Hi Readers – Over the summer Judy Molland gave me an advance copy of her book, Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get into Nature and Build a Greener Future,” which is filled with the kind of tips I like: Simple ones I hadn’t thought of. Now the book is out (and about). May her tips work for you!
by Judy Molland
As an advisor to a couple of parenting sites, I’ve received several notes along the lines of, “When I tell my kids to go outside and play, they come back five minutes later saying they’re bored, they don’t know what to do, and there are no other kids out there.”
I’m guessing most parents can relate. So here are a few suggestions from Get Out! Most of these are for young children, so they involve parents getting out, too.
Find squirrel highways. Most squirrels stay in a relatively small area, usually about an acre, their whole lives. They know that area very well, including every branch of the trees they roam. If they didn’t have the branches memorized, they couldn’t skitter along them at the high speeds they sometimes do—when escaping a predator, for instance. Watch the squirrels in your yard or at a park for a while and see if you can identify the “squirrel highways.”
Invent your own treasure hunt. Make a list of natural things likely to be found in your neighborhood or play area. Make copies of the list for each kid or team, hand out paper bags to collect the loot, and send them on their way. Kids will be more engaged if you include several weird or gross items on your list, so here are a few list-starter ideas: a dead bug, a bird feather, a leaf bigger than your hand, a worm, moss or lichen, a seed or pit, a stick shaped like the letter “y,” a smooth rock, and a cup of mud (bring your own cup). Remind the kids to respect natural surroundings. You could even put “five pieces of trash” on the list.
Create a water patrol. Give your children responsibility for watering plants, yards, gardens, patio planters, or window boxes. This gets them outside on a regular schedule, and they’ll feel good helping out.
Adopt a tree. Choose a favorite tree you can visit often, and have children take notes by recording the diameter of the tree’s trunk, the reach of the branches, and anything else they’d like to jot down. They can also make bark rubbings using crayons and paper, smell the flowers, and gather the seeds. Take a photo of your tree every week or every month, and put the pictures in a series to see how it changes over the course of a year—or longer. If something interesting happens, like a big snow or a wind storm, take more pictures!
Build a bat house. Did you know that a single brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour? You can attract bats to your neighborhood by building a bat house, which will provide you with natural pest control and provide bats—many species of which are endangered—with a safe home. Bat houses can be many sizes, from about 2′ x 3′ and up. Place yours in the sun and at least 12 feet off the ground to prevent predators from gaining entrance. For free bat house plans, check out http://free.woodworking-plans.org/bat-house-plans.html.
Adapted from Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland (© 2009). Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN: 800-735-7323; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved. www.judymolland.com