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Unique program encourages local kids to learn the ABCs of Nature

'Getting outside gives us a chance to get some exercise, blow off some steam and have fun while learning,' said parent of Couchiching Conservancy program

For Alana Bell and her family, getting outside to explore nature has always been a favourite activity. But during the pandemic, with schools closed and two school-aged children at home, it has become especially important.

“Getting outside gives us a chance to get some exercise, blow off some steam and have fun while learning,” said Bell. “We love exploring the local trails; the kids always come away with some interesting discoveries.”

So she and her children, Callie, 8 and Dean, 5, jumped at the chance to explore the nature trails at Grant’s Woods with Couchiching Conservancy volunteer Janet Machan. Machan helped to create a summer Kids’ Challenge program to inspire families to get out in nature.

The program is part of the Conservancy’s adapted plan for its annual Passport to Nature initiative. The popular program, offering free guided events year round at the many reserves protected by the Conservancy, was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

“We still want to encourage people to experience our beautiful and unique properties,” explained Tanya Clark, development coordinator with the Conservancy.

“Thanks to our dedicated volunteers, we’ve developed an adapted program of webinars and self-guided family activities. And we’re extremely fortunate to have retained our generous sponsors, which allows us to offer the activities free of charge,” said Clark.

The Kids’ Challenges have been organized by themes for each month, with the alphabet being the focus of the “ABCs of Nature” challenge for August. With a background in teaching and working as a children’s librarian, Machan wanted to come up with a way for kids to have fun outside while also discovering and learning.

“The whole idea is to be creative using the alphabet,” said Machan. “The challenge is to find as many letters as possible by identifying things found along the nature trail.

"Depending on their ages, kids can try spelling their names or find things to represent different letters or even all 26 letters of the alphabet," said Machan. "And we know kids love show and tell, so we’re encouraging them to share their finds through social media; we want them to send us photos of their discoveries and adventures.”

During the trial challenge, Callie and Dean found lots of ways to make the activity fun.

Sometimes they found objects that looked like a letter, or they found things that stood for the first names of their family members or friends and even came up with some new names for what they found along the trail.

When asked about their favourite finds at the end of the Grant’s Woods hike, Dean said it was “slug city” (a stump that looked like a playground for slugs) and the fungi that looked like a jelly fish blob. Callie said she was most intrigued with the snake grass and some new trees that she had never seen before.

The Kids’ Challenge is a self-guided activity, open to children of all ages and takes place at the Conservancy’s properties, as described in the program details.

Once families register for the free program, details of the challenge, along with trail maps, are provided. Registration for the ABCs of Nature opens Aug. 1 at As a bonus, all registered families will be entered into a draw for a prize package.