THIS SITE REQUIRES JAVASCRIPT TO BE ENABLED TO BE VIEWED CORRECTLY. PLEASE ENABLE JAVASCRIPT! INSTRUCTIONS

Tag Archives: outdoor activities for kids

Good Things Come to Kids Who Wait

It was cool among the Tamarisk, and they misted on me lightly.  I sat, hugging me legs to my chest, chin resting on my knees.  I resisted the urge to swish away the bugs exploring my ears and eyebrows.  My mind wondered to other places.  Lunch.  School the next day.  I ignored the sweat collecting in the crooks of my knees, and the way it tickled the backs of my calves.  Why was I here again?


I am not a patient person.  I am a now person.  The first thing I look at when contemplating a new recipe is how long it takes to make.  I want to know how the story ends by the last page of the second chapter.  I can’t diet worth beans because I want the weight gone by the end of the first day.

I blame society.

In a world of immediate gratification and one-click buying options, where television images change on a screen an average of every three seconds, and where short bursts of information, facebook statuses, and tweets are the norm, I am required to multi-task constantly.  In an effort to succeed in this world, I have developed the skills needed to thrive in the face of so much information, sacrificing any chance at a quiet moment.  I grew up at the cusp of this great change in our social structure.  My children, on the other hand, will be born into it.  They will have few opportunities to learn the important skill of waiting, of delaying gratification, of thinking ahead, and of focusing for more than a minute.  The implications of an entire society of young ones growing up constantly distracted are incredible, and affecting everything from the development of a young child’s brain, to how society functions in the future .

I am terrible at holding still—with one exception.  When I was a teenager my dad taught me how rewarding it can be to sit in one spot and wait for the natural world to forget you’re there.

I remember the lesson well.  We were taking a walk.  He was an avid birder and was looking for spring migrants making their way north after the cold winter.  We wandered along the edge of a lake, he stopping every few feet to eye some new movement among the Tamarisk that lined the beaches, me kicking at rocks and thinking about being somewhere else.  I don’t remember my attitude, but knowing me I was bored, easily distracted, and likely hinted repeatedly at how far from the car we had come.

“Did you see that one?” he exclaimed while holding his binoculars to his eyes.  “Western Tanager I think.  What do you think?”  he looked over at me to find that I didn’t even have my binoculars to my eyes.  “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

I mumbled some lame excuse about there not being that much to see in a bunch of boring old Tamarisk trees.  He stared at me in incredulity for a long moment, then instructed me to follow him, and walked me to the Tamarisk grove.

“Here.  Sit down in the middle.  I’m leaving for 15 minutes.  I want you to sit here.  Don’t move.  We’ll talk about what you see when I get back.”

Slightly peeved, but mostly curious at the strange request, I sat.  In retrospect, he may have left me there in order to have 15 uninterrupted moments of bird watching—not because he expected me to learn any important outdoor skill.

But the lesson stuck; those fifteen minutes were unforgettable.  Twenty years later I still find myself looking for opportunities to hold still somewhere and see who forgets me.  Last week at the botanical gardens it was a lizard, who found my shoes were an excellent place to grab a quick lunch of bug debris.  The hummingbirds were perched above my head, and bees worked the flowers around me, oblivious to my presence.

Game: Holding Still

When played as a game, this skill isn’t too hard to learn, and it is one that you can play with your child, or (as my father did) that you can suggest they try on their own.  Advise for first timers:

  • Pick a good spot where activity is likely to happen soon (near the bird feeder in the backyard is a good spot).
  • Get comfortable so that half way through their/your legs won’t be asleep.
  • Focus on listening for the animals that will come in from all directions.  (If you turn too quickly to look, you’ll lose your chance; better to listen first.)
  • If your child finds holding still for that long too difficult at first, you can throw a blanket over them so that just their face shows.  This will allow them to twiddle their thumbs, scratch the inevitable itch, and move ever so slightly without nearby critters noticing.

Learning to hold still is the stepping stone to many wonderful natural moments.  Both hummingbirds and chickadees will land on outstretched hands that haven’t moved for some time (with hummingbirds, place your finger near a hummingbird feeder, like a perch, and wait, or do like this lady did; with chickadees, stand near your birdfeeder with seed in your outstretched hand—here is an excellent instructional on handfeeding.  Nature photography, for beginners and experts (here’s a fun example!) alike, begins with finding a good spot, and waiting as long as it takes  (if you’re into wildlife photography, here are some good tips.

