Kids In Nature

Adapted from Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, 2008 edition, Algonquin Books

  1. Make your yard a sanctuary for native plants and animals. Grow a butterfly garden in your backyard or put up birdfeeders. Get backyard ideas from National Audubon Society's "Invitation to a Healthy Yard" at www.audubonathome.org/yard.
  2. Explore what's in the dirt. Take along a hand lens to get a close-up look at the abundant life under our feet.
  3. Tell your children about the places in nature that were special to you as a child, and help them find a place where they can explore or sit quietly, without adult direction.
  4. Collect lighting bugs on a nice summer night. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has information on the whys of fireflies and the how of catching them at www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eek/critter/insect/firefly.htm
  5. Place a board, rock, or any other item that critters can hide under in bare dirt, a meadow, or the woods, and return regularly with a field guide and hand lens to see what's hiding out.
  6. Turn your backyard into a campground. Buy your kids a tent or let them make their own. Leave it out all summer to encourage its use. Join The National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout by visiting www.nwf.org
  7. Get your head in the clouds. Learn about the different cloud types, or let your imagination take over by describing the forms you perceive in them. A book like The Cloudspotters Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney can help with identification.
  8. Allow your kids a green hour every day for unstructured interaction with nature. Visit the National Wildlife Federation's green hour website at www.greenhour.org for activity ideas and more.
  9. Take a nature hike. Bring along a field guide to look at plants and binoculars to look for birds. The American Hiking Society describes everything from hike preparation to safety and outdoor skills at www.americanhiking.org/
  10. Come up with your own nature game to play with your kids. For example, see who can spot the first hawk on a hike, or count the number of butterflies you see.
  11. Take a walk at night when the moon is full. Listen and look for things like owls, bats, and moths that are not active during the day. Also, take time to look at the heavens above.
  12. Set aside a place on a table or dresser to keep all of your child's interesting outdoor finds, such as rocks, acorns, or flowers.
  13. Find a place to sit outside and deliberately use all your senses to take in your environment. Listen to birds and insects call, touch the vegetation, and smell the fresh air while taking in the scenery around you.
  14. Become an outdoor photographer. With a digital camera, you can make permanent all the wonderful landscapes and wildlife you see in nature. Outdoor Photographer magazine has tips at www.outdoorphotographer.com
  15. Encourage your children to build a fort, tree house, or other structure in the yard. Allow them to do as much of the work as possible. Treehouses and Playhouses You Can Build by David and Jeanie Stiles is a good how-to guide.
  16. Find a tree to adopt, or plant a native tree. Take pictures of the tree in different seasons, or explore which animals inhabit it. Find more tree project ideas at www.takeachildoutside.org/activities
  17. Have fun in the snow. Go sledding, cross country skiing, or snowshoeing. The Rodale Institute, at www.kidsregen.org, tells how to make your own snowshoes from cardboard boxes.
  18. Build your own pond. This could include digging one in your backyard and adding fish, to putting aquatic plants in shallow pots with pebbles and water. Watch to see which other critters come to visit.
  19. Record your experiences in nature by keeping a nature journal. Use the journal to trace your experiences in words, drawings, or photographs. Get started by downloading a free nature journal at www.greenhour.org/content/activity/detail/1525
  20. Experiment with growing your own food. Mark out a place in the yard that can serve as a garden and have your children help plant and harvest it. If you don't have much space or live in an urban area, try using large pots to grow tomatoes or peppers.
  21. Take a closer look at moths. Mix overripe fruit or wine with a sweetener, such as sugar, and apply to a tree or untreated piece of wood at sunset. Go back after dark and see what's eating the sweet mixture. You will most likely find other insects in addition to moths.
  22. Be kind to butterflies. Plant the native plant species that provide food and shelter for different types of butterflies and their caterpillars. Visit www.audubonathome.org/butterflies for helpful hints on attracting butterflies.
  23. Raise your own butterflies, and observe their amazing transformations from egg to adult. Chicago Wilderness' Leave No Child Inside program shows you how at www.kidsoutside.info/activities/btrfly.htm
  24. Find a camp that is focused on providing outdoor experiences. The American Camp Association, at www.campparents.org, can help you find the right camp for your child.
  25. Get involved with a harvest. Visit a farm or orchard open to the public to pick fruits or vegetables, or help the managers of a nature preserve collect plant seed in the fall.
  26. Make your next family vacation a green one. Visit a state or national park, and camp out or stay in a cabin. Spend the days hiking, fishing, bird watching, or just taking in the scenery. Limit your use of motorized/electronic gadgets as much as possible during the trip.
