Let’s Go Outside!
Connecting People With Nature
  • Why Take Your Kids Outside
  • Where to Take Your Family
  • Plan Some Outdoor Fun
  • Conservation at Home
  • Learn about Wildlife Habitat

Why Take Your Kids Outside

Little girl with mom choosing a fishing lure

Trying to find the perfect fishing lure.
Credit: Craig Springer/USFWS

1. It makes kids happier.

Nature turns frowns upside down. Studies indicate that children who play and explore outdoors are less stressed and may further benefit by learning confidence and social skills. In nature, kids and families get a chance to move at life’s natural pace, where time disappears, no one is bored, and exploration turns into fun adventure. Key to nature play is the chance for kids to explore on their own terms and with their own choices, so they can discover themselves what is interesting and fun (this builds confidence too!). Choosing to climb a tree, hanging onto a rope swing, jumping over a log, skipping stones —all of these are examples of experiences in which children learn more about themselves, their decisions, and what to do in new settings.

2. It makes kids healthier

Get out with the bugs to prevent getting a bug. Keeping kids active helps keep kids healthy. And nothing keeps kids active more than giving them fun and interesting things to explore and do. Studies indicate that even as little as 30 minutes of activity a day will keep you healthy. It can be as simple as a bike ride around the neighborhood or a hike in a local park. There are so many options when you’re in nature -- running, jumping, climbing, building and more. Research suggests that the most important thing for kids to make a habit of an active life is being introduced to their activities by a parent. And of course it’s good for the parents too! Try it, you and your kids will like it.

3. It makes kids smarter.

Better focus without any hokus pokus! Nature has all sorts of patterns and parts. And all the parts somehow fit together. When children get to play in the outdoors from the earliest age, they learn - what is what, how things fit together, what they do. Opportunities for regular play in the outdoors — especially in gardens, woods, and creeks -- are especially beneficial.

In nature, kids see, hear, smell and touch things all at the same time, getting them to observe, ask questions and figure out things that have a lot of parts to them. The richness in the outdoors is far more stimulating—and gets the mind working more—than only watching television or playing electronic games. There is a place for that stuff but they are no substitute for what experience in nature brings to kids' development. In fact, children who play and learn on a regular basis in the outdoors take these enhanced skills with them to school—and tend to have higher school achievement and test scores too!

4. It’s free!

Free is always a great price. Most activities you can do outside don't cost a single penny. The outdoors can offer you your very own economic stimulus package. You want to make your dollar go the extra mile. What could be better than having a great time for free? There are more things you can do in and around your home and nearby that will fill your family’s days with great adventures. Families are event planning their summer “trips” with backyard campouts or hikes in local parks. And another great thing is that you can get all your favorite friends and families together too. It’s not far away, you don’t need a plane ticket or big entrance ticket. All you have to do is go explore!

5. It’s fun for the entire family.

Unplug, relax and explore, together. Want to do something for the family that is easy and fun for you too? Activities in nature are something the whole family can enjoy. Whether the whole family, a grandparent and a grandchild, a dad or mother and a son or daughter, or others spend time outdoors, they may be changed in positive ways for ever.

With nature games, family activities, or camping, everyone can participate – letting go of the stresses of the day – relaxing and having some creative time to just be. And that time offers the kids a real chance to really benefit from a parents advice, knowledge and support in a way many other activities don’t offer. This is that special time to share, explore, build memories – and through that build real family togetherness. Research indicates that children feel respected and cared for when adults they respect spend time with them outdoors. Kids, in turn, learn how to behave with the family and adults. They also tend to talk and communicate more, engage in conversation. Beyond family, a sense of connection to community and place is nourished. Everyone benefits—from individuals, to families, to whole communities.

For more information about why getting into nature is good for everyone visit Nature Rocks.

