A Beginner's Guide to Noticing Nature

Beginner’s Guide to Noticing Nature

snail-2760079_1280The child sees everything in a state of newness… Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a small child absorbs form and colour.

-Charles Baudelaire

The title of this post could be interpreted in a couple of ways: One – it is directed at those who are new to paying closer attention to nature and might be seeking some guidance. Two – the “beginner” can be thought of as a child and it is from this child one can best learn how to notice nature. I write this post in the spirit of the latter as I believe children hold a special gift – a gift for truly seeing the wonder around them.

So how do children do it? And how can we reclaim our child-like attention and see the world anew? Here are ten gifts of childhood and how you can reconnect to them to help you notice nature more keenly…

  1. Be curious! Everything is new for young children and they begin their days ready to explore and experiment. When you have an open heart and an open mind, everything is interesting and worth investigating. Trying to recapture a child-like curiosity is a matter of mindset. When you are in nature, view your surroundings as if everything is new to you, as if you are seeing it for the first time. Begin to notice colors, light & shadows, shapes, textures, sounds, contrasts, etc. Move in for closer inspection and notice smaller details. The more you notice, the more you’ll want to continue noticing. As Walt Disney said, “…curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”.
  2. Know that everything holds wonder. Curiosity seems to go hand in hand with wonderment – that feeling of finding beauty or amazement in the unfamiliar, of sensing the magic of life. By ‘magic’ I mean an awareness of a force larger than ourselves that unites all life. We don’t need to understand it only simply feel it. Set logic aside and allow yourself to be amazed over the very existence of the variety of life around you.
  3. Live in the moment. Children are fully immersed in what they are doing in any given moment. They are not thinking about what they’ll do next or worrying about a to-do list. They are present and engaged with the subject at hand. While adults don’t have the luxury of not being concerned with schedules and to-dos, we can take full advantage of even the shortest moments in nature. Take some deep breaths and be mindful of sensations and your movements & emotions.
  4. Get excited about small things. Children don’t need grand adventures or unusual finds to excite them. Their curiosity and wonder allows them to marvel over the commonplace and find joy in noticing things they haven’t before. Practice being curious, noticing nature, & wondering and one day you’ll find that you also get excited about the small things. If you follow my Instastories, you’ll know I totally nerded out recently over finding wild cranberries.
  5. Believe anything is possible. Children’s imaginations are limitless, aren’t they? Fairies may be watching as you stroll through the woods; you can build a castle of sand to live in; a butterfly may come down to rest on your shoulder and whisper secrets in your ear; you might swing so high you could jump off and land on a cloud. While adults may only allow such indulgence while engaged in play with a child, we can carry a similar spirit of playfulness and openness to magical experiences. Embrace serendipity. You never know where it may lead you.
  6. Engage your senses to observe closely. Children touch, smell, listen, taste, and use their whole bodies when exploring nature. They gather information in a personal and meaningful way. When was the last time you felt a leaf, both top and under sides? Or sniffed a broken twig? Or looked at nature through a magnifying glass? Don’t be self-conscious about investigating nature more closely (refer to #9). Get personal and you might be amazed at what you notice.
  7. Follow your interests. Watch a child at play and you may notice that they flow seamlessly from one idea to another and that new materials are easily incorporated into the current activity. You may also notice that at times they completely drop one activity for another that has grabbed their attention. Follow their lead. Go out in nature from time to time with no agenda. When something has grabbed your attention, don’t think – go with it and allow yourself to be inspired.
  8. Hold no expectations. Young children do not explore nature with preconceived notions or judgement. Everything is interesting and worth investigating. They also explore without an agenda in mind. They are open to whatever experience may present itself. Try to let go of your learned attitudes and do not critique your experience. Just let the experience come and go with it.
  9. Be uninhibited. Children do not worry about what others may think of them and their actions. They are clear on what they want to do in the moment and do it. They feel free to express the full range of their emotions as they experience them. When you are in nature, allow yourself to explore whatever and however you’d like (with respect and reason, of course), abandon any pretenses you have and let your emotions wash over you. Invite others to join you and share in the uninhibited joy of noticing nature. Squish your toes in that mud! Roll across the grass! Climb a tree! I’m sure my neighbors think me a bit strange for always staring so closely at the trees in our yard but I don’t care because I discover things like these…
  10. Build on previous knowledge & experiences. Children learn something new with each repetition, gain a comfort level to probe deeper, and eventually begin to make connections. They discover relationships and notice irregularities. While you are observing nature, make “this reminds me of…” statements. Try finding a connection between seemingly unrelated objects (my kids and I love to revisit this activity from time to time).

