It’s that time of year in Northwest Ohio–the sun is shining and the weather is warming up–and Metroparks Toledo can offer endless outdoor (socially distanced) opportunities for families. You might be familiar with our parks and trails, but let me offer you some suggestions to change it up a little bit for you and the kids. Even though our playgrounds are currently closed due to the coronavirus, there are still plenty of ways to engage your children in nature.
- Take your adventures to a new park. There are 17 parks across Lucas County with open spaces and 180 miles of trails. Visiting a new park sparks curiosity and exploration. If you have a favorite park, change it up by walking on a different trail or exploring a different location.
- Have a picnic. If you don’t want to be out on the trail because of the ages of your children, bring a blanket to the park and enjoy a family picnic.
- Hunt for shapes in the clouds and animals in the park. If there are clouds in the sky, lay down and point out the different shapes they see. You can also have your little ones point out what they see around them: birds, bugs, rabbits, squirrels. Or make it an animal hunt, searching the trails for your child’s preferred mammal or reptile. Metroparks Toledo has a Face Your Fear Scavenger Hunt that allows children to find things that are typically viewed as “scary.”
- Read outside. Bring along a favorite book and read it outside, cuddling under a tree or enjoying some vitamin D in the sun.
- Turn a hike into a sensory experience. If your children are old enough to get out on a trail, turn it into a sensory experience for them. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend an hour on the trail or even hike the entire thing, but collect sensory images from nature: take time to observe the sights, sounds, smells and textures of nature.
- Color scavenger hunt. Children can look for different colors in nature, too. For example, they can look for the color red and try to spot a cardinal, or the color blue of a blue jay, or the yellow in a dandelion. You can create your own, tailored for your child(ren) or one of the many scavenger hunts provided online by Metroparks Toledo. Keep in mind that everything you find in the park needs to stay there; removing plants or animals is not allowed.
- Write a nature journal. For children who are a tad older, have them create a nature journal where they can record what they around them, write a nature poem, or draw what they are observing in nature. This could even be turned into something they can do once a week to document the changes in seasons and habitats. If writing or drawing their nature experience is something your child enjoys, sending it to a loved one or a local senior community would bring great joy to the receiver.
- Nature report. If you have a child who likes plants or animals, have them pick one species and learn everything they can about it, then report back to you.
Research shows that spending time in nature is beneficial to our mental and physical wellbeing, and even though we need to still practice social distancing, it’s important for our mental health to stay connected to each other and to nature. Outside is always open, and Metroparks Toledo is open every day of the year from sunup to sundown for your next adventure.
Editor’s Note: Kelly Milewski, an Environmental Education Specialist with Metroparks Toledo, graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in environmental policy and analysis. Kelly lives in Monclova Township on 12 acres of restored Oak Opening habitat.