The skill is an important one, especially for children.  It teaches the value of patience, the rewards that come with waiting, how to focus for long periods of time, and the important skill of observing.  It reminds them that the world doesn’t always move as fast as television would make it seem.  And it gives them something to brag about later (“I was five feet from a squirrel and he didn’t even know I was there!”).  The squirrels in my back yard move at the same speed that they did when my grandfather was a child—nature is immune to the social revolution in which your children find themselves, and provides a natural context for learning skills that apply to every generation.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Three Lazuli Buntings, the color of jewels and rainbows, flew into the grove and proceeded to squabble, completely unaware of my presence.  A Western Tanager flew to a perch somewhere over my head and serenaded the world.  I contemplated turning to get a better look when I heard a noise beside me.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I moved my head.  There, sharing the shade of the Tamarisk grove with me, was a jack rabbit.  Not five feet from my hunched self, he stretched his back legs out behind him, pressed his belly into the cool dirt, laid his long ears flat across his back, and closed his eyes.  I could see the hair on his rump was ruffled, I could see the nick in his ear, and I could see how very big his nose was.  Why was I here again?  For this moment.

12 activities for getting outside on a windy day.

Since March is typically famous for it’s windy days, I’ve been brainstorming new and exciting things for my kids to do when I throw them outside in a windstorm. Some of these ideas we’ve tried, others I greatly look forward to trying.

Build a storm proof hut
We do this activity quite often. Challenge your kids to go out and make a structure that will not blow away in the wind. Our favorite wind hut prop is our plastic swimming pool. It’s always very exciting when we fail and the pool goes flying across the yard.

Make wind chimes
Get a stick and dangle all sorts of noise making objects from the stick. Nails, jar lids, shells, beads, silverware, tin cans, bells etc. Hang them up in the wind and listen to the beautiful music you’ve created.

Conduct experiments
Get some of your clothes out of the washing machine, hang some outside and some in the house. Which one dries faster?  Make paper airplanes and fly them both outside and inside. Do they fly the same? The possibilities are endless here. (more…)

Finding night critters using a black light

If you were to ask your kids what kinds of critters come out at night, they’d surely rattle of a list that included bats, owls, raccoons and other cute furry or fluffy stereotypical nocturnal animals.

The world of nocturnal critters is bigger than you think, in fact the other night while hiking in the dark I encountered toads, trap door spiders, salamanders and countless insects hovering in front of my headlamp.

The experience reminded me of all the night adventures my Dad use to take us on as kids. One of my favorites was an activity known to the entomology world as “black lighting”.

What is black lighting? Well, simply put it’s collecting nocturnal insects by using an ultraviolet light to attract them to a white sheet.

What you’ll need: (more…)

The Perseids are coming!

The Perseids always fall around my mom’s birthday, and growing up I remember many a birthday party that involved clambering into the car and getting away from city lights.  The challenge was to see more than Dad.

We’d make dutch oven Gingerbread with Peaches and serve it with ice cream, kept cool under a brick of dry ice.  This weekend, my husband and I will be throwing a mattress out on the back lawn and sleeping under the stars (if the monsoons stay away, that is–cross your fingers!).  Join in the fun!

The stars are aligning for a perfect weekend star party:  The moon will be tiny and coming up late in the evening, the weather is warm, and it’s a weekend!  Time to throw out some blankets and stare at the night sky.

And the best part?  It’s free.

The universe is conspiring to create some fireworks (a.k.a. The Perseid Meteor Shower), and the best time to see them will be Saturday night (the peak is apparently Sunday at noon, but, that won’t work for obvious reasons).  There should be 50-100 meteors per hour (don’t be disappointed if you don’t quite see that many).  The meteors are tiny fragments of thousand-year-old debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle Comet.

Check here for more info on the meteors and other things astronomical.

Watching meteors is a great family event that develops focus in little ones.  Want to share the night sky with your kids?  Here are a few pointers on getting set up: (more…)

Use #5 for a stick: Catch a crawdad

Crawdad catching season is in full swing around here. It’s such a popular past time with my kids I thought I’d share a few tips for other small aspiring ‘fishermen’.

What you need:

  • String
  • Stick
  • Paperclip or binder clip
  • Bait: Salami, peperonii, bacon, bologna or your choice of bad fatty meat

The set-up:

  • Tie your sting to the end of a stick
  • Tie a clip to the end of the string or tie the bait directly to the stirng

The Technique:

  • Find a  place that has crawdads. Lake, stream, river, canal etc. (ideally the water will be clear enough to see the bottom)
  • Locate a place near rocks or along the edge of the water.
  • Dangle the bait in the water, allowing it to sink to the bottom near the edge of the rocks or bank
  • Wait for crawdads find the bait
  • When the crawdads pinch the bait and try to tear a piece off, pull the bait out of the water at a steady moderate speed and dangle the crawdad over a bucket (when the crawdad realizes it is hanging in the air it will let go and fall in the bucket)

We have tried bringing some crawdads home as pets with limited success. (more…)

Kids love plumbing

So one of the things that I stumbled upon while entertaining-I-mean-teaching small children over the last few months is that PVC pipe is amazing.  It is good for all sorts of things–practicing walking on a balance beam, learning the ins and outs of balancing something on your hand, building rocket launchers, marshmallow shooters, marble roller coasters, and making funny noises.