So, what do you think? Are you ready to reconnect with your inner child and let wonder lead the way? What are you waiting for… get outside and notice nature!

P.S. If you were hoping for some practical tips to help the children in your life notice nature, check out my Helping Young Children Notice Nature post.




Noticing Nature 2018 is beginning!

Noticing Nature 2018
 I began Noticing Nature as a private group on Facebook in January of 2017 soon after the idea popped into my mind and there are currently 310 members from all around the globe.
What is Noticing Nature? It is a family-friendly space – meant for adults and children alike – for sharing interpretations of weekly open-ended provocations and prompts. Each of us will find our own unique relationship with nature and that’s what this journey is all about.
So how does it work? Every Monday I post a thoughtfully selected, open-ended provocation in the form of a single word for you to carry with you throughout your days. With some mindfulness and openness, the connections will present themselves to you.
This year I will also be offering…
  • A monthly theme. The themes can serve as structure for the weekly provocations or as an additional spark for noticing nature throughout each month. It’s up to you!
  • Occasional prompts related to the weekly word that are more specific and actionable.
  • Occasional challenges (simple and easy to incorporate into your days).
  • And perhaps a surprise or two…
We start Monday, January 8th.
You can join us on Facebook or sign up by email at any time. I’m looking forward to sharing with you!


NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – October 2017

Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families - October 2017

“There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.”
–  Nathaniel Hawthorne

This quote expresses how I feel about fall and this month in particular. It lays between the blur of September – full of transitions – and the delightful, although busy, holiday season. It is quieter, cozier, slower and full of colorful fall beauty. I hope the prompts for this month help you slow down and notice some of the splendor of the season.

Track the changing temperature

The temperature can shift quite drastically this month. From day to day and even hour to hour. Today in Maine the temperature reached near 70°F in the afternoon and is supposed to dip to the low 40s tonight. That’s a big change! Use our weather log to track the temperature and weather throughout the month and see what a difference a day can make.

Life of a log

Even after it’s life, trees continue to be a crucial element in the ecosystem. They help lessen erosion and provide shelter, food and nutrients. Examine a fallen log and you’ll see that it’s full of life. Search for signs of animal activity and fungal growth. What did you observe? Why do you think they were in, under or around the log? What role do these things play in the cycle of life?

*Note: While observing fallen logs, please be very gentle and careful. This is a living habitat.

These are some of our favorite books to accompany the exploration of fallen logs…

Go on a bark scavenger hunt

The outer bark serves the same function for all trees but there is a lot of diversity in how it looks.  So many different patterns and textures and colors to notice!  Your young naturalist will gain a greater appreciation for trees with this scavenger hunt.

bark scavenger hunt

You can take this activity further by adding some sensory elements.

  • Ask your child to feel the difference of the barks.  Do they feel rough or smooth?  Are they thick or thin?  Take some bark rubbings too.  They will aid in remembering the experience and serve as prompts for reflection and further discussion.
  • Try smelling the bark. Go ahead, don’t be shy. The bark of some trees have very distinct odors. Sandalwood, red cedar, yellow birch and ponderosa pines are some.

