OutGrown Blog

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Exploring Nature with Your Senses: Taste
While wandering through nature, we take in our surroundings using our senses. We smell flowers, touch tree bark, listen to bird calls, see details (like an ant trail on a tree), and even taste some of the natural objects we come across (think berries or edible flowers). And, while investigating nature in this way comes naturally to most children, sometimes we forget to allow children the time and space they need to do it. We are sharing five different ways to explore each of the five senses with children. So get outside as a family, slow down, and explore nature with your senses together!     Photo Credit: Ashley Schneider Exploring Nature through Taste Tasting nature is probably not the first thing you think about when you head out to explore. In fact, with kids, tasting nature is probably one of the things you actively try to avoid. But, as the saying goes, knowledge is power. So, keeping in mind that not all nature is edible and that children around 2-3 years of age can understand this concept (this age will vary and you know your child best), using taste to explore nature can be a fun adventure all its own. Five ways to slow down and experience the sense of taste in nature: Taste of farmer's markets. Farmers markets are the perfect place to introduce kids of any age to a variety of foods grown locally. Just because it is from a farm or garden, does not mean it is not a part of nature. Almost all fruits, nuts, and veggies grew wild at one point or another and many still do. So go on a tasting spree at your local farmer's market. Sample a variety of food each time or have your child pick on new food to try each time you go. Plus, this activity connects the food you eat to the earth and the people that grew it, which is a wonderful bonus.   Go foraging. Foraging is a fun way to immerse yourselves in nature and find edible food in the wild. Kids love picking food right off the plant and being able to give it a try. New to foraging and not sure what you can eat safely? There are a variety of books and websites dedicated to this very topic, so if you are unsure what wild plants are edible or not, please read up on it before you go.   Cook with edible flowers. So many flowers are edible and there are a variety of ways to cook with them. Dandelions are popular because they are virtually available everywhere and add an earthy note and a spot of color to cookies. Check out this recipe from Adamant Kitchen. But really, there are so many edible flowers out there, you may not need to look far to find one near you. Here is a list of edible flowers and Google will be your friend in finding a recipe.   Go to a u-pick farm. Foraging in the wild is not for everyone, but utilizing a local u-pick farm is another way to do the same sort of thing. Your children are able to pick fruit and veggies right off the plant and taste each one at its freshest. Some children are more likely to give the food they collect a taste too, which is an added benefit.   Play what is that taste. No need to leave the home or hit up the local farmers market or grocery store for this one (though it might be fun to throw in a dragon fruit or rosemary sprig for fun). Just go through your kitchen and select a few fresh food items (herbs, fruit, veggies, nuts, etc.) for the game. You can also use edible flowers and other foraged foods if you have access to them. Have your children close their eyes (or use a blindfold) and place some of each food item into your child’s mouth. They will enjoy guessing what each food item is and may even discover a new food they like. Try to use several foods your kids are familiar with, but also try to throw in a couple they may not know. You can give hints like it grows in the ground or it's a red food if that will be helpful. The point is to have fun and taste a little bit of nature in the process. Want to learn more about exploring nature with your senses? Check out the rest of this series here: smelling, hearing, touching and seeing.    ABOUT OUTGROWN OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at WeAreOutGrown.org    EDITORS NOTE: We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you. But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach.
