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Natural Awakenings

Favorite Family Play Dates

Jun 30, 2011 10:48AM ● By April Thompson

For any family whose default activity is to turn on the TV or go online, a better life is available by maintaining a roster of fun, healthy, outdoor activities to call on. Here are a few websites offering creative ideas to jumpstart the imagination and fuel the leap outdoors.

Join a family nature club: Meet up at

Richard Louv’s Children & Nature Network has helped launch more than 100 nature clubs across North America and beyond. Member families make individual and collective play dates in area parks, gardens, hiking trails and other green spaces.

Grow a pizza garden: Learn how at

Kids are sure to get excited about gardening if there is the promise of pizza at the end of the hoe. Grow the makings of pizza sauce from seed or starter plants—tomato, basil, oregano, onions and bell peppers—and throw a pizza party at harvest time. Then move outdoors for yard games.

Go on a bug safari: Discover the gifts of critters at

Our yards are crawling with wild critters. Create a “bug box” (a simple clear box with a magnifying glass on the top) and let little ones catch (and release) bugs, observing how they move under the microscope. For a culinary adventure, cook up a few delicacies from other cultures, from cicadas to grasshoppers.

Camp in the backyard: Find ideas at

The backyard takes on a new mystique the minute kids help pitch a tent and purposely stay out of the house. Build a safe campfire in a portable grill to toast marshmallows for s’mores and make up ghost stories about the spirits that haunt the neighborhood. Pick a moonless night for maximum stargazing, or celebrate the Great American Backyard Campout on June 25.

Go on a high-tech treasure hunt: Get physical at

Follow a programmed GPS in search of hidden treasures known as geocaches, which feature assorted items at various geo-mapped sites that other visitors have left for fellow geocachers to enjoy. Be sure to bring an item to replace anything retrieved or moved.

Start a rock band: Make the most of nature’s bounty at

Who needs expensive manmade instruments when you can jam with nature? Hunt for music-making objects in nature—drumming sticks, clacking rocks and whistling leaves—and hold an impromptu improvisational jam. It’s just one of a trove of group and solo adventures you can undertake.

Take an animal home tour: Start with

Countless animals make their homes among our own, yet they often escape our notice. Help children tune in to the many forms of shelters around them, from birds’ nests and tree hollows to beehives and burrowing holes. Make a green hour a daily highlight.

April Thompson is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. Connect at

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