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Nature Baby! 6 Outdoor Family Adventures (Almost) Right Outside Your Door

Photo by BonninStudio / Stocksy United
Photo by BonninStudio / Stocksy United

Nature is just plain good for kids. Jaunts into the great wide open keep ‘em movin’—these forays also help children understand cycles of life and learn to care about our natural world. And just as with adults, numerous studies have found that nature can reduce little ones’ stress levels and have a calming effect.

Of course, even if you know that spending 60 minutes chasing fireflies or making mud pies is probably better than an hour on the couch with Netflix, the realities of a busy life can trump the best of intentions.

So, to get us motivated, we asked for a few gentle nudges out the door from the National Wildlife Federation’s Na’Taki Osborne Jelks. Jelks manages the NWF’s Atlanta Earth Tomorrow® Program and Eco-Schools USA Program in the Southeast, and in 2015 was named one of 14 Champions of Change in the area of Environmental Conservation by the White House.

When it comes to getting kids out and about, this busy working mom has ideas aplenty. Here are some of her faves:

Photo by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy United
Photo by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy United

3 Things You Can Do Right Outside Your Front Door 

  • Camp out in your backyard, suggests Jelks. Pitch the tent, barbecue or picnic on the lawn, play camping bingo, read stories by flashlight, look at the stars, and listen for the sounds of the night, whether it’s a chirping/squeaking/shuffling critter or the leaves blowing in the breeze. Leave your phone inside.
  • Host a backyard (or neighborhood) scavenger hunt. Create a list of natural items or signs of animals/insects (a snail trail, a bird’s nest) a child might easily find. Drawing pictures of the items may be helpful for younger children.
  • Plant something in your yard or container on the porch and watch it grow. Children are especially keen on plants that produce food or sweet scents like strawberries, raspberries, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, mint, and lavender, or witnessing colorful flowers bloom. “Focus on plant life that’s good for pollinators,” Jelks advises. Your child can become a NWF Butterfly Hero. Each day check on your plants together, water them if needed, and take pictures so you can track the progress.

3 Things To Plan Ahead For 

  • Build a wildlife brush shelter. Turns out that you can attract native critters and insects to your neighborhood just by providing a little encouragement. We love this little to no cost project that you can return to season after season to see how it has changed and who has taken up residence!
  • Volunteer at a local nature preserve or with another group that hosts outdoor service opportunities. “Little kids love helping and knowing they personally made a positive difference,” says Jelks. Even small acts to help the planet can be immensely satisfying—and a motivator to keep at it.
  • Make hiking more like an adventure, suggests Jelks. Check out these great tips for making it a fun, creative experience for wee ones. If you’re able, consider making it a weekly or monthly date, hitting a new location every time (e.g., a lake-side excursion, a waterfall adventure, a foray to a sizable city park) to make fresh, new discoveries about the ecosystems that surround your urban jungle.

Need more ideas? The NWF’s Activity Finder offers a cornucopia of ideas for outdoor and nature-related activities and projects.

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