Get Outdoors: Rediscovering Nature With Your Family

Throw A Backyard Campout

Even if you're only steps away from the comforts of home, camping immerses you in nature like nothing else. That's the thinking behind the NWF's Great American Backyard Campout on June 22. To participate, just register at; you can make it a family affair, invite friends to join you, camp with your class, scout troop, or town, or see if a group campout near you is already registered on NWF's website. (And if you can't do it June 22, you can register for another date.) To make the event more fun for everyone involved, consider the following tips from Helen Olsson, author of The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids (Roost Books, $17.95).

Start by reading fun books about camping and nature, such as Pancakes for Supper!, by Anne Isaacs, Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping, by Peggy Parish, and The Moon by Night, by Madeleine L'Engle.

Gauge your family's comfort level: Telling scary stories is a camping tradition, but if your kids are anxious, try trading jokes, singing songs, or playing 20 Questions instead.

Keep kids entertained. Stock your campsite with a deck of cards, Nerf balls, hacky sacks, cat's cradle string, and other small fun-starters.

Light the night. Let each child sleep with a flashlight or place a battery-operated night-light (or glow sticks) in one of the tent's mesh pockets.

Make a Natural Impression

backyard camping

Photographs by Siri Berting

From the raylike ridges on a seashell to the delicate veins of a leaf, nature is full of fantastic patterns, and you can collect them by making rubbings. Place a sheet of paper (or see-through tracing vellum) over your quarry (tree bark, leaves, stones, seedpods, and so on), then rub gently with a pastel stick or the side of a peeled crayon. Tip: For larger projects, secure the paper in place with painter's tape. Kids can file their patterns in a binder or notebook, then challenge friends and family to figure out the source of each one.

Get Ready, Get Set, Explore!

Prepare for outdoor adventure with these simple strategies.

  1. Outfit yourselves: It may seem obvious, but to stay comfortable outside, everyone in the family should have rain pants, boots, and hooded coats (we're talking to you, parents). The same goes for snow gear if you live in a cold climate.
  2. Keep gear handy: Stock a canvas tote or backpack with a magnifying glass, binoculars, bug catcher or net, small containers for collecting finds, a compass, and portable kid-friendly references (like Golden Guides and Peterson First Guides). Keep the bag by the door.
  3. Hang a family nature board: Mount a chalkboard or whiteboard in a prominent spot and record your sightings (a salamander under a rock, rabbit tracks in the snow) for all to see. Add a bulletin board to pin up cool finds like unusual leaves, as well as nature photos and drawings.
  4. Create a perpetual journal: Track nature's progress by dividing a loose-leaf binder into 12 sections, one for each month. When you spy a new sign of the season (first robin, apple tree in bloom, first frost), jot the details on the appropriate month's pages. In future years, you'll be able to look back and compare dates.

Go on a Photo Safari

photo safari

Photographs by Siri Berting

Hand your kids a camera, and they'll see nature through a whole new lens. Encourage them to capture details like the swirled pattern of flower petals, ferns dripping with dew, or an intriguing insect. Help them to identify their finds using a field guide or nature app, then post the snapshots on a Family Nature Board.

5 more ways to inspire reluctant adventurers

  1. Get out there yourself. If your kids see you having fun outside, they just may follow your lead. Plan regular family nature outings and focus vacations around special outdoor destinations.
  2. Build on your child's passion. Is she an animal lover? Introduce her to birding or tracking. Is he wild for dinosaurs? Teach him how to search for and identify fossils. Fascinated by outer space? Buy her a telescope and introduce her to the night sky.
  3. Invite friends. If your kids balk at the idea of playing outside or hiking through the woods, have them invite a friend or two to share the activity.
  4. Make it mysterious. Instead of telling your kids to "get outside and play," challenge them with nature's mysteries: "I wonder what's living in that leaf pile." "Do you think any planets are visible tonight?" "Where do you suppose that squirrel sleeps?"
  5. Start collecting. The great outdoors is filled with treasures waiting to be claimed, from shiny stones, seedpods, and beach sand to birdsongs captured on a digital recorder.

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