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MUD IS GOOD! Ten Easy Ways to Connect Your Family to the Joy of Nature

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of nine books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." His newest book, "Vitamin N," offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

Short on Vitamin N? Here’s a brief list of nature activities to help you connect your kids, and yourself, to the health, cognitive and creative benefits of nature time — benefits that will help your child succeed in school and throughout life.

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  1. Invite native flora and fauna into your life. Maintain a birdbath. Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Build a bat house. For backyard suggestions, plus links to information about attracting wildlife to apartments and townhouses, see the National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard. Make your yard a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Certified Wildlife Habitat.
  2. Revive old traditions. Collect lightning bugs at dusk, release them at dawn. Make a leaf collection. Keep a terrarium or aquarium. Go crawdadding — tie a piece of liver or bacon to a string, drop it into a creek or pond, wait until a crawdad tugs. Put the garden hose to good use: make a mud hole. (Your kids will sleep well later.)
  3. Help your child discover a hidden universe. Find a scrap board and place it on bare dirt. Come back in a day or two, carefully lift the board (watch for unfriendly critters), and see how many species have found shelter there. Identify these creatures with the help of a field guide. Return to this universe once a month, lift the board and discover who’s new.
  4. Encourage your kids to go camping in the backyard. Buy them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee, and leave it up all summer. Join the NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout. (Pledge now to camp out on June 28.)
  5. Take a hike. With younger children, choose easier, shorter routes and prepare to stop often. Or be a stroller explorer. “If you have an infant or toddler, consider organizing a neighborhood stroller group that meets for weekly nature walks,” suggests the National Audubon Society. The American Hiking Society offers good tips on how to hike with teenagers. Involve your teen in planning hikes; prepare yourselves physically for hikes, and stay within your limits (start with short day hikes); keep pack weight down. For more information, consult the American Hiking Society or a good hiking guide, such as John McKinney’s Joy of Hiking. In urban neighborhoods, put on daypacks and go on a mile hike to look for nature. You’ll find it — even if it’s in the cracks of a sidewalk.
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  6. Be a cloudspotter or build a backyard weather station. No special shoes or drive to the soccer field is required for “clouding.” A young person just needs a view of the sky (even if it’s from a bedroom window) and a guidebook. Cirrostratus, cumulonimbus, or lenticularis, shaped like flying saucers, “come to remind us that the clouds are Nature’s poetry, spoken in a whisper in the rarefied air between crest and crag,” writes Gavin Pretor-Pinney in his wonderful book The Cloudspotter’s Guide. To build a backyard weather station, read The Kid’s Book of Weather Forecasting, by Mark Breen, Kathleen Friestad, and Michael Kline.
  7. Collect stones. Even the youngest children love gathering rocks, shells, and fossils. To polish stones, use an inexpensive lapidary machine-a rock tumbler. See Rock and Fossil Hunter, by Ben Morgan.
  8. Encourage your kids to build a tree house, fort, or hut. You can provide the raw materials, including sticks, boards, blankets, boxes, ropes, and nails, but it’s best if kids are the architects and builders. The older the kids, the more complex the construction can be. For understanding and inspiration, read Children’s Special Places, by David Sobel. Treehouses and Playhouses You Can Build, by David and Jeanie Stiles describes how to erect sturdy structures, from simple platforms to multistory or multitree houses connected by rope bridges.
  9. Plant a garden. If your children are little, choose seeds large enough for them to handle and that mature quickly, including vegetables. Whether teenagers or toddlers, young gardeners can help feed the family, and if your community has a farmers’ market, encourage them to sell their extra produce. Alternatively, share it with the neighbors or donate it to a food bank. If you live in an urban neighborhood, create a high-rise garden. A landing, deck, terrace, or flat roof typically can accommodate several large pots, and even trees can thrive in containers if given proper care.
  10. Invent your own nature game. One mother’s suggestion: “We help our kids pay attention during longer hikes by playing ‘find ten critters’—mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, snails, other creatures. Finding a critter can also mean discovering footprints, mole holes, and other signs that an animal has passed by or lives there.” Enter the Clif Kid Backyard Game Contest — deadline July 3!
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For more suggestions, in addition to Last Child in the Woods, a number of recent books offer great advice, including Fed Up with Frenzy, by C&NN’s Suz Lipman, I Love Dirt! by Jennifer Ward, The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie, and the free booklet A Parent’s Guide to Nature Play by Ken Finch. Also, the classic Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell. Online, Nature Rocks is another good resource.

And of course visit the Children & Nature Network for more ideas for your family and community, including an action guide for change, toolkits to create a Family Nature Club or become a Natural Leader, resources for Natural Teachers and pediatricians  — as well as state and national news and the latest research. Connect with the grassroots campaigns and efforts of others around the world. And please tell us how your own family, school, organization, or community connects young people to nature.

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Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and the author of  “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age,” “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” from which some of this piece is adapted, and which contains a Field Guide of 100 Actions You Can Take.

Like Rich on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RichLouv 

More reading

The Bond of Shared Solitude: In an age of wall-to-wall media, how do we connect to our children and spouses? Here’s one way.

Mother Nature, Meet Father Nature 

How to Keep Young Hikers Happy

The Wonder Bowl:  Ten Spring and Summer Nature Activities for Kids and Adults

In Defense of Boredom

Don’t Tear Down that Fort! Ten Lessons (and More) that Kids Learn from Building Their Own Tree Houses and Forts

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. AWESOME ideas.

    Reply
  2. I also want to put a plug out there for an amazing resource for parents, educators, counselors and guides – Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown of the Wilderness Awareness School. It is a must read and includes a forward by Richard Louv. Get your copy here: http://www.vashonwildernessprogram.org/nature-store/

    Reply
  3. I agree about Coyote’s Guide, which is a wonderful book. I also want to add my book, which Richard Louv endorsed: “Get Out: 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future” (Free Spirit, 2009). Lots of user-friendly ideas for getting outside!
    Judy Molland

    Reply
  4. What great tips! Nature can be a wonderful lesson in math, science, and so much more. Of course, we love to plant gardens and explore nature in short hikes.

    Reply
  5. We are totally getting a bat house.

    Reply
  6. Following up on #10…when we take car trips we not only spot wildlife along the way, but we’ll play 20 questions, and wildlife and natural areas (parks, refuges, rivers, mountains) are fun topics.

    For connecting with nature even when not outside…

    Reply
  7. Great post! I’m a firm believer in the important role of nature and the outdoors in a healthy, happy childhood.

    Reply
  8. Great post — especially the sidewalk-crack comment! Would love to see a whole list devoted to urban kids who don’t have backyards or nearby open spaces.

    Reply
    • Richard Louv

      Excellent suggestion re urban neighborhoods and no backyards or nearby open spaces. That’ll be a future post, I’m sure. Suggestions, anyone?

      Reply
  9. We had the best Mud Day ever. We celebrated International Mud Day here at Science World in Vancouver, Canada on June 28th and 29th. it was a great way for families and children explore and discover the “joy of mud.”

    Reply

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