Get the Kids Outdoors

Do you have children who are tied to their mobile phones and computers? According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Report, on a typical day children ages 8-18 spend about 7 ½ hours consuming media. As a parent, I watch my children use their media devices to communicate with friends, do homework, find information, play video games and listen to music.  Every day I get frustrated with the amount of time we all spend in front of screens. I am always looking for ways to encourage my family to unplug and get outdoors. Following are some ideas that might be helpful for you and your family to spend a day outside.

On June 14, families can enjoy special events during the seventh National Get Outdoors Day.  This annual day was launched in 2008 by the USDA Forest Service and the American Recreation Coalition to encourage families and children to connect with nature. Events are being planned around the country and will offer great outdoor fun.

Does your family enjoy biking, walking or in-line skating?  New Jersey has more than 63 rail-trails that provide a safe way to walk, skate or ride bikes. These public paths are often flat or have a gentle slope and many are wheelchair accessible. Not only are the trails beautiful, they also run through or near communities, giving users a chance to visit local sites. You can plan your trip using TrailLink by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. This site includes trail descriptions, maps and up to date reviews

If your family is looking for local nature events, several organizations in our area offer programs and activities. The nature programs offered by the Mercer County Parks Commission are great for children and teens. Families can attend events such as nature hikes, bird walks and wildlife programs. The Plainsboro Preserve of the New Jersey Audubon Society holds story times, nature walks and stream stomps for families. Also, the Preserve has hiking trails and an Environmental Education Center which features an indoor treehouse. Find out about all aspects of our environment at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Family education programs include nature walks, wildlife explorations, stream investigations and canoe trips. Your family can also explore the nature center, hike the trails, and visit the butterfly house. A great way to experience the outdoors is to attend an event at the Washington Crossing Open Air Theater.  After the show, take some time to visit the park’s playgrounds, nature center, visitor center museum, or observatory.

If you do not have time to visit these places, your family can plan a backyard nature trip. I have found many great ideas to explore nature on the Nature Rocks website. They have tips and advice to encourage families to get outdoors. Or if your family is ready for an overnight adventure, why not participate in the Great American Backyard Campout sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. This year the event will take place on June 28th.

Finally, the Mercer County Library System has several books that will inspire your family to turn off the screens and get outdoors!
The Green Hour : a daily dose of nature for happier, healthier, smarter kids  by Todd Christopher.
Offering families fun ways to explore nature, the book is a field guide to outdoor adventure-- activities, fun facts, science lessons, and practical advice for engaging children in outdoor nature play that presents teachable moments and open-ended exploration of the natural world.

Field Trips: bug hunting, animal tracking, bird-watching, shore walking with Jim Arnosky by Jim Arnosky.
With Jim Arnosky as your guide, an ordinary hike becomes an eye-opening experience. He will help you spot a hawk soaring far overhead and note the details of a dragonfly up close. Study the black-and-white drawings -- based on his own field research -- and you will discover if those tracks in the brush were made by a deer or a fox.

Make it wild: 101 things to make and do outdoors by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield
Instructions for making over one hundred projects using materials found in the outdoors, helping children learn both creativity and imagination.

I love dirt!: 52 activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature by Jennifer Ward.
I Love Dirt! presents 52 open-ended activities to help you engage your child in the outdoors. No matter what your location--from a small patch of green in the city to the wide-open meadows of the country--each activity is meant to promote exploration, stimulate imagination, and heighten a child's sense of wonder.

Nature’s playground: activities, crafts and games to encourage children to get outdoors by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield.
Introducing children to the excitement of the natural world, this guide to outdoor adventure provides hours of creative, safe, and fun activities. Children will learn how to build a den from branches, make twig boats to sail across a pond, and voyage through the backyard to find tiny insects and creatures. Activities include invigorating games, natural crafts, and lively adventures, all of which are organized by season. An additional chapter also addresses safe activities for children after dark. Perfect for families, caretakers, and educators, this creative resource encourages children to turn off the television and play outside all year round.

Nature in your backyard: simple activities for children by Susan Lang.
How do ants find food? Can worms make garbage disappear? What do birds use to build their nests? Where can animals keep warm in cold winter weather? What do plants need to grow? What is hidden in the dirt in your backyard—and in the air you breathe? Find out the answers to these and other questions through the fascinating yet easy-to-do activities in this book. (From back cover).

A natural sense of wonder: connecting kids with nature through the seasons by Rick Van Noy.
The technology boom of recent years has given kids numerous reasons to stay inside and play, while parents' increasing safety concerns make it tempting to keep children close to home. But what is being lost as fewer kids spend their free time outdoors? Deprived of meaningful contact with nature, children often fail to develop a significant relationship with the natural world, much less a sense of reverence and respect for the world outside their doors. A Natural Sense of Wonder is one father's attempt to seek alternatives to the "flickering waves of TV and the electrifying boing of video games" and get kids outside and into nature.

Last child in the woods: saving our children form nature-deficit disorder by Richard Louv.
"I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are," reports a fourth-grader. Never before in history have children been so plugged in--and so out of touch with the natural world. In this groundbreaking new work, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation--he calls it nature deficit--to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression.
- Briana C.

Rideout, V., Foehr, U., & Roberts, D. (2010, January). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Retrieved from


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