Taking your kids on an easy adventure to find and explore nature

June is National Great Outdoors Month, and this Saturday is National Get Outdoors Day. It’s a great time for people — especially parents and children — to make a commitment to spend a portion of the summer learning about nature and enjoying the sights and sounds of the wild areas that still exist.

National Get Outdoors Day is recognized with free admission to Washington state’s parks as well as national forests where day-use fees are charged. A national list of sites can be found on the GO Day website.

In addition, the National Park Service offers a free yearlong pass for fourth graders and their families to visit national parks, monuments and historical sites. See the Every Kid in a Park website.

June is also Orca Awareness Month with a considerable lineup of activities planned, including the Orcas in Our Midst Workshop on Saturday. See Water Ways, May 19, or check out the Orca Awareness Month website for a full list of activities.

The value that children get from exploring the outdoors has been known for many years. But I was intrigued to learn recently that the city of Austin has adopted a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights as part of a program of greening up the cities.

“We are excited to announce that on January 26, 2017, Austin City Council voted unanimously to approve the Austin Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights!” says a statement on the city’s website. “Every child in Austin should be able to connect with the incredible nature that Austin has to offer, and we are excited to have our city leadership’s support! Thank you to Austin’s Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative and all of our partners for helping create and pass this resolution.”

So what are the outdoor rights of every child, as seen by the Austin City Council? They are the rights to:

  • Climb a tree
  • Catch a fish
  • Picnic in a park
  • Hike a trail
  • Ride a bike
  • Splash in a creek or river
  • Discover plants and wildlife
  • Play in the sand and mud
  • Gaze at the night sky
  • Chase a firefly
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow
  • Harvest and eat a fruit or vegetable

That sounds like a great list for a child of Austin. Maybe for children in Western Washington we would outline slightly different rights, perhaps a right to quietly observe a salmon spawning. Maybe the right to watch salmon could substitute for chasing fireflies, which is somewhat difficult in our region of the country.

Austin is one of seven cities involved in the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative, a pilot program designed to ensure that all children have the opportunity to play, learn and grow in nature. City officials recognize that it may take extra effort to involve children from low-income neighborhoods.

An article by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and parks director Sara Hensley in “The New Nature Movement” describes the city’s program and provides links to a dozen other stories and websites. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” founded The New Nature Movement, which he describes as “not going back to nature but forward to a nature-rich civilization.”

If you don’t read Louv’s book, you may find that he reveals quite a bit about his views in an interview with Jill Suttle of “Greater Good,” an online magazine at the University of California at Berkeley.

“There will always be conservationists and environmentalists,” Louv says, “but if we don’t turn this trend around, they’ll increasingly carry nature in their briefcases, not in their hearts. And that’s a very different relationship.”

Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced nearly $1 million in grants under the No Child Left Inside movement. The grants focus on outdoor environmental, agricultural and natural-resource education and recreation for 8,000 kids who don’t normally get a chance to interact with nature, according to a news release that lists all 19 projects.

As an aside, I can vouch for the fact that our governor is no slouch when it comes to the outdoors. In 2002, while Jay was a U.S. representative, we went on a hike along the South Fork of the Skokomish River. We talked about the need to protect roadless areas, and I had trouble keeping up and taking notes at the same time, as he maintained a fast pace along the rolling trail. Read the story in the Kitsap Sun, May 19, 2002.

As for exploring the outdoors with your children, these freebies and programs are one thing. But what kinds of things can we, as parents, bring to the experience?

Lauren Knight, who writes about motherhood in her blog Crumb Bums, provides some good advice in a column she wrote for the Washington Post titled “Ten Ways to get your kids out in nature, and why it matters.”

Her first suggestion is to “inspire curiosity by being curious yourself.” She writes: “A parent’s excitement is contagious to her children, and when we show awe in nature, our children follow suit. Take the position of a learner …”

Her fourth suggestion is to “seek out natural, untouched spaces and return often to them.” She writes: “Returning to the same spot throughout the seasons will allow for observations of change and cycles of life.”

Other information:

  • Several books and websites feature advice and locations to take children. Search for “hikes kids Western Washington” as a start.
  • Many visitor centers offer information about hikes and outdoor activities. Search by region on Find Visitor Centers website.
  • Washington Trails Association has a section on “Hiking with Kids.”
  • An organization called Hike It Baby offers advice on easy trails by region. (Registration required)
  • Sometimes the best advice comes from asking friends and coworkers where they like to go with children.

Feel free to offer comments about other good sources of information or even suggest some of the best places to go with kids in Western Washington.

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