With computer games, televisions and cell phones becoming the modern toys of childhood, our children are less connected with nature than ever before. We’re seeing our kids less healthy physically as well as emotionally, and this may be linked to the lack of nature and outdoor play in their lives. But did you know there are lots of fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to combat this trend? Many of them are right here in the Virginia State Parks. Here at Mason Neck State Park, you could attend one of our many guided nature programs, such as a GPS clue hunt, a pond exploration, or a bald eagle watch. You could also try some of the following activities in a state park, or even in your back yard. Let’s get our children in nature again!
–Have a bubble-blowing contest with your family. Make your own bubble solution by mixing liquid dishwashing detergent and water—3 or 4 parts water to 1 part detergent. Truly enormous bubbles can result when you add a bit of either glycerin or light corn syrup to your solution. Make your own bubble wands with pipe cleaners, or you can bend a wire clothes hanger into a huge bubble wand for even more bubble fun.
–Go cloud watching. Relax in the grass and find pictures in the puffy white clouds above you. Look, there’s a bear diving into a swimming pool—but over there is a big hungry shark… what’s going to happen next?
–Hold a family scavenger hunt. Come up with a list of things to find in the park—a yellow flower, a piece of litter, a man wearing a red shirt, a black bird—and then split into teams to find them. Remember not to disturb wildlife, including plants. Instead of bringing the target items back to home base, take photographs or even just write down where the item was seen.
–Take a rainbow hike. Look for different items for each color in the rainbow. You may have to be creative with a few colors, and that’s half the fun!
–Build sand castles at the beach. Decorate them with some of the natural objects you find there too—shells, driftwood, seed pods, feathers.
–Go stargazing, while you’re camping in Virginia or even in your own neighborhood. See if you can find any familiar constellations, or even make some up on your own. Then paste glow-in-the-dark star stickers onto dark construction paper for art that’s even cooler after bedtime.
I have found nature hikes with children, especially young ones, are smoother if the children are given an additional goal or purpose, such as the scavenger hunt or rainbow hike above. I guarantee you’ll find lots of other fascinating things along the way—a lizard who flashes across the trail in front of you, perhaps, or a bright butterfly on a wildflower. When your family is just getting started in nature, open-themed nature walks can be too unfocused for children accustomed to the fast-paced stimulation of the internet and computer games. Just get outside and your child will remember the surprises and unexpected discoveries, and soon will want to take those open nature walks too.
Have fun going outside with your family! Come have some outdoor adventures in Virginia’s state parks.