Leave No Child Inside: Cooler days mean new array of outdoor family activities

A brown snake. Photo by Mary Kay Ruby
A brown snake. Photo by Mary Kay Ruby

The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition, in concert with the national Leave No Child Inside campaign, is committed to ensuring the children of this region will grow up with a strong connection to nature, and, as a result, be healthier and motivated to become its caring stewards. This column is one of a bi-weekly series contributed by Four Rivers Environmental Coalition members to raise public awareness of the importance of access to nature for healthy childhood development, and to encourage families to explore our member organizations’ wondrous places and programs, such as camping, learning projects, and programs for schoolchildren. Visit www.fourriver.org.

By Jamie B. Johannsen

Summer in the Midwest goes all too quickly. Those long summer days, so inviting for bike rides, picnics, gardening, paddling, camping and dozens of sublime outdoor activities, have faded into autumn. But the shorter, cooler days don’t need to signal an end to enjoying the gifts of nature and the great outdoors. With some warm clothing, good boots, and a little sense of adventure, everyone can reap the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of connecting with nature and the great outdoors throughout the fall and winter.

In the Four Rivers Region, we are very fortunate to have stellar parks and preserves systems that have facilities that are open year-round and host dozens of events to facilitate fall and winter exploration. The following list is just a sampling of the enticing opportunities that await.

Sand Bluff Bird Observatory

Fall Bird Banding—Observe experienced volunteers take birds out of the nets, band and release migrating birds.

Saturdays in November, 7 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sundays in November, 7 a.m.-noon. Call 1-815-629-2671.

Byron Forest Preserve

Canoeing the Rock—Sunday, Nov. 8, 2-5 p.m. Call 1-815-234-8535.

Winter Wonderland—Go sledding, build a fort and then warm up with some hot chocolate. Meet at Jarrett Center. For ages 6 and older. Friday, Jan. 15, 2010, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Cross Country Skiing—Friday and Saturday, Jan. 29 and 30, 2010, 6-8:30 p.m. All equipment provided. Meet at Jarrett Center. For all ages. $5.

Boone County Conservation District

Holiday Walk—Saturday, Dec. 5, 6-8 p.m., 1-815-547-7935.

Severson Dells Nature Center

Silent Lights: Luminary Walk, Refreshments and Song—Friday, Dec. 11, and Saturday, Dec. 12, 6-9 p.m. Call 1-815-335-2915.

YMCA Camp Winnebago

Cabin Fever Cure—We will have a chili dog dinner, hot chocolate, s’mores on the fire, plus the black hole, snowshoeing (if there is at least 6 inches of snow), a make-and-take craft, and a night hike through the beautiful woods. Friday, Feb. 5, 2010, 5:30-8 p.m. Call (815) 489-3377.

Atwood Environmental Center

Rockford Park District

Winter Wanderings—Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010. Noon-4 p.m. Ages: All-age family event. Cost: Donations accepted. Concessions available for purchase.

In addition to the many fun programs and events, families and kids thrive on spontaneous “free-play” and unstructured winter activities. Pull on your boots and mittens, and enjoy an outdoor frolic.

Take a winter walk. Whether you just put on big boots and stomp through the snow or purchase child-sized snowshoes, there is so much joy in walking in the brisk winter air, enjoying nature and one another.

Build a snowman! Kids and adults get a big workout when they roll those snowballs bigger and bigger. Don’t forget to accessorize your snow creation with a hat, scarf, mittens, pine cones, etc.

Build a snow fort. Although this may be more of a workout for the adult, children can help with this winter activity, too! Snow blocks can be made with a summer planter or with a snow fort block mold. Your child can help by filling and packing the mold, then you can plop it out together and lift it onto your fort.

Investigate and identify animal tracks in the snow in your back yard or local park. It’s a great learning opportunity!

From the November 4-10, 2009 issue

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