Explore the Environment with Your Kids
Spring is in the air, beckoning children and parents to go outside and enjoy the natural environment. Families in the Triangle are fortunate to have several places and programs that make it easy to learn about and appreciate the great outdoors.
"Today, the burden is on parents and other adults to get children outside to enjoy the environment," Sarah Yelton, the pre-kindergarten to grade 12 environmental education program manager with the Office of Environmental Education in the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "Many children today are not used to playing outside, running through the woods or splashing in the creeks. Parents need to be sure to take the time to see that their children have unstructured time outside to just enjoy nature and just be a child."
Developing an appreciation for the environment is "a lifelong learning process that can start by parents preparing the foundation for their children to appreciate nature," she says.
Resources for parents
Getting young children involved with nature can be as simple as taking a walk around the block or sitting on the front porch. For parents seeking a more structured introduction, the North Carolina Office of Environmental Education's Web site, www.ee.enr.state.nc.us, is a great place to start to find opportunities in the area and across the state. Serving as the state's central source for all of the environmental education resources, the office serves both children and adults
The Web site provides links to research on the benefits of being outdoors, calendar of events, parents' page, environmental education centers guide and much more. Simple activities for parents and children also are listed, from putting up a bluebird box in the backyard to planting seeds to looking for animal prints.
Parents who want to look beyond their own backyard or neighborhood for environmental activities can turn to many area resources. For example, the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science in Durham offers a science center, large butterfly conservatory, outdoor exhibits, Dinosaur Trail, special exhibits for children under 6, farmyard, 60 species of live animals and more. The museum also offers a wide variety of classes for young children, including ones that focus on farm life or the diet and lifestyle of bears at the museum. Additional natural-themed programs look at the world of rocks and explore weather.
Parks, gardens and nature centers are other good sources of environmental classes for children of all ages. Check out some of the resources listed in the accompanying sidebar to find programs near you.
Setting aside time to be outdoors
The trails and gardens at Blue Jay Point County Park on the shores of Falls Lake in north Raleigh are great places to spend a "Green Hour" a day with your children, according to Deborah Robertson, the park manager. "A 'Green Hour' is a bit of time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world," she explains.
To learn more about the National Wildlife Federation's Green Hour program, go to www.nwf.org. Green Hour programs can take place in a garden, a backyard, the park down the street, or any place that provides safe and accessible green spaces where children can learn and play. Local experts note that research shows kids are happier and healthier when outdoor time is in better balance with indoor time.
Blue Jay Point is part of the Wake County parks system. It has a Center for Environmental Education and offers a variety of programs for families and children including nature stories, monthly mini-camps on ecology, nature crafts, family wildlife series, home-school series and summer mini-camps.
The Triangle is home to approximately 20 other environmental education centers with activities for children of all ages. These include Stevens Nature Center in Cary and Jordan Lake Educational State Forest in Chatham County. A map and details about the centers are on the Web site of the North Carolina Office of Environmental Education.
"We are very fortunate that there are so many environmental resources right here in the Triangle," Yelton says. "Everyone can find a wide variety of activities to enjoy with their children and make them aware of the importance of the environment and protecting it for the future."
Jane Paige is a Triangle-based freelance writer.
Finding Family-Friendly Environmental Programs
The following resources are helpful places to start looking for some of the many environmental education programs and classes for families and children in the Triangle.
* Centennial Campus Center for Wildlife Education, Raleigh
Programs and special events focusing on wildlife themes and Piedmont habitats.
* Clemmons Educational State Forest, Clayton
Self-guided trails and exhibits. Ranger-conducted classes and outdoor education workshops.
* North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill
A "conservation garden" with special programs for families with young.
* North Carolina Office of Environmental Education
Clearinghouse of environmental education resources for the state.
* North Carolina State Parks
Information about free environmental education programs at state parks and the Junior Rangers program.
* Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham
Public garden trails, children's nature programs and special events.
* Stevens Nature Center, Cary
Nature programs, classes and activities for families.
County/City Parks and Recreation Departments
* Durham Parks and Recreation
* Orange County Parks and Recreation
* Wake County Parks, Recreation & Open Spaces