by Jan Pierce, M.Ed.
Top Places to Unplug with the Kids in and Around Houston
- Explore the paths of Buffalo Bayou by foot or on a bike and reap the benefits of being exposed to nature. buffalobayou.org
- Gather family and friends to reconnect at one of the many picnic pavilions. Fish and contemplate the beauty of nature on the lake at Rob Fleming Park. thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov
- Breath in the salt air and walk in the sand along Galveston’s shoreline. Galveston.com
- Take a stroll through the gardens and walk the trails that wind through beautifully preserved woodlands at the Mercer Botanic Gardens. hcp4.net/parks/mercer/
- Be absorbed in a variety of pristine and unpaved primitive trails spotted with plant and wildlife species, white sand beaches, swamps and sloughs with century-old cypress trees at Jesse H. Jones Park and Nature Center. www.hcp4.net/parks/jjp/
- Combine a nature-lover’s thirst for knowledge in the Great Room and then seat at a table overlooking the ponds for a moment of reflection at Delores Fenwick Nature Center. pearlandtx.gov/departments/parks-recreation/facilities/delores-fenwick-nature-center
Family life can be hectic. After a busy day of preparing meals, snacks and overseeing homework projects, breaking up squabbles and keeping up with dishes and laundry, parents are often more than happy to “pop in a video” as they say, and watch their brood settle into wide-eyed, quiet little people.
But I’m also aware that many children rarely see the light of day except when in transit from school to home where they immediately turn something on—the television, a video player, a computer or a computer game. It’s become a huge problem for children and it’s affecting their health. These technological wonders have their place in both the educational realm and for entertainment, but it has been said that today’s children have a “nature deficit order.” They know little or nothing of the outdoor world around them and don’t care to spend time exploring it. The pull of today’s electronic offerings is extremely strong and it’s hard to manage. But experts say a lot can be accomplished in just a few minutes of outdoor play each day. And once the enjoyment begins, kids will want more.
There’s a growing movement among parents and community leaders to organize and encourage quality outdoor experiences for today’s children. Virtually no one doubts the advantages of time outdoors for our kids, but bad habits are hard to break. Here are five tips for fun and interesting ways to get the whole family out of doors to experience the beauty and enjoyment of nature.
Grow and Eat Something
Kids quickly learn to enjoy gardening when they do the work themselves and when they’re part of harvesting—enjoying the fruit of their labors. One organization that facilitates such hands-on gardening projects is the Farm-based Education Association. They offer outdoor events for the entire family for an annual fee. Check to see if they or a similar organization is active in your area.
Observe or Collect Something
When children begin to observe and interact with nature, they build a greater respect for the care of the planet. Increase their wonder by taking short excursions for the sole purpose of observing what is under that rock or hiding within the bark of a tree. Begin a nature collection as simple as establishing My Box of Rocks or My Collection of Pinecones. It doesn’t take much to begin the journey to a greater appreciation of nature.
Recycle or Reuse Something
While some of the action in recycling takes place indoors, the emphasis is on maintaining the beauty and cleanliness of our outdoor world. At the littlegreenblog.com you’ll find lots of ideas related to living in sync with nature.
Have some family fun with a building project such as this simple fort (www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to-build-a-fort). Kids will spend hours in the out of doors with a simple backdrop and the whole family will enjoy the building process.
Younger children will always enjoy a ramble in the woods with their loved ones. As children get older, they may need the incentive of linking the out of doors to a hobby such as photography or geocaching. Go to kidsunplugged.org to find an organization that plans outdoor family events, perhaps in your area. If not, see their listing of many other groups who have banded together for the same purpose: getting kids unplugged and outdoors.
Here is a listing of several other organizations that care about children and the importance of helping them enjoy our beautiful world.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed. is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net