Reading the Outdoors (FBCEC)


A useful outdoor skill is the ability to “read” clues in the surroundings. Tracks, tufts of fur, a path worn through the grass – all are signs of animals. Participants will take a discovery walk to attune their senses to the environment and to infer the meanings behind what they sense. (Note: This activity is most effective in small groups. If participant number is high, several adult leaders will be needed.)

Grade Level:


Recommended Setting:


Outdoor Activity:



Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR


Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484


45 minutes - 1 hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 20

Special Conditions:

Ample adult supervision.  Weather permitting.


  • Understand that being outdoors should be a multisensory experience.
  • Recognize that animals are around even if they can’t be seen or heard.
  • Record observations during a field outing.
  • Analyze and infer meaning from observations.


Journals and pencils

Natural items that represent some sort of sign


A list of observations and inferences made during an exploration could be endless. The point is to get participants outdoors, encourage them to grow alert, to exercise all their senses and to think critically about what they find.


  1. Show a natural object like a leaf or nut that has been chewed or an acorn with a hole in it. Ask what caused this and why? Continue the questions with a few more items, giving participants practice in investigative thinking.
  2. Explain that they will be taking a discovery walk. The leader will stop occasionally to point out something of interest. Participants may be told to look, smell, listen or touch (whatever a particular sign calls for) and then speculate on what caused it.
  3. After pointing out a few items and discussing them, fade out of instructor mode into facilitator mode. Encourage participants to look for signs themselves. They should record descriptions, sketches or notes in their journals and explain what they observe. Bring attention to points of interest that were overlooked.
    • Why is moss more prolific in some areas along the trail?
    • If a stream is dry, how can you tell which direction the water runs?
    • Where, along the trail, might be a good place to search for salamanders?
    • Which direction is south? 
  4. Invite them to share with the group.


Give participants copies of a trail map on which they can record the locations of their observations. Younger participants may enjoy placing animal stickers or stamps on the map to represent the animals they believe left signs.


  • Relate your most interesting finding from this outdoor experience.
  • List several benefits to being able to read the outdoors.


  • Cornell, Joeseph (1998). Sharing Nature With Children. DAWN Publications.
  • Jones, Janie and Wyatt (2004). Hiking Arkansas. The Globe Pequot Press.
  • Louv, Richard (2006). Last Child in the Woods. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.