Families of 4th graders: An opportunity to get in a national park for free

kids at duck pond 2016As a birthday present, I took my 5-year-old son for a one-on-one date to the museum today. I surprised him with a 3D viewing of a film on the smallest creatures in the ocean.

We were the only people in the giant-screen theater, surrounded by amazing views of sea snails and clams and zooplankton. The end of the film made an appeal for viewers to care about the ocean, citing the accidental release of the lion fish coinciding with overfishing in the Caribbean for how we humans can cause great problems with what we see as minor mistakes.

It hearkened back to a series my children and I watched on National Geographic several months ago, “Racing Extinction,” during which we saw stunning evidence of humankind’s inadvertent effects on our natural world, such as how even a slight change in average sea temperature can decimate entire coral reefs.

I have long had great respect and admiration for nature, made even deeper through my Attachment Parenting (AP) journey. After more than a decade of AP, this way of relating to my children has become my way of relating overall — to other people and to the natural world. I can’t help but want to share that peace beyond my home, and a definite way I try to do this is to nurture my children’s innate curiosity and awe of the natural world.

My oldest daughter has, from the time she could talk, decided she wants to be an entomologist, to find better ways to save endangered pollinator species. My middle daughter has forever wanted to be a wildlife rescuer. And my youngest, my son, wants to save endangered species of birds. I’m excited that my children have the potential to be part of the next generation of problem-solvers in this way.

Naturally, I want to cultivate this interest. We spend a lot of time outdoors. We take the children to nature camps and on hikes in wildlife preserves. We expose them as much as we can to the people who are doing now what the kids want to do when they grow up. They have helped entomologists capture rare insects on disappearing virgin prairie, taken part in a skit on the whooping crane’s perilous migration, learned to identify invasive weeds choking sensitive waterways, done surveys on native bee numbers, and signed petitions to pass laws to better conserve monarch butterfly habitat.

Not that this can’t happen with other childhood interests, but I am a firm believer that being connected with the natural world has far-reaching benefits beyond an appreciation of nature. In this API post from Earth Day, Effie Morchi explains the myriad benefits to healthy child development.

Effie has such a passion for reconnecting children with nature. She recently brought my attention to a great opportunity: All 4th-grade students and their families can get in any U.S. national park for free through the Every Kid in a Park initiative.

I hope as many families can take advantage of this opportunity this year as possible. It’s a way to see our nation’s wildest places and help expand our children’s instinctive desire to connect — and eventually protect — our natural world.

3 tips for connection in the summertime

DSC02151Summertime can bring a variety of opportunities to connect with our children and enjoy new experiences together. It especially can be a time to reconnect with a child who has been at school all day throughout the year and is now home each day.

Here are 3 suggestions for deepening the family connection during the summertime:

1) Start a family tradition or ritual

Creating traditions and rituals each summer, just as during other seasons and holiday times, can help children experience predictability and be a source of family bonding. In our family, summer traditions include minor league baseball games, going to a carnival, visiting all the libraries in the county, and eating dinner outside.

We didn’t consciously set out to create these traditions: They just happened as we found things that our family enjoyed together and things that to us say, “summer.”

You may also want to bring some traditions from your own childhood into your families now.

IMAG007922) Get outside

Research has shown a correlation between time outside and reduced stress levels. Being outside in nature also helps keep kids calmer. Consider a trip to the best points for Apple picking in NJ, they will love it and learn a lot from a nutritive fruit

There are so many opportunities to get outside throughout the day. It can be staying near home and playing in the yard, or venturing out further for a hike or nature walk. Try to visit different playgrounds and climb the playground equipment along with your children.

Or, when you’re in a need of an opportunity for self-care and craving some balance, sit and enjoy a book in the fresh air while they play.

Some of the fun activities my children like to do outside our house include getting a bucket full of shaving cream and some paintbrushes and “painting” the deck using longest lasting deck stain, filling a squirt bottle with water, searching for bugs and pretending to be bugs, doing messy art projects outdoors, and setting up an outdoor movie night. If you are not having a redwood decking but wanna build one for your kids, so that they can do outdoor activities, then contact Outside Entertainment Area Specialists for the deck building.

3) Find fun activities, but don’t force them

A few years ago, I created a “summer wish list” of about 15 places to go or things to do during the summer. We didn’t end up doing all of them, but it was helpful to have some plans and suggestions. Some of those activities became our traditions, while others were one-time only outings.

While these can be great, it’s also important to remember that some may not work out as you planned. Sometimes, what seems like a great idea to us sounds boring to our children. I’ve been trying to take my oldest son strawberry-picking since he loves strawberries and since it was something I loved as a child, but he’s simply not interested. Rather than forcing it, I work on finding other activities he is interested in and focus on being present with him in whatever it is we end up doing. Sometimes that means just playing board games inside.

It’s important to remember that these activities are about strengthening our family connection. If the activity is stressful to you, not enjoyed by the kids, and not creating a good bonding experience, don’t feel bad about scrapping it for something else!

I hope you enjoy exploring, experiencing and connecting with your kids this summer!

Editor’s pick: Reconnecting our kids with nature for healthy development

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement, the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” ~ David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalistGirl Dress Field

Today is Earth Day. We are reminded of the need to protect our Earth with all its wonders and beautiful resources: the majestic glaciers, magnificent oceans, captivating tall trees, vast grasslands, and all precious life forms. Today, Attachment Parenting International (API) observes the significance of our Earth and nature as a valuable resource for our children’s well-being.

Connecting with nature — spending time outdoors — provides children with the opportunity to freely engage in exploration, observation, creativity, and physical activity. It promotes the development of physical, emotional, and spiritual balance children need to flourish.

With the prevalence of electronic devices, overscheduling and the increasingly limited availability of natural settings, children nowadays have little opportunities to spend time outdoors and in nature. Television, the internet and social media are at their fingertips: They spend many hours being connected, but yet disconnected — from their natural environment.

In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder,” referring to the negative effects resulting from children spending less time outdoors. In his groundbreaking work, Louv sheds light on this important issue that deeply affects our children.

In this Parent & Child magazine article, Louv explains why nature is vital for children: As human beings, our connection to nature is biologically innate. Nature deficit disorder is not a medical condition but a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children, and some of the consequent problems are depression, obesity, and attention problems.

In his Orion magazine article, “Leave No Child Inside,” Louv discusses the need behind the movement to reconnect kids with nature: “As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: ‘I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.’”

Due to the movement, there is growing dialogue on the subject of children and nature among educators, health care providers, recreation companies, residential developers, urban planners, conservation agencies, academics, and others.

There is also a growing body of research on the problem of children’s disconnection from the natural environment, and the benefits of increased connection. Some of the benefits discussed in this Natural Learning Initiative piece are:

  • Supports creativity and problem solving
  • Enhances cognitive abilities
  • Improves social relations
  • Improves self-discipline
  • Reduces stress
  • Reduces Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms
  • Increases physical activity.

Children’s immersion and connection with nature also has profound implications on future conservation and the direction of the environmental movement. If, as a society, we would truly understand the benefits nature has to offer to our children, we would be more inclined to re-evaluate our relationship with nature and the urgency to protect our beautiful Earth.

Additional API Resources for Earth Day

Larry CohenPlayful Parenting with Larry Cohen,” author of Playful Parenting, The Art of Roughhousing, and Picnic on a Cloud, in this API Teleseminar — now just $9 for your audio recording!

Nature’s toys” from AP Month 2011

More professional insight from The Attached Family online magazine:

Conscious Living with Lisa Reagan,” executive editor of Kindred Media & Community, cofounder of Families for Conscious Living, and member of API’s Resource Advisory Council

Parenting for a Sustainable World: Cultivating a Reverence for Life” by Lysa Parker, cofounder of API and coauthor of Attached at the Heart

And personal stories from other APtly Said blog posts:

Teaching environmental responsibility

Nature therapy

Fall party

Hiking with children

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