Family Field Trips: Nature Appreciation

Make your next family outing a fun time of learning and discovery by visiting nature sites that can strengthen your kids' science skills.

Science and math are two subject areas that many school-age kids struggle with today. In addition to helping with homework or hiring a tutor, parents can support their children's understanding of science by taking the kids on family field trips to help them appreciate nature.

1. Choose a geological site. Find out where interesting rock formations are located in your area, and plan a field trip to one or more of them. Chances are you can find some great geological studies in your metropolitan park system or in the surrounding countryside. Before you go, look up the landscape features that you are likely to encounter in your area. Then study the visible strata (or layers) of limestone, sandstone, and sediment deposits along the base of exposed hillsides or stone quarries that you visit, discussing with the kids how the deposits were formed and their effect on the nearby terrain.

2. Visit an ecological center. Find a local pond and go at a time when all of you can safely explore surrounding reeds and marshy areas where ducks and other birds have built nests. Look for insects like dragonflies and water creatures such as crawfish or frogs. Talk about the life cycle that links the creatures and the land, as well as seasonal effects on it all. If you can't find a well-stocked pond nearby to visit, chances are there is a nature preserve in your area.

3. Plan a night-time look at the stars. Buy or borrow a telescope and lay a blanket or set folding chairs on the lawn. Choose a night when the weather is good and the sky is clear. Look for constellations that everyone can identify, and see if you can find the Milky Way. Try to locate the north star and other astronomical phenomena like shooting stars as you talk about the construction of the universe and earth's place in it.

4. Stop by a working farm. Many offer guided or open tours of cultivated fields and domesticated animal care. Walk from one area to the next while observing how the land feeds the animals and the animals, in turn, become humans' food. Enjoy the miracle of birth or the pleasure of baby calves or piglets. Study the growing crops while explaining how they make their way to supermarket shelves for family shopping and meals.

5. Hike through the woods or forest. Have each person point out a different kind of tree or plant and look it up when you get home for a report over dinner. Search for signs of wildlife, like a rabbit hole or a fallen tree trunk inhabited by insects. Listen for varying bird or small animal sounds, like scurrying through the leaves or jumping from one branch to another.

Give your kids the dual gift of quality family time uninterrupted by ringing phones or blaring televisions, coupled with the pleasure of learning new things about the wonderful outdoors. They will benefit from fresh ideas as well as the fresh air, gleaning memories and information that can be passed down to their children.

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