Tag Archives: family friendly

Kids in Nature

You’ve probably heard about kids not getting outdoors and in nature enough these days. The good news is you don’t have to be an expert on the outdoors to take kids into nature! Kids are curious beings. Taking the time to look and discover is more important than knowing the names of everything or how things work.

Kids are natural explorers outside, so your biggest challenge will be getting them back indoors. Others may not be used to bugs,  dirt and the freedom to look around and discover, so it may take a little encouragement.

Let’s get outside! Whether you are a parent, friend, babysitter, educator here are 7 fun ideas for getting kids outside in nature.

Tiny Explorers: All you have to do is make sure they are safe and they will figure out the rest. Walking on spongy grass, dabbling in puddles – who doesn’t love puddles – or feeling the roughness of a big log and learning the words to describe what they are feeling in nature is all part of the experience.

Beaches on Lakes, Rivers or the Ocean: These are great spots for exploring. There are almost always bugs,  shells and rocks to find. And of course water and sand make for endless opportunities for building castles and moats. Look for Learn-to-Swim classes, too. Lessons will help kids (and you) feel more at ease on the waterfront. 

Stream Watchers: Shallow rocky streams are also intriguing – especially for more active kids that like to climb on rocks or logs, launch sticks and watch them float down stream, and look for fish, frogs, stream insects and snails. Avoid fast moving or deep streams that can be hazardous. Remember to put any animals back where you found them as that is their home. 

Young Scientists: If your child has a deep interest in nature, they might like keeping a nature notebook like a real scientist. This boy was learning about logs in a program at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. How big is the log, were there holes, is there moss ora mushroom on it; did you see any insects or other animals on or inside it? Or collect some leaves – how many kinds can you find? Or draw pictures of the different insects and caterpillars one finds in the garden of meadow.

Bird and butterfly watching: This takes a bit more patience, waiting and watching, to see birds, butterflies or even dragonflies! But it is amazing what you can see when you take the time to watch. This activity is good for older kids as it takes some skill to focus the binoculars. Younger kids can practice using binoculars made from cardboard tubes. If you are new to this, look for guided programs aimed at young people or families. 

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Youth with binoculars, photo by USDA

Get the Bug: Get a little butterfly net and see what you can find. This can be a good prop for kids who get bored with walks or just looking at stuff. Swinging a net, whether or not it catches anything, can be fun. Best to learn what bees and wasps look like first though, and to aim for the butterflies and moths instead. Look for fun pollinator activities at parks near you- these activities are for kids of all ages.    

Bike Riding: Bike riding in parks is great way to see and hear nature. You would be surprised at how much one is learning even when not specifically focused on looking at the trees, the birds or the bugs. Animals will dart across the trail or scurry away as you get closer, birds will be singing, and you will pass by hundreds of different species of plants (trees, wildflowers, ferns), increasing  your awareness of the diversity of the natural world. Having a physical activity and a sense of accomplishment from a bike ride or a hike can help sustain interest in getting outdoors. Check out trail maps on parks’ websites and remember your helmets! 

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Some State Parks trails are great for bicycling, photo by Josh Teeter

What to do when you don’t know the answers?

What is it? Kids will ask but they don’t expect you to always have an answer. Feel free to say you don’t know, but take the time to look a little closer to explore together. “Hmmm, it is some kind of animal – see how it hops. It is very tiny. Can you see its eyes?” or “What a nice flower. Do you think the bees like it? Let’s watch to see if any bees or butterflies or other insects come to the flowers to feed. They like the sweet nectar.” A tip from educators: don’t reply with “it’s just a bug” or “just a flower”because everything is novel and interesting.

What is it doing? See if they can come up with an idea of what the animal is doing. Are they swimming, jumping, sunning, sleeping, searching for food, talking (in animal language), fighting, or running away. Why are they running away? Why do they burrow in the sand? If you don’t know, children often come up with pretty good ideas about what is going on if you encourage them to take the time to watch.

