Bring the outdoors in with this fun science activity

Take your outdoor nature walk indoors and teach youth environmental science with Michigan 4-H’s “Walk in a Bag” activity.

What do you do when it gets too cold, rainy, sleety or snowy to lead an outdoor nature walk? Bring the walk inside! According to Michigan State University Extension’s Science Blast in the Class activity “Walk in a Bag,” there are many indoor ways to spark a learner’s interest for the outdoors. Items found in a single area outdoors can tell a lot about the nature of the area and its eco-system. Just collect a variety of leaves, bark, branches, cones, seed heads and other natural objects from a single natural area and bring them inside. Youth can use them to identify the trees, plants, the wildlife and eco-system from that area.

To begin the activity, collect five to 10 items from a near-by natural area. The items should have different textures, or could represent a theme like all leaves, seed-heads, etc. Be sure not to disturb the eco-system and not to collect rare or protected items. Place each item in a paper grocery bag and staple the opening shut, but leaving an opening just big enough to reach in with your arm to touch and feel the item in the bag with your hand. Set the bags on a table or in various areas in the room if space permits. Place a large piece of paper and a pencil next to each bag. Write the following three sentences across the top of the paper leaving enough room underneath for youth to complete the following statements:

  • “It feels …”
  • “It could be …”
  • “I wonder …”

Now tell youth you are taking them on a walk along the “Walk in a Bag” trail. They will examine by touch only the items in the bag and write their thoughts on the paper next to each bag. When everybody seems to be done ask for volunteers to take turns reading the statements youth have written for each object. Lead a discussion of youth reactions.

Finally reveal what was in each bag and discuss with youth where each item might have come from, what plant or animal it belonged to, what sort of habitat it came from and how youth could have figured this out.

When the discussion slows down explain to your group that the items in the bags represent the natural environment of the local area. You can expand on your discussion by asking: “If you were in a different part of Michigan, what kinds of things might you find in a ‘walk in a bag’?” and “What might you find in a natural area in Florida, Alaska, Arizona or even in New York City?”

This activity can be expanded in many ways. You can branch out into plant, or animal science, natural and/or renewable resources, and much more. Or you can take the activity outdoors, when weather permits, using the ‘The Walk: Taking Your Youth Outdoors for Environmental Stewardship and Learning’ as resource.

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