Notice the night sky

This month is the perfect time to get outside after dark and observe the night sky. It’s getting dark before bedtime, still warm enough to not have to bundle up too much, and the skies tend to be clear.

While time spent together simply gazing at the night sky is a wonderful thing, you can make it engaging and educational by doing a little prep work. I like this short video for generating some ideas: Stargazing with Kids.noticing the night sky

Here are some other resources you may want to have at the ready…

Happy October. Have fun exploring and noticing nature!


Wednesday Walks: Staying close to home

Wednesday Walks - Close to Home

My goodness, it has been a while since I have shared one of our weekly walks! I’ve missed sharing nature with you.

On this day we headed out for an after dinner stroll through our neighborhood. We wanted to stretch our legs and enjoy the pleasant summer evening. All the lovely, interesting things we noticed in nature was an added perk.

Before I share what we noticed though, let’s talk about the benefits of this simple activity…

  • It’s good for your soul – Going for a walk will get you away from distractions so you can spend quality time with your loved ones. Or maybe some quality time with yourself.
  • It’s good for your mind – Taking an outdoor stroll reduces stress, promotes creativity and improves concentration & memory.
  • It’s good for your body – Walking helps aid digestion, lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure. A walk outside helps fill your vitamin D needs, increases oxygen intake and can even improve eyesight.
  • Being outside is just plain good for you, whatever your age!

Now on to all the nature goodness!



There were so many Queen Anne’s Lace in bloom. It can be found blooming at all different stages simultaneously so you really get see what it looks like in each phase. Each one is beautiful!


This is the time of year that net-winged beetles seem to be out in multitude. We’ve been noticing them everywhere lately.



We noticed some ferns unfurling and Alder cones just developing.



There is a small area abutting some woods that had been cleared fairly recently. Nature, of course, is already filling back in. We saw lots of Spreading Dogbane taking over – a plant we haven’t noticed in this area before.



We found this Robin’s nest that had been blown out of a tree. Its base was quite large and heavy with dry mud and there were some lichen bits woven into it.


Nearing home my son stopped to listen more closely to a rustling he heard in the leaf litter. Based on it movement, we’re thinking a little vole was under there.

What we thought was going to be a simple walk turned into a rich, nature-packed experience that invigorated all of our senses. It was such a treat!

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
-John Muir

What have you been noticing on your walks lately? If you’d like one of your walks featured here on the blog, let’s chat. I’d love for us all to share our nature finds!


P.S. If you would like to join a welcoming, supportive group where you will find inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year, join me at my private FB group – Noticing Nature 2017. I’d love to see you there!

Wednesday Walks: Cathance River Nature Preserve

Wednesday Walks: Cathance River Nature Preserve

This week we head to a nature preserve along a river less than a 10 minute drive from our house. It’s one of our favorite places to visit. Early on this sunny and very warm morning we joined the local Audubon chapter for a guided bird walk.

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

It was a fairly quiet bird morning with the highlights being a Rose-breasted Grosbeak sighting, hearing the beautiful, almost haunting songs of Hermit thrushes (we stood in silent awe for quite sometime while the rest of the group continued on) and seeing a Hermit Thrush nest. They nest on the ground and this recently constructed one had been abandoned after a hard rain matted down the ferns that were providing cover.

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

It’s always a thrill to get to the river and witness its energy and power and beauty. On the walk in a Snowshoe Hare crossed our path and sat long enough for us to snap a photo. On the way out a young member of the group spied a Red-spotted Newt in a puddle on the trail. Very fun sightings!

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

During this walk we also noticed and took time to appreciate the variety of wild flowers in bloom. There are still plenty of star flowers and bunch berries blooming and so many lovely ferns adding to the lush atmosphere of the late spring woods. We also saw a Pink Lady Slipper in its white form for the very first time. We had read about this phenomenon just the day before so it was quite the coincidence!

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)


We also noticed two new-to-us flowers that I’m sure we have passed many many times. The first is Clintonia, a shade loving member of the lily family. Later in the summer they will develop brilliant blue berries which is where the common name of Blue Bead lily comes from.  I have read that the leaves were used by the Algonquin and Chippewa as an antiseptic poultice applied to wounds, infections, and burns and that Chippewa children liked to make designs in the leaves with their teeth.  These plants take about twelve years  for these lilies to flower so I know these have been here for a while.

The second is a Painted Trillium.  These flowers have a wavy margin and reddish splotches at the base of each petal which serves as a pollinator guide.  These flowers look so delicate and indeed in some areas they truly are.  Know your state conservation laws.  In some areas these plants are protected as they are in decline due to habitat destruction.

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

Wednesday Walks (6-14-17)

It was a gorgeous morning and we left with our hearts and minds full of appreciation for the amazing nature that surround us. 💚

Thanks for coming along!

P.S.  I did not do a blog post about last week’s walk but you can find it on my Instagram account.


Noticing Nature – Nature Prompts: June 2017

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families_ June 2017

Each month here at Green Acorns you can find simple prompts to encourage you and your child to find your unique connection with nature.  They could be done while on a hike, right in your backyard, and even amidst the busyness of everyday life.
Taking the time to notice nature builds on your child’s natural curiosity and nurtures a sense of awe and wonder.  It provides unlimited opportunities for further exploration and cultivates an attitude of inquiry.  Personal connections with nature get woven in to one’s sense of place and can lead to stewardship of the natural world.  The list of benefits goes on an on…  And this all can be accomplished in little time with only a little effort.
You’ll find the link to download this month’s prompts at the end of the post.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016


The variety of sounds in the environment and how sounds effect the way we experience natural settings often go unnoticed. Take time to slow down and tune in to your sense of hearing.

Find a comfortable sit spot in nature, have a seat and close your eyes. Listen carefully. Notice all the sounds around you. Record at least five in your journal. Don’t forget to include where you were sitting, the time of day, and the weather.



Although we are primarily visual creatures, smell is quite a powerful sense for us.  Some scientists estimate that we can detect at least 1 trillion different smells and that our connection to certain scents begins in utero.  Because of our brain anatomy, sense of smell is strongly linked to emotions and memory.  It can also help us navigate the physical environment.

Strengthen your sense of smell by taking some mindful breaks to notice the scents around you.  Whether you stop to smell some flowers, notice the briny scent of low tide while at the beach, or while out for a walk get a sudden whiff of a new scent carried by the breeze, pause and take it in.



So much information about the outside world can be learned through our sense of touch, which most children are naturally compelled to do.  We’re putting a fun twist on this prompt and going bareFoot!

There has been much research in recent years about the benefits of letting children go barefoot and there’s even a book about it.  Our goal is to focus on the sense of freedom and the sensory stimulation it provides.  It’s also one more way to feel more closely connected to nature.  So go for it… Free your feet and explore at least three natural surfaces (sand, grass, smooth rocks, puddles, etc). How does it feel? Soft? Prickly? Tickly? Warm? Rough? Record everything you felt and noticed in your nature journal.

P.S. International mud day  is June 29th.  Try stomping in mud puddles barefoot to celebrate.


Observe & Move

With this prompt, children can imagine taking on the qualities of animals in the natural environment and in doing so, deepen their connection to it.

Spend some time observing a few different animals (bee, frog, squirrel, bird, etc). How do they move? Are they fast or slow? What parts of their body moves when they make a sound? How do they position their bodies at rest? What are they busy doing?

Now use your whole body to move like each animal. Record what you noticed in your journal.

Download a printable version of the prompts here.  Enjoy!


P.S. If you’d like to join an friendly, supportive group where you will find weekly inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year, join me over at Noticing Nature 2017. And feel free to invite some friends.

Wednesday Walks: Evergreen Cemetery

Wednesday Walks - Evergreen Cemetery

Some time ago an Instagram follower and friend said that she’d love to go on a walk with my family because we see so many interesting things.  That was such a compliment to me and a lovely sentiment.  As I was thinking about how fun it would be to go on walks with her and with you, I had an idea – We may not be able to meet in person but we can share our walks here.  There are SO many amazing things to notice in nature and sharing with others is a wonderful way to enhance our experiences and strengthen our connections with nature and each other.

Are you ready to walk together?  Today we visit Evergreen Cemetery…

Wednesday Walks - Evergreen Cemetery

We don’t often have an agenda when we head out for a walk but today my son wanted to visit this particular location to try to find a rare bird that had been spotted a few days before.  When we arrived, my dad, youngest daughter and I spread a blanket and sat to eat lunch.  My son took off birding.  As I sat I began to take notice of the nature immediately nearby – the pink cones of a large Norway spruce, a clump of pussytoes just starting to bloom, a mallard couple cautiously checking us out, a large patch of Self-heal at the base of a tree.  I grabbed my camera and explored these sights a little.  Then it was time to join my son.

Wednesday Walks - Evergreen Cemetery

As we walked along a wooded trail my dad saw a flash of red and we all gathered for a look.  My son recognized the call and then we all saw it – a Scarlet Tanager!  Aren’t they beautiful?  I think it was just as curious about us as we were of it.  It flew closer and perched long enough for us to get a few photos.  It then flew down to a small stream to bathe.  As we stood and scanned the trees my daughter noticed a fairly large hornet nest – something we don’t come across very often.  We also began to notice other birds, like the Blue-headed Vireo pictured above, and found this sweet cup nest in a maple tree.

Wednesday Walks - Evergreen Cemetery

As we moved leisurely around the pond, senses now more alert, other things began to catch our attention.  We noticed frogs along the water’s edge holding perfectly still, maybe hoping we wouldn’t see them.  There were painted turtles gathered on a fallen tree to soak up any ray of sunshine that managed to break through the clouds and large snapping turtles thrashing about.  At first we thought they were fighting but we quickly figured it out.  It is spring after all and soon there will be a clutch of eggs.  We also spotted a Solitary Sandpiper walking in the water searching for food.

Wednesday Walks - Evergreen Cemetery

The path passes through a wooded area where there were many more birds to spot and plants that have recently emerged.  The most common spring plants we see right now in this type of habitat are field horsetails (Equisetum arvense), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum).  Trout Lilies do not produce flowers for the first 7-10 years of its life and spread primarily by underground runners from parent bulbs.  Because it takes so long to produce large colonies, you know when you come across one that they are quite old.  Several hundred years old.  As I stood admiring this large colony blanketing the floor of the woods I tried to image who else may have passed this way and seen the same sight.  The cemetery was constructed in 1854 and there are many civil war veterans buried here.  Would visiting loved ones 150 years ago have noticed?  Who passed this way before the cemetery was built?  Would there have been anyone harvesting the bulbs to dry for winter sustenance?  To consider the history that this area has witnessed was incredible.

Wednesday Walks - Evergreen Cemetery

So you see, the things we notice when we are outside are not things out of the ordinary.  They are things that we are surrounded by all the time.  My children and I have simply developed a habit of noticing nature which involves curiosity, enthusiasm, a sense of awe and wonder, and a focusing of attention.  And now I’m so happy to be sharing our nature walks with you.  After all, “A joy shared is a joy doubled”.  Thanks for joining us!  See you next Wednesday for another walk.

Would you like to share some sights and experiences from one of your walks?  If you are interested in having a featured ‘Wednesday Walks’ post, let’s chat!



Nature Word of the Month: SUBNIVEAN

Last winter, after warmer temperatures had melted the top layer of snow, we noticed a network of tunnels throughout our yard.  We soon realized that they were created by either mice or moles.  It was a fun discovery!

