5 Ways to Bring the Outdoors In

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Well, here we are in the throes of winter.  I'm pretty sure this winter will go down holding the record of least amount of sunshine in the Chicago area.  WTF, mother nature?  I need me some Vitamin D!  While we try to get outside as often as possible, even in the winter, some days it's just too darn cold and windy.  It's important to go out in these conditions too, but lets be honest, being outside in the cold and wind and cloudy skies is freaking miserable!  But rather than hibernate (although let's face it, in January, that's all I really want to do) I've been trying to come up with ways to keep us engaged in outdoorsy type things, while remaining comfortable and warm and un-wind chapped. I've shared some of what I've found below.

1) Nature Cams

Explore.org has over 100 nature cams for your viewing pleasure.  We're talking polar bears, wild cat rescues, honey bee hives, hummingbird nests, jellyfish, kelp forests, eagles, owls, and more!  Keep in mind that these are wildlife cameras and on occasion may get damaged from storms, rock falls, or just succumb to the natural elements, so sometimes there will be a highlight reel instead of live footage. Also, make sure your volume is low when you first start watching. The mics pick up a lot of background noise and it can sometimes aggravate your ears. These are great tools to help kids learn about all kinds of animals and how they survive in various environments and are a great supplement for traditional or home-school lessons!  In recognition of National Bird Month, Rosie the Hummingbird is featured below.

2) Become a WebRanger

The National Park Service offers a WebRanger program for kids of all ages. Simply sign-up, print your badge, and go!  Kids will learn about the NPS mission, build their own ranger station, play games and solve mysteries based on park interpretive service.  Webrangers also offers virtual hikes, in which you bank real steps you take on a daily basis to cash in for virtual steps you can take on an ihike, encouraging kids to get moving!  Although the program is for all ages, elementary school children and above will probably benefit the most from the program. 

3)  Check Out your Local Nature Center

Your local nature center is a great way to encourage learning through active free play.  These places are filled with learning opportunities disguised as games and activities.  Many offer activity bags to check out filled with scavenger hunts, binoculars, plant and animal guides, etc. and offer free or inexpensive programming throughout the year.  We spend countless hours at our local nature centers during all seasons and consider them tax dollars well spent. Check out ADVENTURES for what to expect at some of Chicago's suburban nature centers. 

4)  Sign-up for a Nature Pal Exchange

The most important way for children to learn is through new experiences. The folks at the Nature Pal Exchange have made it pretty simple to experience new environments without having to travel to far from home.  I haven't done this yet, because I didn't find out about it until after the winter exchange, but the folks on Instagram who have participated love it! Exchanges happen four times a year - during each of the seasons. After sign-up you'll be paired with a family in a different locale and you both will be asked to collect natural items from your area to mail to each other. It's an easy, inexpensive way to explore a new place.  Plus. who doesn't love getting stuff in the mail?

5) Start an Indoor Garden

There are plenty of kits out there to help you get started. Grow herbs, start a vertical garden , or grow a tree!  I've had my eye on these Dawn Redwood Bonsai trees for a little while, but I'm afraid my cat is going to eat them.   Another option is to head to your  local garden shop and grab some terra cotta pots and seeds.  Kids have fun decorating the pots, planting the seeds, and watching them grow.  Depending on their age and interest level, you might suggest keeping a journal to record plant growth - all great lessons in observatory science! 

I'd love to hear how you guys are bringing the outdoors in this winter!  I'm always up for new suggestions!