Where to Take Your Family

Kids with packs

Families visiting Creston National Fish Hatchery, Kalispell, MT, can check out backpacks with all kinds of fun nature activities included.
Credit - USFWS

Did you know there are over 70 National Fish Hatcheries and more than 550 National Wildlife Refuges, many within a 1- hour drive from your house? No matter where you live, there is a natural area close by to visit, whether it is a community park, state park or your national wildlife refuge or hatchery. These areas often have trails, waterways, campgrounds, gardens and events to enjoy.  Pack up the family and get to know each place together. Go back often so you really can enjoy and learn about what they have to offer. Check to see if they give tours, learn about their history, and make your own adventure.  Make sure to bring a nature journal to record all the different types of wildlife you see. Wildlife is EVERYWHERE. For ideas, use the web sites below to explore online; then explore them in person – with your friends and family.

And You Thought We Only Raised Fish! You'll be surprised by the numerous and diverse educational opportunities that the National Fish Hatchery System provides.

Nature Rocks

Naturefind, National Wildlife Federation




Free Apps Feature Wildlife Refuges

Take a picture and share with wildlife watchers

App for Wildlife Watchers
Credit - USFWS

Introduced a year ago, the free app, “MyRefuge,” helps explore national wildlife refuges, such as Charles M. Russell Refuge in Montana or Canaan Valley Refuge in West Virginia. The app, expanded now, features searchable maps of 300 of the country’s 560 national wildlife refuges plus several National Fish Hatcheries. The National Wildlife Refuges Chesapeake Bay app -- another new, free tool for exploring the outdoors -- is available for download from the App Store on a mobile device. App users can post photos of the plants and animals they find on refuges and tap into a global network of experts for information about the species. 

Plan Some Outdoor Fun

Little girl with minnow

Little Girl at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Credit - USFWS/Steve Hillebrand

Getting your family outdoors can be as simple as opening the door to the backyard or as exciting as going camping.  And as your children grow bigger and more capable, adventures outdoors can grow in complexity with them.  The important thing is to begin when they are young – as soon as they can crawl – to let them experience the wonders of nature. The web sites below will give you ideas about outdoor family fun.
Your Guide to Hunting on National Wildlife Refuges, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Your Guide to Fishing on National Wildlife Refuges, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Find Activities, Nature Rocks
Nature Clubs for Families, Nature Rocks
Great American Backyard Campout, National Wildlife Federation

Project Learning Tree Family Activity Guides

Earth Learning Idea

MUD IS GOOD! Ten Easy Ways to Connect Your Family to the Joy of Nature

Top 10 Apps for Taking Tech Outdoors

Playful Pathways: Changing the Way Families Play

Pathways for Play helps communities create networks of shared use pathways, infused with play pockets, and usable by all for healthy recreation and non-motorized transportation to connect meaningful destinations.

Conservation at Home

The perfect pine cone

This girl has discovered a pine tree treasure.
Credit - Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Take a look at your yard and see if there is anything you can do to make it a better habitat for animals.  Animals require food, water, shelter and space.  To provide water, consider adding a bird bath – you and the birds that use it will enjoy it!  To help provide food for birds during the winter months, set up a bird feeder or two. You can even make a worm compost bin or a sponge garden.  The National Wildlife Federation sponsors a Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification, program. And after doing all that work, you might be just hungry enough to make a snack-o-lantern.  Find out other things YOU can do to help the environment.  For those artists out there, we have the Junior Duck Stamp Competition which is an art contest.  You can learn about what a wetland habitat is and about waterfowl conservation.

Learn About Fish & Wildlife

Two girls planting a tree.

Some school projects help to conserve wildlife habitat by planting trees.
Credit - USFWS

Get into nature by figuring out what animals live in your backyard.  Then once you have done that, go to a local park or wildlife refuge with your family or friends and explore some more.  Once you figure out which animals are local to your area, learn more about them.  Your children may have a school project that requires photos of animals.  We have a digital image library that may be useful to you.  Search the web site below for the photos you need. Remember to never stop exploring and never stop learning.

Last updated: December 12, 2013
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