Special for 4th Graders!

Every Kid in a Park Program: Free entry for 4th grade students and accompanying family into National Parks across the country and NY State Parks in 2017  and

State Parks offer ideal places to bring children – the trails, interpretive signs, and beaches are ideal spots for kids to explore the nature world.  We hope to see you there!

Recommended Guide Books – check your library, bookstore or online distributor:

Peterson First Guides: A series of small, inexpensive books on insects, wildflowers, mammals, caterpillars, seashores, birds, and other topics. Highly recommended for young and old as an introduction and guide to more common plants and animals one might encounter.

Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Karen Stray Nolting, Jonathon Latimer and Roger Tory Peterson 1999.

The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards 2011.

The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors by Stephen Moss 2010.

The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups by Gina Ingolgia 2013. Published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden and full of questions and answers about trees in both city and countryside.

 Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program. The author grew up exploring the back yard and woods and has spent a lifetime working as an environmental educator and ecologist.

Busy Beavers and Awesome Osprey; a Canoeing Adventure on Canopus Lake

It is a lovely day in the early summertime, 80o and sunny, with a gentle breeze.  Outdoor educators Daniel Marshall and Ursula Svoboda from the Taconic Outdoor Education Center are preparing to guide weekend canoe tours on beautiful Canopus Lake located in sprawling Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Putnam County.

“What a gorgeous day to be out on the water!” proclaims a very eager Marshall.

“I hope we see a bald eagle like last time!” replies Svoboda.

No matter the canoe tour guide, a visitor is in for a treat, as all of the educators (guides) from the nearby Taconic Outdoor Education Center.  These guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and bring their own unique perspective on the natural history and ecology of the region.  The hour and a half tour circles the shoreline of the 65-acre lower portion of the man-made lake, weaving in and out of numerous small islands.

The lake, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, is both a recreational and ecological jewel in the park.  In summer, you can find people swimming and sunbathing, paddling in kayaks, and fishing for largemouth bass and yellow perch along the shoreline.  Chain pickerel, brown bullhead catfish, and black crappie also lurk through the aquatic plants below the surface.  A lake such as Canopus, although made by humans, provides a very rich ecosystem.  Other critters that spend most of their time in the water include painted turtles and water snakes such as northern water snake and black rat snake.  There are even predacious water beetles in the lake; beetles are large enough to eat small fish!

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Predaceous Diving Beetle, photo by cotinis

Canopus Lake also attracts animals from the forest ecosystem that may be looking for a drink of water or a place to hunt along the water’s edge.  Beaver activity is evident with toppled trees along the shoreline and a large wood/mud dam near the CCC dam.  Osprey (state special concern species), bald eagles (state threatened) and other birds of prey soar overhead.  Osprey are excellent at fishing, plunging into the water and, more often than not, emerge with a fish in their talons. What makes this canoe trip so exciting is that one really never knows what they might be lucky enough to observe when out on the water!

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North osprey grabs a yellow perch

Canoe tours cost $5 per person and leave from the park’s boat launch along Route 301 just south of the park office.  Some of the boats can accommodate four people (two paddlers and two passengers.)  Reservations are encouraged by calling (845) 265-3773.  Come experience this fun summertime activity for yourself!

Post by Aaron Donato, State Parks

Aaron Donato and canoeing group
Fun times canoeing on Canopus Lake, photo by Aaron Donato

State Parks Encourages New Yorkers to Celebrate the New Year Outdoors with First Day Hikes at State Parks and Historic Sites on January 1, 2017

This New Year’s Day, many New York state parks and historic sites are inviting the public to celebrate 2017 in the outdoors with a First Day Hike.  The guided hikes are part of the sixth annual First Day Hikes program taking place throughout the nation, giving people of all ages an opportunity to connect with nature and experience the guided walks with family and friends.

