Appreciation for the Outdoors Begins at Home

By Justin Powell

When thinking of the word "outdoors," visions of mountains, secluded lakes and mighty ocean shorelines may come to mind. However, appreciation for the outdoors begins right at home. The second you step out through the door, you are outdoors and there is nature surrounding you. Right within your own yard and surrounding community lie a wealth of opportunities to experience and learn about nature.

Spend Time Outside Each Day
The key to appreciating nature is to spend time experiencing it. Ideally, your family should spend time outdoors each day. Incorporating outdoor time in your daily routine assures a wide range of experiences throughout the year and makes spending time a good habit that everyone in the family participates in.

The changing seasons present unique opportunities. Playing under the sprinkler in the summer eventually gives way to sledding in the winter. The flora and fauna vary by season as well. Early spring crocus are replaced by Black-eyed Susans which are in turn replaced by chrysanthemums. Spring and autumn are the times of major bird migrations and present great chances to see unique species who are passing through.

Help Your Kids Learn About the Environment Around Them
As the seasons progress, make note of the changes you see and talk about them with your kids. Try to identify new flora and fauna that was not present before. These changes in your outdoor environment present an great learning opportunity, so be sure to discuss with your family the changes you are seeing and why you are seeing theme. By integrating outdoor time into your family's daily routine, you ensure 365 different chances per year to experience something unique.

One of the most visible and interesting aspects of any natural habitat is its bird life. Depending on where you live, you may have one or two hundred species who live in or migrate through your area. Even urban settings present the opportunity to observe a variety bird species, including raptors like peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks. Try assisting other family members in locating likely habitats for birds and to identify any birds you see. Then discuss what those birds eat and how that my have influenced why they were found in that habitat.

Observing and discussing other flora and fauna in your yard are also great learning opportunities. What animals do you observe and do they change throughout the year? What plants grow in your yard and how does their lifecycle progress throughout their growing season? Identify which plants in your yard are annuals vs. perennials. Then, you can tie in a broader view of the different environments across the world by discussing how your yard differs from them and why it does.

Treat Your Backyard like Summer Camp
To paraphrase a hit Cyndi Lauper song, "kids just want to have fun." Plan fun activities outside and make your backyard like a summer camp that endures all year long. Providing fun activities will motivate your kids to not only leave the house but will make them more likely to want to stay outside longer. Mixing fun activities with educational ones will help make learning about nature fun.

In spring and summer, activities like playing tag, wading in a stream and slipping along a water slide can be favorites. In the autumn months, try playing in the leaves, catching a football and making s'mores. The snowy days of winter are perfect opportunities for sledding, snow angels and making snowmen. It's even fun to make up your own games and activities, like tossing acorns into a square on the ground made of twigs. No matter the season, planning fun activities is the key to making time outdoors something kids look forward to.

Explore New Places Near Home
While exploring the wonders of your own backyard, you can also expand your adventures into your nearby area. This is a great way to see how your backyard relates to the surrounding region. Within a short distance of your home, there may be drastically different terrains and ecosystems. Conversely, your surrounding area may contain the same exact habitats as your backyard. Discovering and learning about both your immediate backyard and your surrounding area is a great way to begin forming a broader view of the planet's diverse, interconnected ecosystems.

County parks, state parks and national parks are all great places to explore with your family. By their nature, these types of parks are deemed significant as a wildlife habitat, ecological area or as a geological feature. They are fun to explore and present great learning opportunities. Outbound Family's Destination Database is a great way to find places to explore near your family.

Have Fun and Let Your Kids Get Dirty
Ultimately, if spending time outdoors isn't fun for your children, they will be reluctant to participate. Make each outing fun for them and it's own unique adventure. Variety and unexpected discoveries make will time in the outdoors interesting.

Don't worry if your kids get dirty or wet during your outdoor adventure. That's part of their fun and the tactile experience will enhance their connection to nature. It's okay if you get a little dirty, too. Just be sure to enjoy the time outside with your family.