If you’re a regular Open Space reader, you may have seen my first blog for NRPA, 5 Ideas for Exploring Nature with Kids this Winter. Mercifully, that long, white winter is behind us, and it’s time to shed the extra layers of clothing and head back to the park to enjoy spring: the season of renewal and rebirth. There is so much to do in the park during the springtime – from baseball games to busy afternoons at the playground. Spring is also great time to get into the park to enjoy the wonders of the natural world as plants and wildlife reemerge from their winter rest.
If you need another reason to head to the park, Kids to Parks Day is May 17. Coordinated by the National Park Trust, Kids to Parks Day is an annual nationwide celebration to bring kids to their parks for active outdoor play. My family and I are planning a picnic and games in one of our favorite local parks on May 17. How will you join in? Here are 5 ways to celebrate Kids to Parks Day – or any spring day in the park!
More and more parks are realizing the value of offering community garden plots—public areas where individuals or groups of family and friends can grow vegetables or flowers. There are many benefits to offering community gardens, including supporting children’s connections to the natural world, healthy eating, and intergenerational connections. NRPA has produced a helpful Community Gardening Handbook, with information specifically for park and recreation agencies to help plan and implement community gardens. Visit KidsGardening.org for information and tips, and read about Grand Traverse Children’s Garden in Traverse City, Mich.’s Hull Park for a great example of a park that has embraced gardening with kids.
Run—don’t walk—to your local park for Kids to Parks Day May 17!
What child doesn’t love to splash in a puddle? Spring showers make for plenty of opportunities for puddle-splashing. But before you jump, take a closer look for creatures that take advantage of temporary ponds – called vernal pools – to lay their eggs. You may find tadpoles or tiny juvenile salamanders swimming in the water. The Vernal Pool Association has information on vernal pools and the animals that call them home. Exploring a vernal pool is a fun way to introduce young kids to animal lifecycles and ecology.
Nature scavenger hunt
A nature scavenger hunt is a great way to get to know your park and the wildlife that lives there. Our friends at the National Wildlife Federation put together a few tips on how to organize a scavenger hunt, including print-outs for younger and older children. Use your smartphone camera to document your finds.
Spring is a great time for nature photography, and with digital and smartphone cameras in nearly every parent’s pocket, even the youngest park visitors can enjoy snapping pictures of fuzzy caterpillars and colorful spring wildflowers. Check out these simple tips for nature photography with kids for a few strategies to help kids learn to express themselves and appreciate nature through photography.
Camping is a great way for families and friends to spend time together outdoors, and camping with kids doesn’t have to be intimidating. Your local park is a great place to start: it’s close to home, you already know the lay of the land, and chances are you know where to find emergency provisions if your plans for a gourmet campfire dinner go awry. Check out REI’s tips for camping with kids for the basics, and stay tuned for my June Open Space post with more tips on camping with young children.
What is your favorite spring activity in the park? How is your agency celebrating Kids to Parks Day? We’d love to hear from you! Share your ideas and stories in the comments or with us on Twitter @NRPA_News.
Jessica Culverhouse is Senior Manager of Fundraising at the National Recreation and Park Association. She is a former teacher and environmental educator, mom and volunteer Master Naturalist.