When it comes to getting kids outdoors in the rural Midwest, I’m rarely short on ideas or know-how. But how do you explore nature with children if you live in a big city? Since I haven’t lived in a metropolitan area after having children, I asked Los Angeles-based Jennifer Fontaine of the MommyHiker.com blog for advice, and I’m extremely excited to share her guest post with you! Make sure to check out her bio at the end of this post.
I must admit that I am a bit envious of my fellow nature lovers and outdoorsy families who live next to pristine nature preserves on the outskirts of breathtaking national parks, but alas, that is not the geographical landscape we live in here in Los Angeles. We live smack dab in the middle of a sprawling urban city and so, we must be creative and determined in our hunt for outdoor adventure. Here are a few of our family’s most favorite outdoor urban activities, designed to you get you and your family outside and into nature!
Adventures in Urban Hiking
Hiking in an urban setting can mean something as simple as stepping foot outside your door and making the decision to turn left or right. You’d be surprised how much there is to discover and learn with your children, just by making a trip around the block. Gather items like rocks, seed pods, berries and leaves to use as tools for teaching how varied leaf textures can be or to open a discussion on the difference between metamorphic and sedentary rock formations.
Urban hiking is a great way to start if you’re a novice because it’s easy. Let’s face it, you’re never too far from a restaurant or a store, so no need to buy a grappling hook or expensive high tech hiking boots. Just pack a light lunch, some water and use it as a way to take in the sights, study the surrounding architecture and reflect on the distinctions of the enveloping sounds. Better yet, on a nice warm evening, adventure out on a nighttime walk and allow your child to examine how differently the world seems when the sun goes down.
Most urban cities have some sort of botanical gardens which are open to the public. They can serve as a way to teach and inspire visitors to understand, protect and preserve the surrounding nature, so take advantage of their creative educational programs, or just go for a stroll.
Visiting a botanical garden with your child can instill in a budding mind enhanced understanding of ecology, connection to the earth and our interdependence on it, plant science and environmental stewardship. Taking a trip through a rose or zen garden can stimulate a child’s sense of imagination and inspire a plethora of craft and art project. Every step has the ability to reveal the true grandeur of Mother Nature’s exquisite beauty and her constant transformation.
A trip to the zoo can teach your children more than books on science and conservation, a study published by researchers at the University of Warwick has revealed. Their findings were based on analysis of over 3,000 children, age seven to fourteen, who were asked about their knowledge of animals, habitat and conservation, and then tested again after their trip to the London Zoo. Their findings revealed that 53 percent had a positive change in educational or conservation-related knowledge areas, personal concern for endangered species or new empowerment to participate in conservation efforts. That is pretty astounding.
An added benefit of a visit to the zoo is learning where specific animals come from which can lead to a great exploratory conversation about cultural diversity around the globe.
Download the MommyHiker.com Scavenger Hunt List, check out Go Explore Nature’s awesome Scavenger Hunt lists, scour the interwebs or write your own Scavenger Hunt tailored to your kid’s favorite things! Use the discovery of a smooth, hot rock as a launching pad to discuss what made the rock hot to begin with, what lives underneath it or how it came to sit on this particular spot of earth in the first place. Just beware you don’t fall into the role of the task-masker, barking orders and insisting on finding the next item on the list. Make it fun! Looking for a lizard? Call out for him! “Oh, Mister Liiiiiiiizaaaaaaard! Where are youuuuuuuu?”
Park it at the Park
As simple as it may sound, sometimes getting outdoors for some quality family time is as easy as heading down to your neighborhood park for a few hours of running, jumping, climbing and good old fashioned outdoor playtime.
Some of the larger community parks even offer great programs from little league to soccer camp and even mommy and me classes at incredibly affordable prices
A trip to the park can also be a great way to connect and meet other parents in your neighborhood, which can lead to more play dates and even long-lasting friendships.
Get out of the big box supermarket and go visit your local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are making a huge comeback in many urban areas and it’s a beautiful way to spend a morning with the family and get your weekly grocery shopping done.
In addition to supporting sustainable, locally grown products, farmer’s markets are full of awesome activities for kids of all ages. You can always bet there will be local food vendors selling freshly prepared food, local craftsman and artisans proudly displaying their handmade wares and great local bands providing the perfect soundtrack to your day.
Become an Urban Crusader
With urban sprawl comes the inevitable urban decay, pollution and destruction of natural habitats. Counteracting this byproduct of so many human beings populating a small swath of land are a rainbow of organizations, foundations and community stewardship programs designed to get the public to actively participate in helping to restore what is being ruined within our delicate ecosystems.
For our family, learning the seriousness of our effects on the environment and taking responsibility for the destruction, caused by us, to our most fragile ecosystems by taking part in amazing programs like these can only help lead us on our quest to understanding the true importance of environmental stewardship. It allows us to give thanks and reminds us what is most valuable in our lives; each other and the natural world that envelops and supports us.
Now it’s your turn! What are some of your favorite kid-friendly outdoor urban adventures?!
Hi, I’m Jennifer Fontaine! In addition to my newest title, Blogger, I am also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cat lady, a chef, an actor, a film producer and a screenwriter!
I started The Mommy Hiker Blog in the hopes of inspiring other parents to get outdoors with their kids to explore and discover the wonder and beauty of Mother Nature and in doing so, I have inspired myself.