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Exploring Nature with Your Senses: Sight
While wandering through nature, we take in our surroundings using our senses. We smell flowers, touch tree bark, listen to bird calls, see details (like an ant trail on a tree), and even taste some of the natural objects we come across (think berries or edible flowers). And, while investigating nature in this way comes naturally to most children, sometimes we forget to allow children the time and space they need to do it. We are sharing five different ways to explore each of the five senses with children. So get outside as a family, slow down, and explore nature with your senses together!   Photo by: Katie Fox Exploring Nature through Sight Did you know that just being able to see nature or green spaces, even from the comfort of your own home, has been shown to improve self-esteem, overall happiness, and even life satisfaction? It’s true!   This fun sight fact is important because the majority of people rely on their eyesight in new and familiar situations. This means that as you explore your local green space, you are helping to improve your mental health. But, imagine how much better you will feel if you really focus on what you are seeing. Even those of us who spend a good amount of time in nature, often forget to slow down and really take in what we see around us. So use those eyes and focus on the details you can see in nature! Five ways to slow down and experience the sense of sight in nature: Rainbow walk. As you meander through your neighborhood or a favorite trail, be on the lookout for each color of the rainbow. For younger kids, simply asking them to point out each color is perfect. For older kids, ask them to look for the colors in order. And if you have permission, you can also collect items of each color and make your own nature rainbow.   Scavenger hunt. Create a list of nature items you want to find on your outdoor adventures or use these ideas and head on outside with your kids. Can you find each one on your list?   Sit and use owl eyes. Often we explore nature while we are walking and while we take in a lot through our eyes this way, slowing down (or sitting still) will enable you to take in so much more. Find a comfortable spot and sit for 1-5 minutes together. This can be on a trail or in your own yard. Use your owl eyes (owls can see really well) and point out all the things you see. The bee buzzing around near a puddle, an ant crawling across a rock, a bird fluttering in a nearby bush, or the way the clouds are moving. Take it in, talk about it, and keep on adventuring.   Look deeper. For many of us, we walk right on by things we see every day. We walk right by the same tree or flower bed all the time and miss so much. For this activity, pick one thing you see often and spend 1-5 minutes looking at that piece of nature. For instance, if you spend your time looking at a tree you walk past all the time you may notice an ant line, lichen or moss, the root or bark pattern, a bird’s nest, the way the branches grew, and so much more.   Play I-Spy. This well-known game is absolutely perfect for using your sight to explore the world around you! There are a couple different ways to play this with your family. You can use colors or you can use descriptive words for the items you spy. This game really gets everyone looking more closely at the world around them, especially when your kids are older and everyone is trying to stump each other. You can also use those eyes to try a nature or Rainy Day I-Spy activity sheet!   Want to learn more about exploring nature with your senses? Check out our other posts on using your sense of hearing, taste, touch, and smell! ABOUT OUTGROWN OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at WeAreOutGrown.org    EDITORS NOTE: We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you. But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach.
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Winter Frozen Crafts
    We know that sometimes getting outside looks less like a walk, and more like stepping out of the door to create something, play with something, and maybe make a bit of a happy mess. So get out into your winter weather and get crafty! Ice Block Building While some of us may have the technical skills to build a full-size igloo, for the rest of us, pint-size ice building is the way to go. Begin by freezing water into a variety of shapes and sizes (think ice cubes, small cake tins, cookie cutter shapes, whatever you have available!) Then head outside, pop all of the ice shapes out, and let the kids loose! This can turn into so many things: build and decorate an ice cake (bonus points for nature decorations collected from the yard!), pull out the toy hammers and see where the construction takes you, try to build a mini igloo—you get the idea.    Frozen Ornaments To make these frozen ornaments, have your kiddo grab a basket and head outside, collecting whatever nature winter leaves in your yard or on your street. Evergreen pine needles, bits of berries—they are all fair game!  Next, grab an old muffin tin and have your little one fill up each cup with your nature treasures. Switch up the colors, textures, and sizes of items in each cup. Drop in pre-cut loops of string or yarn (for future displaying!), and fill each muffin cup with water. For best results, fill to cover all items and about halfway up the tin. Freeze outside, if you have the weather, or indoors in the freezer and leave overnight. To remove the ornaments, run a bit of hot water across the back of the muffin tin, the ornaments should loosen and drop right out. Then head outside again, decorate your porch or a tree, and watch the sun shine through your beautiful ice ornaments.              