Here in New York, fifty hikes are being hosted, nine more than the previous year, at 44 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and destinations within the park.  State park staff and volunteers will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location.  This past year’s program welcomed more than 2,860 people who hiked a total of 6,897 miles.

The start of the new year is the perfect time to leave the hectic holiday pace behind and embrace the outdoors with a walk or hike in New York’s breathtaking scenic settings.  First Day Hikes are a family-friendly tradition that offer a fresh seasonal perspective of the state’s natural treasures and vast opportunities open year-round at State Parks.

Among the many programs being offered this year are a seal walk, winter woodlands, a walking history tour, a snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, canal artifacts, nature detectives and more.  New entries for 2017 include the Jones Beach boardwalk, Gilbert Lake’s wilderness trail, Green Lakes’ hike around the lakes, Seneca Lake and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, exploring Grafton’s lakes and following along the Old Croton Aqueduct.

If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  Many hikes will be offering refreshments.  A listing and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are available at nysparks.com.

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Celebrate Your Freedom In a State Park!

Fourth of July weekend is a great weekend to spend in a State Park or Historic Site.  You can build sand castles at Hither Hills State Park to camp on the banks of Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, fish in the St. Lawrence River at Wellesley Island State Park, listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, take a hike, enjoy the forest and more.  Find out all that State Parks has to offer this weekend at nysparks.com.

Thacher Indian Laddler Trail near Falls
Take a hike on the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park, Photo by OPRHP
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Hear the cannons firing at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by OPRHP
Spider Fishing
Try your hand at fishing at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Play one of George Washington’s favorite games at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, photo by Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site
Lorenzo
Tour the gardens at Lorenzo State Historic House, photo by OPRHP
John Jay kids in pen with Rabbits and Chickens
Check out the Farm Market at John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, photo by OPRHP
Gorge
Enjoy a cool gorge in the Finger Lakes Parks or at Whetstone Gulf State Park – photo by OPRHP
John Williams
Build a sand castle at Hither Hills State Park, photo by John Williams, OPRHP
Glimmerglass State Park summer 2008
Picnic by the lake, Glimmerglass State Park, photo by OPRHP
Boy Salamander
Get to know the residents, salamander program at Allegany State Park, photo by Tom LeBlanc OPRHP
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Try your hand at golfing at Rockland Lake State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Go biking at Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Camp at Cherry Plain State Park, photo by OPRHP
Finger Lakes Boating
Go boating in the Finger Lakes, Allan H. Treman State Park, photo by OPRHP
Trees
Marvel at old-growth trees in Allegany State Park along the Conservation or Eastwood Meadows Trails – photo of old-growth ash tree in Allegany State Park by J Lundgren, NYNHP
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See the fireworks at many parks across the state, photo by OPRHP
Sunset, Golden Hill
Or enjoy a quiet evening sunset, Golden Hill State Park, photo by OPRHP

First Day Fun in NYS Parks

Resolutions

Get outside to a State Park this New Year’s Day! New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) is putting RECREATION at the top of this year’s New Year’s resolution list with First Day Hikes.  Now in its 5th year, First Day Hikes are a great way to help you get your New Year’s resolutions started on the right foot.

On January 1st State Parks is hosting 41 First Day Hikes in parks and historic sites across the state from eastern Long Island and Staten Island, to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, and much more.  Hikes range from accessible, level walks; a leisurely stroll across the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, explorations of historic landscapes or quiet forest; dog-friendly rambles, mountain hikes, family-orientated activities and more.  If there is snow, bring your skis or some parks have snowshoes you can borrow.

During your hike you’ll be able to meet new people, see new places, spend time with family and friends, get a bit of exercise, and enjoy time outdoors.  Could there be a better way to spend the first day of 2016?

Remember to dress in warm layers, wear appropriate footwear, and bring water and a snack for your group. Most hikes range from one to three miles in length.

Remember your camera and please share your photos on State Parks’s Facebook Page!

Click here for a complete listing of “First Day Hike” events and registration guidelines.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Photos by OPRHP.