As the summer warms up I hope everybody is taking advantage of the sunshine and gorgeous weather, and especially getting children into nature. In Virginia’s State Parks, you can enjoy wildlife watching and the activities I suggested in my Mason Neck State Park. Summer is a great time to get outside and make sure we’re not losing that important connection with the world of nature.
1. Make your own recycled birdfeeder. Take a half-gallon milk carton and wash it out thoroughly. Staple the spout shut. Now cut out an area for the birds to perch and eat the seed. You can do one large opening as shown in the picture, or cut windows in the centers of all four sides. At least two inches should be left whole above and below any opening. Punch a hole in the top of the carton and tie string through the hole. Fill with bird seed and hang in a tree where you can see it. You’ll have a whole flock of birds coming to your feeder within a couple weeks. Make sure you keep the feeder filled!
2. Plant and care for trees, flowers, or other plants in your yard. If you don’t have a place to have flowers outside, even growing potted plants indoors is still a good nature activity. Mung beans will grow into bean sprouts on just a moist paper towel, and make a fun addition to salads. Radishes are also easy and tasty to grow. You could fun activities to try.
3. Make a smashed flower picture. Pick some brightly colored fresh flowers and leaves. Place a piece of watercolor paper on a smooth flat surface that won’t be damaged by hammer blows—an inexpensive plastic cutting board, for example. Arrange the flower petals and leaves on your paper, and cover it with a couple layers of paper towels. Now take a hammer or brick and whack away, squishing the leaves and flowers to release their colors onto the paper. Check out more pictures of the process and results at buildmakecraftbake.com.
4. Play in the rain! Put Wellington boots and raincoats on, and go splash around in puddles, race leaves down the driveway, squish in the mud, or help rained-out worms to higher ground. If thunder starts rolling, go inside for safety.
5. Keep a family nature journal. Let everyone in the family add drawings, thoughts and observations and even paste in dried leaves and flowers from your nature excursions, whether at a park or in your own back yard. Kids can sketch the plants and animals they find, describe their favorite parts of the trip, and you can add your own experiences and observations too. Also give kids a magnifying glass so they can become nature detectives and record the tiny but fascinating critters they find.
6. If your children are old enough, go kayaking or canoeing. You don’t have to buy any expensive equipment, since many parks offer affordable rentals. Mason Neck State Park offers canoe and kayak rentals every day starting at 10 am, with all boats returned by 5 pm. It‘s only $10/hour for a single-person kayak, $15/hour for a tandem (two-person) kayak, and $12/hour for a canoe which holds up to two adults and a small child. Children age 6-13 may paddle in a canoe or a tandem kayak with an adult; children 14-17 may paddle in their own boat as long as an adult accompanies them in a separate boat. We provide life jackets and paddles with the boats
7. Visit a local orchard and pick your own apples. Enjoy the sunshine, the fresh air, and the ripe sweet fruit. Bet you can’t resist snacking on one right there in the tree! When you get home, you can try making old-fashioned dried apples too. Peel and core an apple, and slice it into ¼” thick rings. Brush them with a little lemon juice if you like. Thread a string through the rings, keeping some space between the slices. Hang them to dry in a cool place for a couple weeks. This may seem like a long time, but it sure is less expensive than buying dried apples at the grocery store. Store your dried apples in an airtight container once they’re done. Yum!