Snow Volcano! Want to know what is better than a baking soda and vinegar volcano? A baking soda and vinegar volcano made in the SNOW! That’s right, step out and step it up, because watching the ooze slide down a snow volcano makes this kitchen science so much more fun! Have your little one build a big snow mound outside, pack it tight, make a mini-mountain, and then press a small cup into the top (a smaller cup works better as the reaction overflows more quickly and oozes down the sides more!). Parents, step in here to help add the baking soda, a few drops of lava-colored food coloring, and the vinegar. Step back and watch your eruption! Mount Snow-suvius!   Frozen Paint Cubes Spoiler alert: This craft is also amazing during the hot days of summer. But kids have fun playing with ice no matter what the season, right? Begin by filling an ice cube tray with different colors of washable paint. Fill them mostly with the paint, and then top them off with some water. Keep the colors solid, or add two colors to the same cube. Then pop in popsicle sticks and into the freezer (or outside!) they go. Once frozen, bundle up, and head outdoors for a winter painting session! Have your kids paint their favorite thing about the winter, what they see outside, their favorite winter activity, a snowy landscape—the options are endless. The popsicle sticks mean they don’t have to freeze their fingers to paint, and you’ll definitely end up with some unique wintery-art at the end of this one! Happy crafting and happy time outdoors, it’s a win-win!        ABOUT OUTGROWN OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at WeAreOutGrown.org    EDITORS NOTE: We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you. But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach
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Leave No Trace with Little Ones
Created in partnership with  You may have heard about the Leave No Trace movement, but what does it mean to “Leave No Trace”? Is that even possible when you have kids in tow? The answer is yes, sort of. The mission of Leave No Trace is to educate and inspire everyone to protect the outdoors by teaching people to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. It isn’t about leaving zero trace; it’s about reducing our environmental impacts whenever and however possible. That may seem like a daunting task when you are attempting to wrangle a toddler on a trail, but we are here to help! We have listed each principle below along with some tips and tricks for following them when you have little ones in tow.   Photo by Jessica Human Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare – Know Before You Go Getting lost on the trail or getting caught in a storm while hiking can be a stressful experience. Add in a few little ones to the equation and things can get downright harrowing. While these experiences aren’t always avoidable (like an unexpected rainstorm), a little planning ahead can help you avoid most of these stressful experiences. Here are some tips to involve your kiddos in this step: Have your kids check the weather forecast with you and help them decide what clothing they should wear. Look at a trail map with your kiddos (a paper map, an online map, or a phone app) and decide together which route you want to take. If they are old enough, let them pick out their own snacks to bring along. Older kiddos can pack their own adventure pack to take along with things like a snack, water, and adventure tools (like a journal and a pocket microscope). Principle 2: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – Stay on the Trail Keeping kiddos on the trail can be challenging. They are natural explorers and want to investigate every little thing they discover. However, exploring off trail can lead to trampled vegetation, increased erosion, and damaged animal habitats. A durable surface includes established trails and campsites along with areas with rock, sand, gravel, snow, and dry grass. If you need to go off trail (like for potty breaks that just can’t wait), seek out these durable surfaces whenever possible, and walk lightly avoiding as much vegetation as possible. Here are some tips for keeping kiddos on the trail and decreasing your impact on the trail. Take a potty break as soon as you get to the trail to reduce the number of off-trail excursions. Play silly games with kiddos with the main goal of staying on the trail. For example, you can pretend that the vegetation on either side of the trail is lava, and they have to stay as close to the center of the trail as possible to avoid the heat. You can also play the “ninja” (sometimes referred to as “secret spy”) game where kids have to step as lightly and quietly as possible and disturb as little as they can to avoid “detection”. Have a conversation with your kids about what happens when a lot of people go off trail. Point out signs of erosion and destroyed vegetation along the trail. Photo by Jessica Human Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly – Pack it in, Pack it Out Kids are messy creatures. Aside from their affinity for mud puddles, there are also spilled snacks and the occasional diaper explosion. It’s a good thing to remember that anything that wasn’t found in nature (like the mud) should be packed out. This includes spilled snacks. It may seem harmless, but those snacks usually end up in the stomachs of wildlife. This can lead to illness (I doubt any animals have fishy crackers as part of their natural diet) and increased dependency on humans. Once animals depend more on humans, they lose their fear of humans, which can be dangerous for both them and us. Here are some tips for disposing of waste properly with kiddos in tow. Always have a bag on hand to collect your trash (and any other trash you may find) along the way. This could be as simple as a plastic grocery bag or a specific reusable trash bag. Anytime you stop for a snack or meal break, have everyone use their “owl eyes” to find any trash left behind before you head back out. Principle 4: Leave What You Find This is another tricky principle to follow with little ones. Especially if you have a rock collector like I do! While taking natural objects, picking flowers, carving on trees, etc. may seem harmless, it can damage the ecosystem, especially when a lot of people are doing it. Rocks, sticks, flowers, and even pine cones serve as shelter and food sources for a variety of