Families Explore Nature in Oklahoma!
Find out how your kids can be nature detectives.
Originally published July 2014. Updated April 2020. *Please note that Visitor Centers, guided tours, etc. may be currently unavailable due to social distancing.
Follow animal tracks in the dirt, go on a bug hunt, become a tree tracker! Summer is a prime time to take learning outdoors with your child. Children are natural explorers and love outdoor adventures!
When my children were young, we would go on “Summer Investigations” as nature detectives. A nature detective is someone who investigates nature using his or her senses.
Practice using the skills of observation through Oklahoma Nature Investigations. Pack a detective toolkit with magnifying glasses, binoculars, garden gloves, plastic tweezers, bug cages, measuring tools, and clipboards.
Here are five types of investigations to explore:
1. Buffalo Investigation
Investigation Questions: How are buffalo different from cows? How are they the same?
• Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska. You can observe roaming herds of buffalo (over 2500!) as you drive through on a rough 10-mile gravel road. Be prepared for the bumpy ride. 15316 County Road 4201, Pawhuska, OK. 918.287.3623.
• Witchita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Call before arriving to make sure the buffalo are in view that day. They also have a herd of Texas Longhorn steers.
2. Cave Investigation
Investigation Question: Do you notice anything unusual?
• Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton has the famous cave where Jesse James hid out. It is a nice hike to see the cave so make sure everyone is wearing good walking shoes.
• Alabaster Caverns State Park. Take a lighted cavern tour in one of the nation’s largest gypsum caves. It is a ¾-mile hike. You can also take a Bat Tour. Tour reservations are recommended.
3. Crystal Investigation
Investigation Questions: How were the crystals formed? What is selenite?
• Great Salt Plains State Park in Jet is the evaporated remains of an ancient ocean that covered our state in prehistoric times! You can dig for selenite crystals. Prepare for this investigation and pack the right tools. Bring shovels and plan on getting dirty.
4. Waterfall Investigation
Investigation Questions: How are waterfalls formed? What lies at the base of a waterfall? What living things can you find there?
• Natural Falls State Park in West Siloam Springs has a 77 foot waterfall. Be careful; the stairs down to the waterfalls are steep.
• Turner Falls in Davis has a 77 foot waterfall. It is recommended that you avoid crowded weekends. There is an admission price.
5. Beehive Investigation
Investigation Questions: What does a beehive look like? How do bees communicate?
• Oxley Nature Center has an observation hive in its Interpretive Building.
Before You Go…
Prepare for safety and comfort. Dress appropriately for the environment. Do you need bug repellent? Closed-toed shoes? Hats? Long pants? Swimming suits? Be aware of the potential dangers such as brown recluse spiders, ticks, poison ivy. I like to call ahead and ask.
Establish boundaries and rules for the adventure. Preview the trip with your child. Let your child know what will be expected. Establish safety rules before you arrive.
Nature Detective Toolkits
As an early childhood educator, I love our local dollar stores as a resource for creating economical learning kits. Here are two kits I created for under $7 each. Take these along as you explore.
Rock Investigation Kit
- tote bag for storage
- swimming goggles as protective wear
- kitchen serving spoons to scoop up rock samples
- small hand held flashlight to observe rock surfaces
- small kitchen sieve for rock collection in sandy, soil areas
- facial brush and plastic bottle of water for cleaning rocks
- journal for observations and drawings
What do you notice about your rocks? Colors? Shapes?
What happens when you put water on your rock?
Bug Investigation Kit
- tote bag for storage
- children’s binoculars
- tweezers and small net
- large butterfly net
- journal for recording observations and drawings
Insects have three main body parts – a head, thorax and abdomen.
Can you observe these in the bugs you have collected? Do insects have eyes? Where do insects live?
For more ideas from Sally, visit her blog at www.fairydustteaching.com