The oncoming of spring seems to bring a breath of fresh air in my home. As winters bitter cold begins to lose its grip on the days, the warmer afternoons are a treat. My kids are ready to hit the ground running, literally! Spring is such a fun time to get kids outdoors for some much needed vitamin D. Kids need to be exposed to all the seasons and various types of weather. Each season holds its own value and has fun activities of their own. Spring is special everything is blossoming and wildlife babies are being born. My goal for my kids is to inspire a love for the outdoors and show real examples of how nature provides food and resources.
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Go Get Some Fresh Air!
It is really that simple, get outdoors. Public parks and wildlife refuges are great areas to visit. However, I have been on a personal mission of creating an outdoor oasis in our backyard for my family. Creating a space for your kids to play is crucial.
There are so many benefits to outdoor play from body awareness and exercise to pretend play. Kids need space to express their creativity. Most American backyards have went to waste, in return, for manicured lawns and maybe a dog house or two. Playsets, trampolines, hammocks, and playhouses are just a few items that can provide hours of outdoor entertainment.
We have all heard the old saying “if you do not use it, you will lose it!” Well the same can be said for kids “if they do not use it, they will never develop it.” Years ago I read a book called Barefoot and Balanced, the entire book was about the benefits of outdoor play. One thing that stuck with me was the studies showing how children are weaker now then kids a couple decades ago. They went on to note that the playset equipment itself has been reduced in size. Some of us can remember those old metal park swings that allowed you to swing several feet in the air.
Maybe you recall a childhood picture, of your grandparents, sitting on top monkey bars that were 12 ft. or more! Getting outside does not have to be fancy or cost a fortune. Let kids climb trees, teach them to ride bikes and let them run barefoot.
Gardening is a fun way to help your kids learn the connection to food. Spring time is when you need to put in hours planning and sowing seeds. My kids love picking the produce ripe for harvest. However, I have a rule “if you want to pick during harvest, then you have to help plant and cultivate in spring.” This is a good time to read the old fable The Little Red Hen.
The outdoors teaches so many life lesson through hands-on and visual methods; why not add some literature for reinforcement too. The garden is really where science comes to life. With gardening they can learn about insects, the plant life cycle and water cycle. Literally endless opportunities
happening before their eyes. Growing our own food is a lost skill for the majority. After the industrial revolution, the U.S government realized the skills for growing food and other various life skills had been lost. They knew the adults were lost to the factories. So they developed the 4H-Club to teach the kids so the skills would not be lost forever. They knew the key was in the kids!
I often recall a conversation with my husband’s grandma. She was talking about growing up and her family’s large garden, raising hogs and chickens and their personal orchard of fruit trees. I asked, “How many acres did your family own?” She answered, “Oh we lived in town on the corner lot. Everyone’s yards were gardens and little homesteads back then.” I was fascinated! Currently, we have an acre in the middle of a cul-de-sac. We have sectioned off the lower portion of yard for a large garden and chicken coop. The kids have helped as we spent the last several weeks working in the yard.
Many hands make light works, even if their little hands. If gardening is of interest even families in apartments can join the fun. Many places sale window grow kits, tower gardens or small patio planters. As a military spouse who has had many patios and various sized yards, always lean toward the “Bloom where you’re planted.” The great thing about the outdoors is everyone’s journey is unique.
Hunting & Fishing Activities
Turkey is king of the spring! With turkey seasons starting as early as March and lasting into May it provides a lot of time to get out and hunt. Most states have carved out a weekend early for youth to hunt before the official season opener. This a great opportunity to get you kids out hunting or just tagging along. Start with scouting turkeys and locating roost, these are always fun adventures to involve the kids.
My kids like to play with my turkey calls and the barred owl locator call. The NWTF has a program just for youth turkey hunters called, Jakes. States work hard to develop these hunting heritage programs. There are many great opportunities for youth and worth getting involved.
9Hunt for antler sheds is another outdoor activity for the whole family. This is a perfect time to get “boots on the ground.” Deer shed can be found in three key areas bedding sights, food source areas and transition points. All of which are good places for kids to learn to recognize. If you caught my last article I mentioned becoming a “mini biologist.” Nature’s textbook is in the trails, touching, smelling, and seeing. In addition, I always pack a trash bag to show they can contribute to conservation by keeping habitats clean.
Outdoor Stewards of Conservation will send free mini trash bags to you. They have started a new initiative “fill a bag, while filling your tag.” #trophytrash is the slogan. Such a fun way for kids to get excited about making an impact for conservation.
Warmer temperatures bring on the fish spawn. Fishing can be boring and discouraging at times for kids. Focus on the kids and prepare to fix tangled lines!
A few tips to fishing with kids:
- Let the kid pick the lure.
- Buy your kids their own rod and tackle box
- Take breaks, pack a snack or picnic
- Fish kid only ponds or visit stocked ponds
- Let them practice casting with a dummy fish.
Foraging for wild edibles is a great way to get out and explore. You don’t have to go far to find most wild edibles such as dandelions, wild chives, or prickly pear cactus. Many are in yards within the city no need to trek deep into the wilderness. However, when foraging always gather from sources free of chemical sprays.
Make sure you can accurately identify the plant you are foraging. Remember take a little and leave a lot. Wild edibles have their own place in the ecosystem and we never want to deplete. Plus, we want leave some for other foragers and animals to enjoy.
The book Foraging with Kids by Adele Nozedar, is a great resource for identification and understanding when and what part of the plant to harvest. Again, the goal is to help children make the connection between nature and food. Let them see plants have medicinal uses, too.
State Parks/Junior Ranger
A hidden gem if our National Park Service is the Junior Ranger program. Most National Parks, Nation Wildlife Refuges and some state parks have the junior ranger program for kids to earn badges. Each badge or patch is special to that park.
Some can be done remotely and sent off for the reward. It’s a “two bird with one stone” deal for me. The kids are learning about our nation’s history and nature. We have been doing this for years. Spring offers the perfect weather to enjoy your day trip. Bonus, most are free or really low cost!
Hitting the trails is always fun and provides hours of adventure. I start with walking trails and progress to harder paths as the kid’s skill increases. Hiking shoes, water boots, YETI tumblers and sunscreen are essentials.
Hiking provides a good time to teach first aid and the importance of hydration. Educating on venomous snakes and proper etiquette when it comes to wild animal encounters. Look for nature treasures, such as, rocks, feathers, shedded snake skin, or shells. Take breaks and bird watch!
If you have toddlers and under I highly recommend a hiking pack. Baby wearing has been a lifesaver as an active mom of five. The investment of a hiking pack was well worth it and lasted being handed down through several babies. As the little one get older we let them take turns walking and being in the pack.
Lose All Expectations
Lastly, as parents we need to lose any expectations we have with raising outdoor kids. Nature will provide the benefits on its own, we just need to facilitate the adventure. It is easy fall into the social media trap and force “Pinterest” worthy moments.
Although, when you get out in the woods or on the trail you will find these picture perfect moments happen all on their own. Think back to old photos before social media. They were just capturing moments and enjoying time together.
Let’s get back to raising wild and free kids, creating life-long memories in the process.