Camp Out in the Back Yard
Kids today spend 55 hours a week indoors using electronics, and less and less time outdoors. But how do you get your kid to experience the wonders of nature, develop creativity and learn to appreciate the virtues of quiet? Here, The Daily Green presents some ideas in conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There campaign, which urges parents to give their children a "Green Hour" each day: one hour outdoors engaging in unstructured play (BeOutThere.org).
One idea? Camping. The outdoor vacation is making a comeback! Hiking and camping have been increasingly popular in recent years, and there's no better way to introduce your child to the wonders of the outdoors. But if your family's not quite ready for wilderness camping, organize a campout in your own backyard! It's cheap, fun and easier than you think. The Great American Backyard Campout is June 25, 2011. For more information, visit BackyardCampout.org.
Watch (or Catch) Fireflies
Fireflies are one of the harbingers of summer and an early inspiration for many people venturing outside. You can teach your child about the wonder of bioluminescence by simply punching some holes in the lid of a jar and sending him or her out into the night.
Or, you can go a step further by recording and sending your observations to scientists trying to understand more about the habits of these delightful but little-understood beetles. For more information about FireflyWatch, visit mos.org/fireflywatch.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that kids spend, on average, more than seven hours per day with electronic media. The antidote for gamer's eye and texter's thumb is right outside the door, where neighborhood nature offers sights, soundseven smellsto engage and recharge all of a child's senses.
One great way to start? A citizen science project like NestWatch (www.birds.cornell.edu/birdhouse), a program of the Cornell Lab or Ornithology that gathers valuable scientific data about nesting birds from neighborhood observers across the world. For more ideas, try the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Watch at nwf.org/wildlifewatch or The Daily Green's list of citizen science projects at thedailygreen.com/science.
Turn your wildlife expedition into a "photo safari," or guide your child in the creation of a nature notebook. For nature photography inspiration, check out nwf.org/photozone and to find a local park try nwf.org/naturefind.
Check Out the Pigeons
Not every lover of the outdoors lives on a ranch in the countryside. Most of us live in cities, and that's why there's PigeonWatch. Perfect for kids, PigeonWatch is a Cornell Lab of Ornithology program that's nine parts education to every one part science. It's a good way for city kids to become familiar with a common and surprisingly beautiful bird (really, give "flying rats" a second chance!).
Another of the lab's programs, Celebrate Urban Birds, goes further, asking participants to spend 10 minutes observing 16 urban birds and reporting their observations. It's a good way to get to know local crows, robins, orioles, swallows and even more exotic species, like the black-crowned night heron and the peregrine falcon.
Tend a Garden
Gardening is a great family activity that can help teach children about so many thingslife cycles, pollination, and nutrition, just to name a few. Whether it's in your own yard or a community garden plot, why not plant a garden with your childone to benefit both humans and wildlife? The National Wildlife Federation has tips for making your garden friendly to birds, bees and other wildlife (nwf.org/gardenforwildlife). Research shows that children who plant vegetable gardens tend to make healthier nutritional choices as adults.
Monarch butterflies are among the most beautiful in the United States, and there are several programs set up for kids and adults to learn about their incredible lifecycles (including a migration to Mexico and back that unfolds over more than one generation) while helping scientists keep tabs on their fragile population.
You can start by identifying milkweed, which is a prime food source, and the colorful larvae, but most kids will reserve their excitement for MonarchWatch, a citizen science program that involves either carefully catching butterflies, collecting information about their weight and health or counting them as they flit by.
For more information, visit MonarchWatch.org.
Make Art from Nature
Go on a Treasure Hunt
Ever try letterboxing or its high-tech counterpart, geocaching? Both involve hunting for objects or landmarks in the outdoors, both require some problem-solving skills and both encourage participants to explore new areas. These family-friendly activities are a great way to have fun together outdoors, get some exercise and work on skills such as problem solving, map reading and math. Another idea: Have your kids make a nature map of the neighborhood, so they learn to define their own special natural places.
Take a Night Hike
Build a Fort
Perfect for the young Spider-Man fan, WebWatch is a citizen science project designed to excite kids about the natural world while helping scientists keep tabs on nine species of spider (none of them venomous, of course). Scientists actually know very little about the 4,400 species of spiders in the world; your child can help!
For more information, visit SpiderWebWatch.org.