organisms. If the plant you pick happens to be invasive to the area, you could be inadvertently spreading the species as you transport it. That being said, you don’t want to stifle the curiosity of a budding geologist or botanist. Here are some tips and alternatives for keeping your nature collector happy while leaving nature in nature (or at least most of it): Use “do” language to help little ones understand how to interact with nature. Use statements like “let’s be nice with the flowers” or “touch softly”. Encourage your kiddos to use their senses to experience the object IN nature. For example, let them take a few minutes to feel, see, and even smell the object. You can talk about it and then have them replace the object where they found it. Take along some paper and crayons to they can do some leaf or bark rubbings. Have them draw a picture or take a photo of the object. When all else fails, allow them to choose one or two favorite nature finds to take home and replace the rest where they found them. Photo by Jessica Human Principle 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts  Improperly tended campfires are one of the leading unnatural causes of wildfires. If you are camping be sure you know the local regulations on fire and seek out established fire rings when possible. If you need to gather wood, use dead and downed wood that is no larger than the diameter of your wrist and can be broken easily by hand. When leaving, douse the fire with water until it’s cool to the touch. A better alternative would be to use a camp stove for heat and cooking, or a simple lantern for light. Here are a few tips for minimizing campfire impacts with kiddos: Keep flammable objects far away and out of reach from curious hands, and don’t allow kids to play with sticks near the fire. Have children help collect firewood. You can make it a game to see who can be the first to find 5 pieces of dry, downed firewood no larger than the diameter of their wrist. Photo by Deanna Curry   Principle 6: Respect Wildlife Observing animals in the wild is fascinating for both adults and kids alike. Whether you see a deer dash across the trail ahead of you or a woodpecker busily searching for food, there’s just something awe-inspiring about watching wildlife. To keep having these encounters safely, we need to teach our little ones how to respect wildlife. That means keeping a safe distance, never feeding wild animals, and storing food and odorous objects securely while camping. Here are some tips for teaching our kiddos to respect the animals they encounter on their outdoor adventures and to keep the wildlife wild. To help young ones understand what it means to keep a “safe distance”, have them stand with an arm raised to shoulder height with their thumb pointing up. Then have them look at the animal with one eye closed and try to cover it with their thumb. If they are a safe distance away, their thumb should completely block sight of the animal. Remind your kids that insects are wildlife too, and we need to be careful not to harm them. We can admire an intricate spider web or a long line of ants without destroying what we find. Bring along some adventure items such as binoculars and a magnifying glass so that kiddos can observe wildlife safely. Contrary to popular belief, bird feeders can follow the Leave No Trace Principles IF they follow the Audubon Society Guidelines. These include avoiding seed mixtures and cleaning the bird feeders at least every season. If you want to attract a variety of bird species, it is best to have different bird feeders at different heights with different types of seed/food in each of them. Principle 7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors Respecting other people you meet on the trail helps ensure that nature can be enjoyed by all. Modeling and encouraging behaviors such as staying to the right on the trail to let others pass or taking breaks on durable surfaces away from the trail goes a long way to preserving the experience for other visitors. Other good practices include avoiding talking on cell phones or making excessively loud noises while on the trail (when possible). Here are a few tips we use to encourage being kind to others on the trail: If your kids are like mine, they like to pretend to be wild animals when they are on the trail (particularly howling wolves). This can get extremely noisy, so I started challenging them to be quieter animals, such as a bunny or squirrel, or pretend that they are sneaking around like a cheetah. Practice “moving to the right” with your kids while on the trail or on a neighborhood walk. When you practice ahead of time, it can avoid confusion when you ask them to move to the right to let other people or cyclists pass on the trail.   It is important to note that these principles are GUIDELINES, not strict rules. As parents, we know that it is extremely unlikely that we will be perfect at following these principles all the time, and that’s okay! The point is not to strive for perfection all the time. It’s to decrease our impact on the environment whenever and wherever possible and to teach our children to do the same. The tips above can help your family make fewer environmental impacts. You can also check out these other fun resources from Leave No Trace to help your kiddos understand the impact their actions can make on the environment:   Fun Resources from our friends at : Learn the Leave No Trace Hand Motions to help kiddos remember the 7 principles. Check out the Leave No Trace and Bigfoot Activity Booklet for some fun, education activities for older kids. This Trash Timeline Game can be played with kids (and adults) of all ages. Here is a free Online Awareness Course for parents and caregivers who want to learn more about Leave No Trace.   How do you practice the Leave No Trace Principles with your family? Let us know in the comments below!   ABOUT OUTGROWN OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at WeAreOutGrown.org    EDITORS NOTE: We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you. But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach.