The New Year often means new promises: lose weight, get in shape, clean up the attic, free up time to spend with your kids, organize the millions of digital photos and videos of your kids.
But a new year is an ideal time to take stock of how we are living our lives, evaluate our intentions and our actions. It's also the perfect time to give your family a nature makeover—to bring more nature into your family’s habits and start the new year off right.
Despite all the research that tells parents how good it is for their children to spend time playing outside, kids are spending more time indoors than ever before. So make this year one bursting with nature with a foolproof plan. Get nature in any way you can whether it be regular daily time or short bursts or indoor nature.
1. Give the family schedule a spring makeover
With today’s busy schedules, we have to purposefully make time for nature. So kick off your new family nature habit by bringing the family together and having a discussion about the importance of nature time and how it keeps us healthy. Ask your family to think about how you can all fit in daily or weekly nature time to learn and grow or just to explore and have fun. Let your child lead here. Find out what they like to do most outside and then brainstorm ideas together. Perhaps it’s a weekly family hike. Or maybe your family needs just 30 minutes of outdoor play a day or every other day. Now just put it on the calendar and stick with it.
Pro Tip: Always Be Prepared. Grab an extra bag pack and stuff it with tools and supplies you will need on your nature outings. This way, you’ll always be ready to get outdoors. Think about including such objects as binoculars, guide books, a compass. Don’t forget hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, tick spray, mosquito repellent, extra gloves, water bottles, and non-perishable snacks. Stash it in your car trunk.
2. Do an activity swap
Help your child try out a new outdoor activity for a trial period. This noncommittal way of exposing your child to new outdoor hobbies is a great way to sample different activities and expand their skills—and time outdoors. Of course, this probably means that your child will have to cut something out like soccer or basketball. But this will give them a chance to try out a sport like rock climbing, which helps kids build upper body strength, flexibility, and patience. Or maybe even horseback riding. Horseback riding is often overlooked but it can help your child develop deep empathy and a strong connection to animals. After all, the horse will not respond unless your child is tuned in to the horse!
3. Start journaling
A pretty low key but high-quality way of getting nature in is by keeping a nature journal. Writing in their journal every day or every week is an excellent way to help your child tune into the natural world, spend time outdoors sitting in quiet awareness, and focus in on natural objects, perhaps "seeing" it and its remarkable details for the first time. From here, their interest in being outdoors is only going to explode!
4. Sign up for a race
Family-friendly or kid-friendly races are growing in popularity. Do some research in your area to find a 5K (or more or less) race that you can train for together as a family. Then dedicate a morning each weekend to training. Head to the local park, track or trail and enjoy watching your child’s growing enthusiasm for both running and the outdoors. During the pandemic, many races have gone virtual, which may be a great way to slowly enter your family into the world of competitive running. Here are some tips on participating in races during the pandemic.
5. Set a goal to visit & rate all local wildlife places
Join your local Audubon Chapter or get a state park pass and set a goal to visit a new state park or sanctuary every weekend or every month. Audubon has 23 state programs and 450+ local chapters, so there is likely to be one near you. Each week, decide on a new natural area to explore. This is a great opportunity for your child to keep notes in their nature journal.
6. Sign up for nature-based camps
Yes, it’s winter but these cold days are the best time to do some deep research into finding the very best camp for your child. Nature camps are a fantastic way to get your child a high dose of nature, make new friends, experience independence and develop outdoor skills that they can use lifelong. Be sure to check Audubon Centers, town recreation departments and state parks for camps they may be hosting. Many camps may be closed this summer yet again due to the pandemic. But keep your eyes and ears open for smaller outdoor-based camps and novel social-distancing-approved approaches.
7. Play nature bingo or set up your nature bucket list
Make nature planning fun for the family. Spend Friday night playing nature adventure bingo. Create your own bingo cards or print the game cards we made up for the whole family arranged with possible nature activities and call them out. The winning card/combination is the activity for the next day!
Or try out the Family Nature Bucket List idea from Nurture by Nature, which is a fun way to select your family’s ideas for nature-based activities using color-coded clothes pins.
8. Plan your summer trip in the outdoors now
Whether you’re heading out on an international adventure or staying stateside, make nature the main feature of your family vacation this year. Think of locations that offer many options to get out and explore through hiking biking, kayaking or climbing. Our favorite source for planning adventure vacations is without a doubt The Big Outside. This well-written blog is by writer, traveler, and dad Mike Lanza. Mike has taken his kids on the ultimate adventures in the outdoors. But don't be intimidated! Mike offers tips for trips of all sizes and level and has generously created this blog as a resource for other adventure-seeking parents.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to download your fourth grader's Every Kid Outdoors pass, which gives your entire family FREE access to hundreds of parks, lands, and waters for a year!
9. Tap into their creative side
Help your child set a goal to take on a nature-based project like a wildlife film or a nature photography exhibit. Observing and photographing or filming nature is an enriching hobby that helps your child observe and learn in nature. To be a good nature photographer or filmmaker, your child will have to learn how to be a "quiet observer," practicing patience and bodily control as they look for signs of how wildlife uses habitat for food, water, cover, a place to raise young. This is an excellent way for any child to experience tuning into the natural world and connecting with nature.
10. Take on a new hobby
A new year is an ideal time for your child to start learning a new skill. Help your child commit to starting a new hobby such as bird watching, archery or animal tracking. Of course we would suggest bird watching! We're bird lovers! To get started, here are our pieces on HOW to get started with birdwatching with your kids and WHY.
11. Pick a family backyard makeover project
Create your own HGTV episode and transform your outdoor space into a nature explorer’s dream. Whether you decide to design a sensory garden, sensory trail, turn your backyard into a wildlife sanctuary. build a wildlife pond or set up a loose parts play area in your backyard, this project will bring nature as close to your kids as you can get it! The best part about this project? You and your kids can work together.
12. Go on a techno fast
For some families, this will be the hardest of all of the options. Choose one week to go on a techno fast in which you will all shut down all electronics when the family is together and replace it with nature. You could do this during Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s Screen Free Week in early May. Better yet, extend it to screen-free month. Fill the time with nature-based art, hobbies, activities and explorations!