Tonight after dinner, dishes still stacked unwashed in the sink, my son put on his socks and his striped rain boots. He found the dog's leash, and then we went for a walk in the rain—one mama, one dog and one naked young boy in a cool summer rain.
I believe in fresh air and sunshine and puddles and dirt smudged on play clothes or all over bare skin. So often as a parent, it is all too easy to lose our playfulness and sense of adventure, to slip into a more task-oriented groove, trying to stay on top of the endless cycle of dishes and laundry and homework and bills and all of these other admittedly essential things amidst the relative chaos of living with tiny humans. It is easy to get sucked into the world of cartoons and apps and the latest Disney movie. Sometimes, it is important to just relax, unwind and be fully present with kids in nature—for the sake of everyone's physical and mental health.
If you've been stuck inside all summer, plastered to the television and air conditioning, use the gradually cooling weather as an excuse for a nighttime neighborhood walk with the family, a romp in the park closest to your house or an all new outdoor adventure for the whole family.
How to Encourage Nature Appreciation at Home
• Take lots of walks.
• Stop to pick up pine cones, examine spider webs, and listen to the mockingbirds.
• Keep a field guide and binoculars on a table in view of the bird feeder.
• Dress the kids in clothes they can get dirty, or let them run around in the yard in their underwear or a bathing suit.
• Grow a garden together.
• Go on a family camping trip.
• Dry your laundry on a clothesline.
• Construct "fairy houses" from bark and stones and acorns.
• Try out and rate all the different local parks and playgrounds according to your family's needs and wants turn your yard into a wildlife habitat.
• Subscribe to age-appropriate nature magazines such as Ranger Rick.
• Walk barefoot in the grass.
• Recycle together.
• Put on pajamas and stay up late to watch a meteor shower in sleeping bags.
• Splash in mud puddles with your kids.
• Take neighborhood night walks with a flashlight.
• Build birdfeeders and birdhouses out of wood, milk jugs, pine cones or whatever materials are available.
• Check out library books about their favorite plants and animals.
Books for Kids
"The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America," by Bill Thompson III (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, $15.95)
"Nature's Art Box," by Laura C. Martin (Storey Publishing, 2003, $16.95)
"A Tree for All Seasons," by Robin Bernard (National Geographic Children's Books, 2001, $5.95)
Books for Adults
"I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature," by Jennifer Ward (Roost Books, 2008, $14)
"The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age," by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books, 2012, $14.95)
"Hiking Mississippi: A Guide to Trails and Natural Areas," by Helen McGinnis (University Press of Mississippi, 1995, $22)
Hiking Pack List
• picnic meal or snacks
• bug spray
• socks and sturdy shoes
• a gathering basket (follow posted rules about collecting and removing specimens from any given property)
• old towels and changes of clothing to leave in the car, just in case
• optional: field guide, maps
Petrified Forest Scavenger Hunt
• a train caboose
• a bench made from petrified wood
• giant shark jaws
• a different rock for every color of the rainbow
• petrified wood that looks reptilian
• a little cave where an animal might live
• Hinds County petrified wood
• a wild animal
Rocky Springs Scavenger Hunt
• an old graveyard
• a snake (don't get too close!)
• a stone-shaped like a heart
• an old-timey refrigerator
• a white sand beach
• a fish
• leaves from six different kinds of trees
• a great picnic spot
Mayes Lake / LeFleur's Bluff Scavenger Hunt
• a bridge
• four different bird species
• an animal that lives in the water
• animal tracks
• poison ivy
• a place where a squirrel might live
• a boat
• a science museum
Mynelle Gardens Scavenger Hunt
• a shady bench
• three turtles
• a fountain
• a lady with a beautiful necklace
• a swing
• pink flowers, purple flowers and white flowers
• a tree to climb
• a fireplace