Published April 1, 2014
Aquatic Life , Conservation , National Aquarium
Tags: family activities, family hikes, heather doggett, hiking tips, national aquarium experts, nature, nature hikes, wildlife education
As we enter “Earth Month,” let’s take some time to celebrate the one thing that all living things need – water! Now that Spring is (finally) in the air, animals that depend on the water are all around us and it’s a great time to get outside as a family to explore.
Before Your Hike
A water-themed family hike can connect children with the importance and beauty of water and remind us all that water is a shared resource, one that deserves our protection! Here are a few things to consider before hitting the trail:
- Scope It Out – Learning about nature is about making careful observations. Scientists use spotting scopes or binoculars but children are right at home using two toilet paper tubes taped together to peer through. Children can practice spotting animals and natural objects by looking at items up close through the tube and then moving back and looking at it again. To focus their attention, ask questions like, Does it look the same? What do you think it feels like? What color is it?
- Meet The Neighbors – Review common animals that might be found in your area and have your children guess what animals they expect to find on the hike. Free field guides and/or lists of local animals are available through your local Department of Natural Resources or library.
- Mind Your Manners – Walk only on existing trails when near the water to help reduce erosion. Practice the 7 “Leave No Trace” principles.
During Your Hike
Experience a familiar park or hike in a new way by directing your gaze and questions around water: what kinds of animals live in water? Who spends time near the water and who lays eggs in water? Here are a few ideas to keep the conversation flowing:
- Look in wet, muddy or moist areas, especially near puddles and stream banks. Along with bigger tracks, try to find smaller bird tracks. Look for tracks as they are easier to find and photograph well! You can encounter tracks from animals like: great blue herons, great egrets, deer and raccoons.
- One of the easiest ways to see frog eggs is to listen for frog calls and look for temporary, shallow ponds. The eggs may be floating in shallow water or attached to sticks and plants underwater. As tempting as it may be to touch, only look and take pictures.
After Your Hike
Once you’re home, find a large piece of cardboard or butcher paper and have the whole family participate in drawing a mural that includes all of the animals you found on your trek. As you’re drawing, ask questions like, Where do you think the water we saw came from? Where do you think it goes? Do you think we could help keep the water clean and healthy for the animals (and us)? What ideas do you have?
As the Spring weeks pass and you continue to explore the outdoors you can begin to compare and contrast your murals, giving you and your junior trekkers an idea of how diverse the habitat in our own backyards can be and how we can protect them!
Winter – just hearing that word makes us reach for a warm mug of hot cocoa and dig out our scarves and wool mittens!
Spending time in nature with your child during this chilly time is a surprisingly fun way to defeat the winter doldrums. So, this holiday season, create a new family tradition by bundling up in layers and venturing out together to discover the quiet wonders of winter.
With your help, your child will notice the little changes that winter brings:
- Staying Warm: As you zip up your coat and throw on a scarf, point out the change in temperature and how it’s colder now. Ask if your child can see their breath! Around your neighborhood, you’ll see that many of the animals grow a thicker coat in the winter (squirrels and raccoons) to stay warm. Point out the local birds that “puff up” their feathers to trap warm air close to their bodies like a built-in jacket.
- Super Sleuth: Winter walks are a great time to play “I Spy”. Now that trees and plants have dropped their leaves, it’s much easier to find bird nests, animal burrows or woodpecker nest cavities.
- Birds on the Move: Point out any local birds you see and ask your child if they are the same birds that they saw this summer. Odds are, some of your favorites may have migrated to warmer weather for the winter and new species may have come from up north.
- A Flashlight Safari: Now that darkness comes earlier this time of year, there is a unique chance to experience your neighborhood in a new way. Join your child on a flashlight tour of your backyard or neighborhood. Listen carefully for new sounds, discover interesting insects that gather near porch lights and watch for little eyes shining back at you!
- DIY Decor: Many trees in our neighborhoods have dropped their leaves and your child may notice that they look different. At home, collect fallen leaves, pods or seeds and incorporate these into your holiday decorating!
Want to learn more about family holiday traditions from around the world? Join us for our Cultural Series celebration tonight!
Published July 11, 2013
Conservation , Green Tips , National Aquarium , News
Tags: be out there, great backyard campout, heather doggett, national aquarium experts, national wildlife federation, nature, nature of learning, NWF, summer
This Summer, National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There initiative is encouraging families to get outdoors and explore the natural beauty around them!
We all know spending time outside is a lot of fun but did you know it is also great for our bodies and brain development? Since the average 9 – 13 year old child only plays outside 6 percent of their week, it’s even more important than ever to spend time in nature. The benefits are wide-reaching and well documented: playing in nature decreases stress levels, increases creativity, increases focus in school and improves eyesight.
Wow! If the s’mores weren’t motivation enough, those are great reasons to campout with the family this weekend!
When you do camp and explore the outdoors, there are a few simple environmental manners to keep in mind. I find these 7 principles from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics particularly helpful:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
– Whether it’s your neighborhood trails or a National Park, it’s always best to know the rules when it comes to food, camping equipment, etc.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- When choosing a place to set-up camp or the day’s rest area, keep it to the established trails/site areas. Not only is it in the best interest of your safety, but it ensures that we don’t further disrupt the natural environment you’re enjoying!
- Dispose of Waste Properly
– When you’re ready to leave, ensure that all your products, waste and litter leave with you!
- Leave What You Find
- Avoid taking natural objects and organisms with you. The transport of non-native species and cultural/historic artifacts from their natural habitat can have a lasting, negative impact.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
– Where campfires are permitted, take the precautionary measures to ensure that fires remain small and controlled.
- Respect Wildlife – One of the greatest parts of getting outside is being able to experience an abundance of wildlife (sometimes even in your own backyard)! As exciting as those experiences are, it’s important to remember that animals need to be observed from a distance and that feeding animals can be extremely harmful to their health!
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors – Let’s make sure that the families coming after us also have a great experience! By following the above principles, we can all ensure that these natural areas can continue to be enjoyed for years to come!
Planning on getting outside and exploring your natural surroundings this weekend? Share your plans/ideas in the comments section!