Nature Passport Parents' Guide
What is Nature Passport?
"When introducing a child to the world of nature it
is not so important to know, as to feel, explore, and experience."
are some tips for your family on exploring nature as you do
your passport tour. They can help you answer questions that
come up as you investigate nature, begin a deeper discussion
of something that your child finds especially interesting,
or spark the imagination. While you may not be able to give
answers to all the questions your family raises, you can
give them something far more important: an insatiable
curiosity to explore and imagine, and the tools to find the
answers themselves. Onward!
Using the Nature Passport with
The Passport is as versatile as
your family is creative! There are lots of ways you and your child can
have fun with the Passport.
Encourage your kids to explore with all their senses and to write or
draw about their experiences. Follow Ringo the Raccoon's
advice or accomplish his suggested mission at each location - or explore
in your own way! However you decide, we wish you fun and
excitement on your unique journey!
Before you set off, please check to see if there are any
specific rules and regulations at each site. You can call
ahead of time, or drop by the office to talk with someone
personally when you get there.
The Three Ideals of a Nature Explorer, to share with your
Before you set out on your journey, heed the three tools of
the great nature explorers - the three watchwords that lead
the humble explorer to great discoveries and great fun.
Share them with your budding nature explorer, and together
you can unlock the magic of nature and marvel at its
Patience: if you can stay in one
spot, be still and quiet while you look around, you will see, feel,
smell, and hear more than if you were to walk around and search for
things. Nature will show you its magic - things that you can’t even
imagine - if you let it.
Alertness: this means staying wide
awake, keeping on your toes, being ready for anything to happen.
Keep your senses active! If you can do this, you will be able to
notice more of the magic in nature, and be able to show it to other
people. It is a marvelous and awesome power!
Respect: this means treating nature
as if we want it to stay near us and not run away from us. If you
want to explore nature’s magic, you need to look, smell and listen
in a way that does not damage or harm nature. So stay on those
trails, and if you are patient and alert you will enter the
miraculous world of nature. Take only your drawings, writings and
photos, and leave only footprints!
Exploring Nature With Your Senses
Colors in Nature
Color is a physical property of light that reflects the characteristics
of light waves (wave length). Our eyes allow us to see a small
range of light waves as color. The color we see in an object represents
the wavelengths of light not absorbed by that object, and
therefore reflected for our eyes to see. Other creatures have eyes that
can see different wave ranges, and truly see the world in a different
Most plants are green
because of a chemical inside their leaves, chlorophyll, that
reflects green light. Other colors are used mostly as
signals to other creatures. Here are some examples:
The different textures in nature can give clues to form, function and
use. Rocks may be rough or smooth due to weathering processes (rain,
ice, etc.) The texture of rocks is also a clue to discovering how they
were formed (sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous processes) and what
minerals they are made of. Animal fur and feathers give clues to
function: the soft and downy feel of fur and feathers provide warmth,
the hard shell of a turtle affords it great protection, and the smooth
feathers enable birds to fly well, and with minimal sound. Compare this
with porcupine quills, or the spines on a caterpillar, which are used as
a defense! Some plants, like the prickly pear cactus, also have spines.
Other plants have a very hard bark to protect them from pests, diseases,
and natural events like fire. Soil has a wonderful texture - soil rich
in nutrients is soft, while soil poor in nutrients is sandy or gritty.
WARNING! Be careful about touching certain things, like
poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Know the plants
and animals you need to be cautious about and be able to
identify them before you set out on the trail.
color, smell is most often used as a signal by creatures. A
great example of a defense signal is the skunk. Also, many
insects - like the infamous stink bug - exude an odor to
ward off harm. An example of attraction signal is the
sweetness of some flowers, again to attract pollinators.
Some flowers, like wild ginger, smell like rotting meat to
us, but they smell good to flies which are the pollinators
of this plant. So what may be an offensive odor to us may be
like a tiptoe through the tulips for another critter! And
the smell of a flower may be a clue to what pollinates it!
Smell can also signal a process that is occurring right
before your eyes. For instance, rich soil often smells sweet
- this is evidence of a process occurring in the soil where
millions of tiny organisms are decomposing old plant and
animal matter and turning it into more soil.
Sound, like light, travels in waves. Our ears enable us to
distinguish a narrow range of sound waves, but other
creatures can hear sounds that we cannot. Different
creatures have vastly different anatomical styles of ears
that enable them to receive sound waves. Compare the
tympanum of a frog, a grasshopper, and the ears of an owl!
For many creatures ears are also organs that enable them to
keep their balance as they move around.
Sound is a huge clue to the
identity of the creature making it and why. And, different sounds are
produced in very different ways. Birds communicate with each other all
the time by voice - some birds have elaborate communication mechanisms
with 100 or more different calls. But crickets make their calls by
rubbing their wings together. Woodpeckers call by hitting their beaks
against a tree trunk. Creatures communicate with sound to warn others
(the growl of a wolf), to attract others (mating calls of frogs), and
even unintentionally (a squirrel foraging among leaves). The patterns
you notice in a sound can help you identify the creature without seeing
it. And remember: some creatures may not want you to hear them. Owls
don’t, so that they can sneak up on their pray. Their feathers are
structured to minimize flight sound.
- Bright reds and oranges on some animals, such
as the Monarch butterfly, serve as warning coloration that says to
their predators: "Don’t eat me." But, the same bright color
on another animal, like a male cardinal, says to the female
cardinals "Notice me!"
- The beautiful colors of flowers attract
pollinators to assist the flower in reproduction.
- Some critters have camouflage coloration to
blend in with their surroundings and go unnoticed by predators.
A Few Last Words
We hope that this journey gives your family
a fun and exciting introduction to the beauty and richness of our local
environment. Exploring nature can spark a curiosity and imagination that
lasts throughout one’s lifetime. As with all interesting and fun
experiences, curiosity about the countless parts of our environment can
lead your children to keep asking questions even after the experience is
over. There are many great books and on-line (Internet) resources that
can help answer their questions and sustain their curiosity, while
allowing them to investigate further and answer questions on their own.
If you’re not familiar with books on nature for children and families,
the following list will give you a good start:
Check out your local
library or a bookstore for the Golden Books series. They are
wonderful nature guides for kids. The library is a great resource for
other books on plants and animals, ecology, and natural history.
for The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook, by Vinson
Brown. This is a comprehensive "how-to" book for exploring
and learning about nature.
Check out the Nature Net home page for on-line
information about Wisconsin’s environments, as well as links
to other sites that allow you to explore science and nature
is a project of:
The Environmental Learning Network, serving Dane County
schoolchildren, teachers and families.
Nature Net provides free resources and services to educators and
parents, and is an ongoing program of the Aldo Leopold
Nature Center. For more information, check the Nature Net
website or call the Nature Net
Hotline at: (608) 221-2575
Passport and Nature Net are supported by a
generous grant from the
American Girl’s Fund for Children.
Nature Net is a proud member of the
No Child Left Inside
to connect kids with outdoor nature experiences
Copyright © 1997- Aldo Leopold Nature Center
All Rights Reserved.
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