Head outdoors to teach your kids: ‘Nature is always open’

Home-schooling? Local experts share tips on learning outside

Packets, videos, worksheets and online assignments — add in a sibling squabble and, maybe, a tear or two — and not just from the kiddos — and that sums up home-schooling for many in this pandemic era.

But being home with a house full of kids doesn’t have to be boring or torturous. In fact, learning can actually be fun. Just take the learning outside.

“Going outside is essential to your mental and physical well-being,” said Amy Dingle, Five Rivers MetroParks director of Outdoor Connections. “So many things we regularly enjoy are closed right now, but nature is always open.”

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From boosting immunity and reducing blood pressure to improving sleep and reducing stress, spending time outdoors has multiple benefits for children and adults alike.

“And with the current health crisis, it’s more important than ever to get outside,” said Amanda Smith, marketing administrator of Miami County Park District.

The great outdoors can be the most engaging classroom of all. And you don’t have to adhere to strict lesson plans.

Get out

Walk through your neighborhood or a neighborhood park, look for animal tracks, play in puddles, smell the flowers, there are countless ways to take in the sights, sounds and even smells of springtime.

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“One thing families can do is to go out and check out the trees,” said Beth Burke, MetroParks interpretive coordinator. “Compare the buds on the trees in their yard or in the park. Take some tools — magnifying glasses, ruler and notebook or use the camera on their phone. Compare the size of the buds and return every few days to see what happens.”

Burke also suggests tree-shape yoga: “Each tree has a different shape, it might be round or oval or pyramidal, try to shape your body the same as the tree.”

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The Miami County Park District offers a fun self-guided program called Ramble Quest designed to create an interactive map to explore the district's 27 miles of trails. Download a rubbing station map at home here and head out to the trails with the map and a crayon or pencil. Make a rubbing at each designated station. Save all the rubbings and those who complete the quest will be eligible for prizes.

“It’s like a scavenger hunt hike that’s fun for the entire family,” Smith said.

Other outdoor activities that lend themselves well to social distancing include fishing and geocaching.

Stay in

Stuck at home? You can still enjoy the trails remotely or prepare for an upcoming hike before you head out.

The Five Rivers MetroParks trails are on Google Maps. Simply Google your selected park destination and open Google Maps. Click, drag and drop the little person in the lower right-hand corner of the page into the park and you can explore. Check out the MetroParks' points of interest along the trails, waterways and more. For more suggestions on family fun and nature inspiration, you can visit www.metroparks.org or follow the MetroParks on Facebook.

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A new "virtual" education and outdoor experience program series is being developed and will be launched in the upcoming weeks by the Miami County Park District. To keep up with the latest offerings and see other ideas to avoid cabin fever, visit www.miamicountyparks.com/ or follow on Facebook.

Expert advice on outdoor family fun

From Betty Hoevel, MetroParks education coordinator, and Janice Mittelkamp, MetroParks horticulturalist:

• Watch a river.

• Birdwatching, visit journeynorth.org/ for migration information.

• Walking or hiking the trails.

• Open spaces where the kids can run around: Garden Green at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroParks, open areas at Cox Arboretum, Carriage Hill and Possum Creek MetroPark.

• Spot what’s in bloom in your yard or local green spaces.

• Get some exercise outdoors — find a yoga, fitness or dance video online, bring your laptop or phone outside and get active outdoors.

• Start a garden in your yard. (Check out a regional planting guide here.)

• Nature play in your backyard — use natural materials to make a fort and play games.

From Angie Sheldon, MetroParks outdoor recreation program manager:

• Set up your tent in the backyard … read books or play boards games in there or bundle up and spend the night.

• Play flashlight tag.

• Build a backyard fire and roast marshmallows.

• Create a simple scavenger hunt in your yard, neighborhood or park (find rocks, sticks, bugs, flowers, leaves, birds, water).

• Take turns hiding a cool rock or pine cone and searching for it in the backyard.

• Skip rocks in the lake at Eastwood MetroPark.

• Bring some supplies and draw pictures of cool things you while hiking in your favorite park.

• Go for a bike ride around the neighborhood or out on one of the area’s many paved trails.


Here are recommendations for trail users on observing social distancing minimums from the National Recreation and Park Association:

• Follow the CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to heading to the trails — wash hands, carry hand sanitizer, do not use the trails if you have symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

• Observe at all times CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet from other people. Practice it and know what it looks like. Keep it as you walk, bike or hike.

• Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times. Signal your presence with your voice, bell or horn.

• Note that trail and park users may find public restrooms closed — be prepared before you leave and time outings so that you are not dependent on public restrooms.

• Bring water or drinks — public drinking fountains may be disabled and should not be used, even if operable.

• Bring a suitable trash bag. Leave no trash, take everything out to protect park workers.

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