Homework, soccer practice, ballet – is there time in the schedule to play outside? Here are some tips to get a Green Hour — or at least part of an hour – during a busy day:
1. Scenario: Traffic made you late, there’s no time to cook dinner, so you drive the family over to the rotisserie chicken place to get a quick meal.
Tip: Keep a picnic blanket in your car for an impromptu picnic on any spot of grass you can find!
2. Scenario: Backpack? Check. Lunch? Check. You’re ready to head to school.
Tip: Whether you drive or walk to school, or wait with your child by the bus-stop, take a moment to notice nature. Make it a game of “I Spy” — or download this nature scavenger hunt at greenhour.org/hunt .
3. Scenario: Your child is studying plants at school and, at the dinner table, recites how photosynthesis works. You, yourself, have never successfully kept a plant alive.
Tip: Start small: All you need is some bird-seed and a sponge. For sponge-garden instructions, visit greenhour.org/spongegarden. Next step: check out National Gardening Association’s parents’ primer for gardening with kids at kidsgardening.com/primer.asp .
4. Scenario: You and your youngest wait outside your older child’s school, a few minutes before the bell rings.
Tip: Look up at the sky together. “Wait, mom — is that a sheep or a donkey?” Picking out shapes in the clouds is a classic childhood activity — and needs no special equipment.
5. Scenario: Your child looks at you and says, “Mom — I’m a little old for cloud-watching!”
Tip: For older kids, combine technology with the outdoors and go geo-caching or, the lower-tech version, letterboxing. There are about 20,000 letterboxes and 250,000 geocaches hidden in North America. Visit geocaching.com and letterboxing.org.
6. Scenario: The kids get home from school and immediately plop in front of the TV. You suggest going outside. They respond, “Indoors is more fun!”
Tip #1: Set time-limits for TV watching and video game playing. It won’t be popular, so make sure you have a back-up plan. If you have a backyard, kid-customize it with a homemade fort, dart boards, a trampoline, a craft table. Set up a bird house to keep wildlife visiting.
Tip #2: No backyard? Find your local parks using nwf.org/naturefind. For older kids, start stretching your child’s boundaries, allowing them to go for unsupervised walks in the neighborhood with groups of friends. They’ll love the feeling of independence.
7. Scenario: Outside, it’s a perfect fall day, but you look at your child’s homework assignments and realize outside play-time isn’t a reality.
Tip: Take homework outside! There’s no reason math problems can’t be done in the fresh air. Set up a clean outdoor workspace for your child on a patio table, perhaps.
8. Scenario: Your daughter comes home from school clutching new-found treasures: three crumbly leaves, two acorns and a dirt-encrusted rock.
Tip: Instead of putting them on the kitchen counter, a drawer, or — gasp — the trash, start a nature table. Set a limit of how many items they can have in the “nature museum” — so they’ll keep it to a manageable number. Other ideas: use an old tackle or sewing box, or a hanging shoe-organizer with clear plastic pockets. Have your kids decorate it!
9. Scenario: A blank piece of paper in front of her, your daughter asks you, “What should I draw?”
Tip: Have your child make a map of your neighborhood — using only natural landmarks. This will heighten his or her observation skills and can be the first step in creating a “field guide” to the nature in your neighborhood.
10. Scenario: It’s 8 p.m. Dinner’s over, but not quite time for bed.
Tip: Keep flashlights near the door, and go for a neighborhood night hike. Kids will love the novelty — and you can challenge them to identify “night sounds.” Learn how to make a moon journal at greenhour.org/moonjournal.
Bio: Anne Keisman is Be Out There Editor for the National Wildlife Federation, creating content for www.greenhour.org and www.beouthere.org. Most of her life she lived in cities – and she loves discovering nature in unusual places: from dandelions sprouting from sidewalk cracks to sparrows chirping in the rafters of Home Depot. Follow her www.twitter.com/Greenhour.