The Boy Scouts definitely knew a thing or two about nature adventuring when they set their motto “Always prepared.” Nature adventures big and small are even better when you are ready for anything! A little preplanning on the front end will keep you “always prepared” for exploring the backyard garden and hiking up a mountain!
One way to always be ready for nature fun is to have a field bag packed and ready to go at a moments notice. Field bags are an easy to carry small bag packed with the things you like to use while exploring your natural world.
The field bag can be backpack or tote style, but it should allow you to have your hands free, not restrict your movement, and it shouldn’t be too big because you don’t want to carry enough to weigh you down, especially when the bag is for a child. You know you don’t want to end up carrying the children’s bags!
It is important that each member of your family or class should have their own field bag, so choose a small bag to designate as the field bag. You could make your own like the one I give a pattern for in my book Wings, Worms, and Wonder, you could buy one, or if you have a very small tote bag you could use that.
For elementary age children, I recommend the bag be no larger than 8×10 size. Otherwise it gets too bulky – and it should have a shoulder strap. Younger children adventuring closer to home like them to and can use a tiny tote they can wear over their arm.
First, be sure that your nature journal fits in the field bag. This will probably be the largest item included.
Then, choose a few drawing pens and pencils in a pouch to keep in the bag. These will be used to draw and document discoveries and to write poems or thoughts about the nature being experienced.
You will want each bag to have a small pack of colored pencils, a regular pencil (and of course a pencil sharpener that contains it’s shavings so we don’t litter in nature), and I also like to keep a large crayon without the paper for making rubbings. Drawing pens are nice for older children to use to outline drawings and highlight specific details.
Next, include a small ruler, tape measure, or both. This is great for documenting leaves or other discoveries that may want to be researched later. Knowing the size of an object is important to document!
Keep a magnifying glass in your field bag.I recommend a decent quality glass one for older children. (Plastic is fine for young children.) These will run you about $3-$5 at the hardware store or online; in nature catalogues they may be a little more pricey. Magnifying glasses are awesome for helping children see the world from a different point of view. They also are great for observing details on insects, flowers, and anything else discovered.
I like to include small viewfinder for looking at the world in a different way. These could be a square window cut from cardboard or I like to use old slide housings. They give the feeling of looking through a little window at the world. They help children focus in on a scene or specific area by defining the viewing area and are really great for setting up compositions for drawing landscapes.
You may also want to have a collection case or two in each bag. These could be little containers or simple plastic baggies for collecting leaves and seeds. Children love to collect and it is nice to be able to contain their treasures.You could even include a bug box if you are okay with the children collecting insects to research and later release. Bug boxes can also be used for seeds and many have a magnifying lens on top which is fun.
Optional – Depending on the situation, where you are going, and who you are journaling with, you may also want to pack a small pan set of travel watercolor paints, a little bottle of water, a couple paintbrushes, and a few paper towels.
For the adult’s field bag, in addition to the items included in the children’s bags, you will want to carry a field guide or two specific to your area or the area you are exploring. It is important to be able to make identifications when children inquire because naming is an important part of making connections.
Having children memorize the names of all the trees in the area isn’t something to be pushed of course, but when interest sparks, you want to be able to provide them with the resources to find the names and specifics of their discoveries. You may also want to carry a pair of scissors or garden clippers if you will be harvesting in the garden. Small scissors are also appropriate for the children’s bags in garden settings.
I also recommend the adults also carry a few things like insect repellent, sunscreen, a small first aid kit, bee sting salve, tissues, and perhaps some regionally specific safety items like a snake bite kit. Not to scare you but we are following the motto “always prepared,” right? If you are a teacher, you will want to have your students’ emergency contact forms and a cell phone.
If you work with or have older children and want to bridge the nature and technology divide, you could bring digital cameras, a GPS, or use identification apps, like for bird songs for example. Remember though, the technology is a secondary means to nature connection, not the end itself. Use it as a bridge and then try your best to move the children away from it as quickly as possible and into connecting with their natural surroundings in a primary way.
Once your field bags are packed, keep them together ready to go in a bin or basket. This way they are always ready and waiting to grab the bags when inspiration sparks or are easy to transport if you want to take them on a little adventure farther away. (For longer adventures children can bring water bottles in their bags too!)
Smooth systems make nature more enjoyable for beginners and experts alike, so set up a system that works for your family, class, or group and get out there in every season!!!
What else would you include in your field bag to best prepare you for exploring your natural world?
I want to see pics of your field bags!! Share them on Instagram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout:
Find the simple pattern for making the (green) field bag in the picture in the book Wings, Worms, and Wonder. Get it here!
Not feeling crafty? I’ll make a field bag for you! I have a few available like the ones in the picture, or I can custom make them in your favorite colors! A stocked field bag for each member of the family would make an awesome holiday gift that would be enjoyed all year!
Learn more about using technology as a bridge to nature connection in this article from Richard Louv.