But of all the activities we used my wide selection of PVC pipe for, plumbing was my favorite (and I dare say theirs too–even the ever-so-picky sixth graders had a blast!)

If you’re looking for a great way to keep your kids entertained outside for a few hours next week, consider investing in some PVC pipe, aka, Legos-You-Can-Pour-Water-Through. (more…)

The exciting world of Macroinvertebrates

If there was one thing I could suggest you do with your kids this summer, catching aquatic macroinvertebrates would be near the top of my list. Nerdy I know, but in every Nature Center I’ve worked at, this activity has been the favorite of  parents and children alike (well, most parents). It involves water, mud, nets and unearthly looking creatures seldom noticed by humankind.

What’s an aquatic macroinvertebrate you ask? It’s a small water dwelling invertebrate, big enough to be seen without a microscope. Many of these critters are actually juvenile forms of well known adult insects. For example, does the picture to the right look familiar… it’s actually a dragonfly stuck in its awkward teenage years.

WHAT TO GATHER:

  1. Net for each child. This can be as simple as a aquarium net (ideally a long handled one) or as fancy as a ‘real’ aquatic net.
  2. Large shallow plastic tote. Something to dump the contents of your net into so that you can sift through it. We’ve used a variety of containers, whatever you use, just make sure the water/plant/sludge mixture is only about an inch or two deep so that you can look through it easier. (more…)

Use #2 for a stick: Call a Woodpecker

That’s right, there’s more than one way to use a stick.

Here’s one you may not know about, but that I learned about from David Attenborough on his The Life of Birds videos (I put a youtube video of Attenborough in action at the bottom).

Note that Attenborough uses a rock, which, obviously, can work too.  I have found that sticks resonate better, but it may depend on the type of stick, the type of ‘drum’, and the type of bird.  I leave you to find what works best in your area.

Especially useful during breeding season, woodpeckers (by the way, did you know that a group of woodpeckers is called a ‘descent’ of woodpeckers?) respond not only to vocal calls, but to the drumming sounds they make when hammering at wood with their sturdy beaks.  Each drumming rhythm is unique to the particular species (though some sound a lot alike to me!) and not only attracts a mate, but also helps to delineate territories.

 

 

Here are some examples: (more…)

Teach Anticipation and Foresight. Plan a Hike.

I just read this fascinating article in Psychology Today that talked about what skills the current generation will need in order to be successful by the time they’re old enough to hold down a job.  The author points out that the model for our current education system was invented over a hundred years ago—when telephones were just being invented, refrigerators were blocks of ice, and television was pure science fiction.  In other words, during a time that today’s children absolutely cannot comprehend.  More importantly, the goals of education differed significantly a hundred years ago.  Today (as the author says):

“The best jobs will go to applicants who have the skillsets to analyze information as it becomes available, the flexibility to adapt when what were believed to be facts are revised, and to collaborate with other experts on a global playing field requiring tolerance, willingness to consider alternative perspectives, and articulately communicate one’s ideas successfully.”

How do we prepare our children for this future?  The author suggests encouraging activities that teach “predicting, planning, revising, and accountability”.

Here’s an idea: let your child plan the next hike. (more…)

Use #1 for a Stick: Find North

SO. It’s Saturday morning. You and your little ones head out on a hike; into the Great Outdoors in search of dinosaur bones, owl pellets, and the yellowest dandelion. At the trailhead your offspring reaches into his pack to pull out a compass—“Let’s head north!” s/he proclaims, fumbling past granola bars, kleenex, a g.i. joe figurine, and the forgotten-about-rocks from last week’s hike.

Alas, it seems the compass has been left on the back lawn, where it was last used during a make-believe game of cowboys and aliens. While your child laments this tragedy, you laugh. Being the wise and experienced parent, you scoff at your child’s need for technology. You don’t need no stinkin’ compass to find north, now do you? Of course not: you read outsidemom.com and know how to find north using only a stick and the sun. (more…)

  • WELCOME

    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

    I don't blog alone! Meet outsidemom contributer Olivia
  • KEEP IN TOUCH

  • PROUD TO SUPPORT

  • ACCESS ARCHIVES