  27. Participate in a geocaching scavenger hunt. Many geocache sites are located in natural areas your family can explore. Coordinates listed on the website www.geocaching.com tell you where to find the hidden treasures. The site also describes what you need to get started.
  28. Participate in citizen science activities. These projects seek data from ordinary people to study things like population sizes and habitat distribution of wildlife. Examples are Project FeederWatch (www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/) and Great Backyard Bird Count (www.birdsource.org/gbbc)
  29. Volunteer your time to help manage and protect a natural area. Many organizations, like the Natural Land Institute, are working to protect and restore habitat for native plants and animals, and they need volunteers to help with this effort. Learn more at www.naturalland.org.
  30. Go on a bird watching hike or trip with a local bird club or nature center. These outings take you to the best places to find birds, and give an opportunity to learn from experienced birders. For local outings, visit the North Central Illinois Ornithological Society (www.ncios.org).
  31. Join the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Both organizations offer programming that is nature-oriented, and Scouts can earn many different badges dealing with the natural world. Visit the Boy Scouts at www.scouting.org and Girl Scouts at www.girlscouts.org for information.
  32. Make connecting with nature a neighborhood affair. Encourage your kids to explore nature in your neighborhood with their friends. Get to know your neighbors, and make looking after the kids a group effort.
  33. Take a book outside and find a comfortable place to read. Buy your kids books that involve nature, such as picture books or adventure novels.
  34. Introduce your kids to field guides. You can find a guide to whatever they are interested in, such as birds, amphibians, plants, or rocks. Sibley, Audubon, and Peterson field guides are appropriate for older kids, while Golden Guides and Peterson First Guides are geared toward young children. Many online retailers such as www.amazon.com carry these guides.
  35. Bring the past alive. Look for fossils in exposed limestone rock formations, and contact a natural history museum, like Rockfords Burpee Museum (www.burpee.org), for suggestions on places to go to see fossils.
  36. Take your kids fishing, and, while youre there, let them explore the shoreline. Simple fishing gear is available for beginners. Consult magazines like Field and Stream or In-Fisherman for tips on technique and equipment.
  37. Look for animal tracks. There are many different guidebooks on animal tracks, from beginner to advanced skill levels. The Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks is a good resource. You can preserve an animal track by making a plaster cast of it. Find out how at www.takeachildoutside.org
  38. Make a collection of something, such as stones, acorns, shells, or leaves. You can take your collection a step further by, for example, polishing stones or pressing leaves.
  39. Get out on the water: go swimming, canoeing or kayaking. Teaching your kids to swim at an early age and how to be safe on the water can help them enjoy these activities as they get older. Look for local organizations, such as the YMCA, that provide swimming lessons.
  40. Spend time in nature with your whole family, away from all the distractions of the modern world. Quiet, quality time spent taking a walk or looking at the night sky is a great way to re-establish connections with each other.
  41. Make the outdoors your gym. Activities done inside at a workout center, such as running and biking, can just as easily be done outside on a nature trail. Another benefit: no membership fee required. Contact the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District for a Greenways map showing local parks, forest preserves, and trails.
  42. Look at the vacant lot in your neighborhood differently. They can often be good places to find insects, look at birds, or play nature-related games. Turn one of these lots near you into a wild zone:
    www.wild-zone.net
  43. Pitch in on National Public Lands Day to help clean up and restore our shared land at the local, state, and federal level. Visit www.publiclandsday.org to find a participating site near you.
  44. Encourage your child to join a nature-oriented club at their school. Or, if there isn't such a club, encourage them to form one, if they have an interest. These clubs are often a good source of field trips and community service in nature.
  45. Go out in the rain. Let your kids run and splash through puddles, catch raindrops with their mouths, and play with the earthworms that come to the surface after a soaking rain.
  46. Fly a kite. Kites are relatively inexpensive to buy, or you can make your own. See the American Kiteflier's Association at www.aka.kite.org for tips on how to get started.
  47. Play in the leaves in the fall. Have your kids help you rake leaves in your yard, and let them frolic in the leaf piles before composting them. For information on composting leaves, contact the University of Illinois Extension office.
  48. Help conduct a plant or animal survey at a nature preserve or park. Such surveys help natural area managers keep track of populations, and give you a chance to learn different species. Participate in Four Rivers Environmental Coalition's Bioblitz (www.fourriver.org).
  49. Enroll in a class at a local nature center, such as Severson Dells (www.seversondells.com). Classes for children and adults are often a good foundation for interpreting the natural world around us.
  50. Celebrate American Wetlands Month in May by exploring a local wetland, and finding out why they are unique and important. Visit http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/awm for resources on American Wetlands Month.