Color Discovery Hike

Updated: Jan 29, 2019


Requiring no more than a few free paint color strips from your local hardware store Color Magic Nature Discoveries are a family or school nature activity full of possibility. One you can do any season, yet fall with all its unexpected changes may be my favorite.


You could do this with little ones as an intro into observation, and how we use our sense of sight to notice details in the world around us, and with older children harnessing the Science Circle by adding in the basic structure of inquiry science and problem solving.


Like Sound Maps, this gem of a low prep, free outdoor learning activity, reminds me that science is a verb, and the most important materials are simply a curious heart and mind and time in discovery. I love this exploration's simplicity, yet also its' breadth depending upon the children's age and learning target.

The Set Up:


Go to your local hardware store and gather some free paint strips.

  • If you are doing this as a family you could bring your children with you and select the colors together. On your way there you could look outside and name a few colors you see, and predict or imagine what colors you'll find on your walk/hike and what colors may surprise you.

  • If you do this within a school setting, although myself, and research, are not fans of young children and "homework," this could be a lovely family involvement. With a brief email or note home outlining the activity, your families could go gather the colors and bring them in. Children love it when the work they engage with at school is connected to their life beyond too. That being said, 15-20 years teaching experience will tell you, nonetheless, you bring in a few colors too, someone always forgets and life always happens.

  • Either as a parent or teacher you want to set your learners up for a little success, if you notice the colors they are gathering are so blissfully free and random, like neon blue and disco hot pink, you as the adult encourage that choice, you never know after all in science, yet, also arm yourself with some colors you have a sense you'll find: browns, greens, in the fall some yellows and reds and oranges, blues or grays for the skies etc... As learners we'll face disappointment with science, thats partially why I love it as a teaching lens, yet we are also fully human. If you participated in a new activity and nothing, not one thing, was accessible for you, you most likely wouldn't want to invest in it. We need to taste a little success to know that we too belong here within the ups and downs of any learning adventure.

Before your exploration it is helpful to sort through your colors so that when you notice something yellowish, you or your students can thumb through a few yellows/oranges rather than flip past blacks, purples, greens or blues etc... you can do this a few different ways

  • With young young children and or time dependent it may be simplest for just you to do this. The focus of this isn't sorting and if you only have a pocket of time, by all means head outdoors!

  • If you want to extend this then sorting, counting, and basic addition/subtraction are indeed all possibilities. You can let the children sort the colors, they could estimate how many different colors they have all together, how many of one hue you have as a class, you can sort, count, create a bar graph, notice which color you have the most of, which the least, you can do simple math by having a dice with different colors and they roll the dice and it lands on yellow, next they roll the dice, it lands on blue, they look at the bar graph and see how many yellows you have and add that to blues to do addition. If you don't have dice, just toss some similar crayons in a bag, they can shake the bag and pick a color.

  • Depending upon the size of your exploration party each students can have one color that they pick, or you can be in teams/partnerships with a few colors each, or you can go as a small group/family all together with all of the colors.

  • Age/purpose depending, prior to your hike you could engage with the Science Circle and observe, question, hypothesize, and design your inquiry. Some possible prompts are: which colors you may find, which colors may be the most abundant and why, you can do this throughout the seasons and predict in the fall I think these three colors will be the most prominent, then in the winter revisit etc... comparing and contrasting.


Next, you get to go outside, observe and be a detective and find your colors. All science jargon aside, I did this with my 24 month old and we went purely for the experience and there is nothing wrong with that! Our learning target: to notice nature, to notice colors, to gather together, talk about it all in super simple 2yr old speak, which may have been part song in reality. Know this activity can be a lovely nature journaling discovery for adults, it can be a apart of an art class, before you paint seasonal landscapes go out together and really see what colors are apart of it all. I can be as STEAM/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) expansive, or endearingly sweet and small as fits you and your company.

As you do this almost without fail some child will be so excited to match their color to an object, that like the water bottle image above, they connect their color to something man made. If they only do this, then yes, some coaching back towards "natural" objects makes sense. Yet, I'd not dismiss it either. When we go into nature we impact it, we are a part of it, and noticing what we bring along too - although it's not the focus - it's not "wrong" either. We are teaching children how to be scientists and how to react to their peers doing science as much as we are learning about science ourselves. For some child this out of the box thinking just may be who they are, and what an awesome gift. Noticing what isn't in the instructions is always a curious a thing. When it comes up, I love the talking points and if no one brings it up, then I often will just to have that discussion.


As you notice in the last picture above, the tree trunk, on this day I didn't have a color which matched the yellow sap, yet through doing this activity I noticed it and it gave me such pause. When we think of tree trunks, pine trees especially, brown seems a blanket answer. Yet this yellow just popped out and drew me into to notice all the other reds and browns, and blacks, and oranges nestled within. I took a picture to add back in case we had a discussion on surprising colors we found.

Towards the end of our exploration our little one was getting tired. We didn't match everything in the field, it just didn't make sense. As we walked home if something caught my eye I snuck a sample into our basket and we did the matching later at home. Life indeed does happen, for young scientists too.


As we paired the nature objects to the colors I thought what a lovely class/family keep sake. You could make book marks using contact paper (or a laminator) pressing the flower/leaf onto the color. The book marks could be for your nature journal, or if you have a plenty, for a school fair or fundraiser. "Make delicious memories," is one of my reminders, for home or school, for time together, a memory token is a sweet way to recall an activity moths later ..."remember when we ...."


To delicious science learning wonder making times ...


*credit: I first did the basics of this activity as a participant in the PLACE grant professional development through Teton Science School's Teacher Learning Center. If you are ever curious about deepening your connection with Place Based Learning, I wholeheartedly recommend checking them out!




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