A couple of months ago my husband started reading Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich to our children.  He got to a section that talked about the subnivean zone and the kids realized that the tunnels we had seen were evidence of subnivean life.   My husband was fascinated and suggested that I use it as one of my nature words of the month.  Well, this is the perfect month.  I hope you enjoy exploring the subnivean zone!

Nature Word of the Month: SUBNIVEAN | via Green Acorns

Learn More

  • Northern Woodlands has a great article about these shelters in the snow.
  • This article by the National Wildlife Federation is very helpful and has a nice graphic.

Resources to Inspire




NOTICING NATURE 2017: 52 weekly prompts to inspire deeper personal connections with nature

Noticing Nature 2017: 52 weeks of prompts to inspire deeper personal connections with nature

A very happy New Year to you!  I hope that you are entering 2017 with optimism for the possibilities that lay ahead.

While I don’t make New Year resolutions I do feel a renewed energy and a restored clarity after the holidays – a great time to move ahead more mindfully and with stronger intention.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do is share nature experiences with you in a more personal way.  With this in mind I have created a private Facebook group called Noticing Nature 2017.  Every week I will share one word to serve as a prompt for noticing nature as you go about your days.  My hope is that you and your children will find inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year.   My hope is that it will be a supportive community for people on the shared  journey of seeking a greater appreciation for nature and our place in it.  I hope you will join me there.

Noticing Nature 2017


NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – December 2016

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - December 2016

December can be an extra busy month and making the time to appreciate nature’s gifts, large or small, can be just what we need to create some space and enjoy some mindful moments connecting with our children.  I hope these nature prompts will help…

Noticing Evergreens

Conifer trees aren’t the only plant that is an evergreen.  There are many shrubs and smaller plants that keep their green leaves throughout the winter.  Wintergreen is a common one here in Maine.  How many different evergreens can you spot this month?

Finding Frost

While snow crystals form in the clouds, frost crystals form on solid surfaces near the ground when it cools past the dew point.  Like snow, frost is made up of tiny ice crystals and comes in a variety of structures.

When the conditions are right, bundle up and go in search of frost.  How many different examples of frost can you find throughout the month?

Seasonal Senses

A change in season is signified by so much more than rising or dropping temperatures or the sights of the transforming nature.  Each season can have its own smells, sounds, tastes, textures and more.   I love how quiet it is during a snow and how the fallen leaves feel extra crunchy underfoot.  My family and I also enjoy noticing the patterns and textures in frost and ice.  How about you?  What special sensations mean winter to you?

As we approach the next solstice, mindfully engage your senses while you are out in nature.  Pay close attention to what you notice.  Give some thought to what you experience.  Perhaps make a list of descriptive words or write a few notes on a calendar to record your observations.

Did you know?

Brain research confirms that combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more connections made within the brain.   The result is a more thorough, meaningful experience that can be recalled more easily and with more detail.

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - December 2016

Practice Stillness

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

– Mother Teresa
What is stillness?  It is basically the act of doing nothing.  It’s quieting your mind and sitting in silence.  It’s making space to connect to your essential self, to God, to nature.  It’s cultivating an inner calm and serenity.  It’s simply being.


In our modern, over-scheduled, media-driven world, stillness and silence are more crucial than ever for our  well-being.  Even young children need this.  For most of us, life is noisy and we are constantly processing information.  This causes fatigue, stress and tension.


This month, I’m requesting that you and your child follow nature’s example.  Let go of what is not serving you, send your roots deeper so that you may find connection and strength, and be still.  Try it for at least five minutes a day.  Sit in silence.  To get the most benefits, take it outside.  Dress appropriately and sit in silence with nature.

Download and print your nature prompts here.

I am also including another weather tracker this month.  I heard from so many of you that you enjoyed the simple log (found in November’s prompts) and would like to continue the routine.  You can get a December copy here and a blank version for use any time here.

Wishing you and your family a joyous, wonder-filled holiday season!