will let them get to know the plants, insects, and animals a lot better and see them in different seasons. Children can sharpen their ability to observe and have fun by looking for things that are different from their last visit…and giving them a few clues along the way is definitely within the rules.
Getting Ready for Adventures
Preparing for these adventures can be a way to show your child that scientists do their work in a series of steps. Exploring God’s Handiwork Adventures have three steps your young explorer can help plan.
Step 1—Set Your Goal
Goals should be specific so that there’s a target your scientist can think about achieving. A few examples are: find six different types of rocks, listen for four different bird calls, smell eight flowers (watch out for bees!), look for three different types of ants, touch the bark on five different trees. For older researchers, you may want to replace the specific number with “find as many of….” Some of the youngest scientists will naturally experiment by using their taste sensation, so keep an eye out.
Step 2—Pack Your Explorer Bag
Young children really enjoy packing their own bag. Some of the things they might want to pack would make nice Christmas gifts. Every bag can be personalized, but a few ideas are: their Exploring God’s Handiwork journal (a blank-paged notebook), crayons or colored pencils, regular pencils, a sharpener, a ruler, ziplock bags, a magnifying glass, a hat, kid-sized binoculars, and a book to help them identify what they find. The “Guide to…” books from the Institute for Creation Research are good supplements to guide your young investigator in discovering God’s creation.
Step 3—Start Your Journey
The adventure is meant to be fun, but marking when the journey begins and ends will set it apart from other types of fun activities. One objective is to augment your explorers’ other educational experiences and help them learn to welcome them all as enjoyable. Help them record what they discover with as many drawings and notes as they like. Older scientists should log their findings by date and with at least one note and drawing.
Finding the Lord’s Wisdom and Genius in Everything
These walks provide a perfect opportunity to see examples of the Lord Jesus’ super-intelligence. If you look carefully at the many characteristics of creatures you may come across, the walks can also highlight how the Lord wisely arrived at the best solution to many competing needs. For instance, the next time you find a feather on the ground, your young scientists can hold it as you guide them to recognize how lightweight, flexible, and strong it is.
There is no better time to administer some mental preventive medicine to your child against the foolish evolutionary teachings they will inevitably be exposed to. A few things to consider are:
Purpose. Help them to see, for example, that birds’ wings don’t just “function” but that they were engineered by the Lord to serve useful purposes for birds. Purpose is not an illusion; it can be discerned.
Unity. Evolutionists claim creatures arose part-by-part through random processes. As your adventurer observes and sketches a beetle, explain how the Lord designed all its parts to work together in unison. Show them how all the parts are important.
Harmony. Creatures, plants, and environmental conditions all relate to each other in wonderfully compatible ways. Your explorer appreciates this far better when you point it out. Occasionally you might see some creatures that look like they’re playing together…and they are. This is a good time to explain both the silliness and ugliness of all death-driven beliefs to explain how creatures came to be the way they are.
Sensors. Seeing all the different eyes, ears, antennas, and tongues gives an opportunity to explain how these parts enable creatures to connect to their environments. These and other sensor parts are generally underappreciated, but they are essential for any creature to make decisions about its surroundings. They’re also the trigger for all its reactions. If you have deer in your area and your scientist observes its hair change color from summer to winter, you can point out that the internal sensors that detect the seasonal changes are essential to make creatures adaptable.
Providence. Discovering nests and burrows shows how the Lord provides the materials and information needed for creatures to build a place to live. In the winter, point out birds on a telephone line with their feathers puffed out or a creature with thick fur. Then your child will see how the Lord provides even a coat when it’s cold.
Making Connections and Giving Encouragement
Exploring God’s Handiwork Adventures are great opportunities for both learning and building loving connections. Even scientists have feelings, and along these walks you can tell your young scientists just what they want and need to hear. You might kick off your adventure by saying, “Spending time together reminds me of how special you are.” Your explorers will internalize important thoughts along the way when they hear, “I love how your mind works. You’re such a hard worker and careful observer.”
They will eagerly hold up their Exploring God’s Handiwork journal to show you their sketch of a squirrel, bird, or flower. Encourage their hearts by saying, “You drew this all by yourself? I’m really proud of you.” After they discover that no two snowflakes are identical, what an ideal time to tell them, “God created you for a special purpose. No one is quite like you.” You can never remind them enough that “Grandma and Grandpa think you are the best scientist ever!” We all know there could be no more suitable bow to put on your gift of an Exploring God’s Handiwork Christmas nature walk than ending it with a tight hug and “I love you!”
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer.