Get kids hands-on with nature during Earth Week

Spring. Packed with emerging life and teachable moments, it’s a great time of year. Why not celebrate Earth Week April 17-24 and turn winter-weary little ones into intrepid outdoor explorers? Take a morning, mid-day, or early evening walk with your child and soak it up. Tease the senses. Breathe it in, listen to it, savor it, catch it, touch it.

Earth Day this year is April 22, but many outdoor organizations offer weeklong festivities. One land conservancy in northern Michigan is even hosting a toddler and family hike! Check websites of local parks and nature centers for special activities or create your own.

Hit a woodland trail near wetlands at this time of year, and be audience to a sweet symphony of birdsong and frog calls. In many parts of the country spring peepers, wood frogs, and tree frogs, create an amphibian chorus that rivals the largest choir. Dawn and dusk can offer rare sightings of animals that make themselves scarce during the daytime. Mother Nature Network describes crepuscular critters as those most active during twilight. The low light means prey animals have a better chance of eluding their predators, who not only will have hard time seeing them, but may be just going to bed or waking up. Some examples include rabbits, ferrets, and bats (at dusk).

Pulling kids outside has benefits that extend well beyond delight and awe, important as those are. In “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature,” the Child Mind Institute suggests outdoor time builds confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, and provides different stimulation than their on-screen activities, plus, it gets them moving, it makes them think, and it reduces stress and fatigue

If it’s been awhile since you’ve let your own inner child break free, see Real Simple’s “Spring Activities Checklist” for ideas that will help make springtime ultra fun for kids and mom and dad. They include basic-but-sometimes-overlooked adventures such as “find a playground and swing on the swings,” “blow bubbles,” and “jump in puddles.”

Learning about nature helps kids appreciate it and realize how much is going on beneath the surface of their surroundings. The National Wildlife Federation has a three-year goal of getting “10 million kids out of their indoor habitat and into the great outdoors.” As part of this effort, the NWF offers “Tools to Help Connect Kids and Nature.”

The Nature Conservancy provides fun nature quizzes, and there are many online resources to boost kids’ knowledge of the natural world. Matt Doyle, writing for Bright Pips, compiled “Nature’s Child: Apps and Sites to Help Kids Explore the Natural World,” noting that “Fortunately, nature and technology don’t have to be an either/or proposition for kids these days. There is now a wide range of nature apps and websites that can help children explore, learn about, and have fun in the natural world.”

Let Earth Day/Earth Week open a door to the great outdoors, and help kids joyfully run through it!