By Kate Newberry
Algebra homework, music lessons, youth group, and choosing the perfect Halloween costume. Fall seems to pass even faster than the leaves fall to the ground. After a slow and relaxing summer and before the harried holiday season, autumn is a great time to pause the chaos and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Encourage your kids to put down the technology, head outside, and enjoy the autumn calm. Especially in a time when the average child’s mental health is suffering, connecting with nature is more important than ever. Here are a few ways to get your kids excited about heading out.
One way to help young ones connect with nature is by allowing them to learn and experience their environment first-hand. With several outdoor centers and countless trails, Raleigh’s nature preserves offer the space to learn about nature. Pull up a list of native plants on your phone and go on a scavenger hunt. A cell phone picture can’t compare to an actual cardinal flower or purple coneflower.
The first dedicated reserve in Raleigh, Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve, spans 157-acres along the southern shores of Falls Lake. If you’d like to take Fido along for the adventure, pick up his leash and head over to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.
Hitting the trails for a bike ride or a casual hike is an easy way to combine nature and physical activity. This duo is a great way to help kids relax and beat the stress of a new school year.
With three miles of trails and 140-acres of vegetation, Hemlock Bluffs is a great park for a family ride. William B. Umstead State Park offers 22 miles of trails, as well as horseback riding and mountain biking trails. These are great options for older children. To keep everyone happy on the trail, pack a few snacks and make sure you have plenty of water.
Camping is one of the best ways to connect with nature and carve out quality family time. From watching the stars appear to waking to the sounds of nature, there’s no better way to commune with the outdoors. While just the prospect of a family camping trip might be exhausting, there’s a simpler solution: keep it local.
Backyard camping is just as much fun for kids and comes with the added benefit of your own bathroom. Build a bonfire and share favorite memories, jokes, and stories while roasting marshmallows. Listen for owls, watch for bats, and talk about how mosquitos are a necessary nuisance. Leaving the technology indoors will give your kids a chance to enjoy the serenity of a North Carolina evening.
Kids love animals, and animals love autumn. Spend a little time learning about native animals and go on a hunt to spot them. Whether you try your luck with bird watching or turn over rocks to see the worms, kids of all ages love spotting wildlife. (Isn’t it a universal reflex to say “cows!” when passing a field?)
Little ones will enjoy the opportunity to explore and get dirty. Consider buying a bug house or pair of kids’ binoculars, packing some trail mix, and documenting your finds through photos. Focusing on wildlife will allow you to talk about colors and textures with little ones, or diet and habitat with older children. And, if you don’t know much about Raleigh’s critters, take a minute and learn about your finds together.
Raleigh offers myriad community events throughout the fall, many of which take place outside. Pausing for a moment of cloud watching is all it takes to appreciate your surroundings. If you have older kids, or ones especially interested in the arts, catch a matinee at Theatre In The Park. After the show, take a stroll and discuss the performance.
Connecting with nature doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Pick up some sandwiches to eat at your neighborhood park and talk about the sights and sounds around you. Take a few books or even a board game outside and settle in beneath a tree. Getting kids outside might even be as simple as signing up for soccer or another outdoor sport. Just enjoying the fresh air and warm sun is enough to help your child feel connected to nature.
In an age of digital learning and endless Zoom calls, it’s even more important to limit screen time. Helping your kids connect with the outdoors now will set them up for a positive relationship with nature in the future.
Kate Newberry writes about camping and hiking for several publications. She and her family have hiked everything from the Big Dalton Canyon in California to Pikes Peak in Colorado and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. (although her kids claim the Smokey Mountains are just “small hills.”)