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How to Connect Kids with Nature on Family Vacation

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Families are so busy juggling science projects, carpools and after-school activities that we often don’t take time to connect with nature – or with each other – in our daily lives. Nature-focused vacations enable parents and children to unplug from technology and everyday stresses while using all of our senses to create lifelong memories. To reignite children's sense of wonder, here are some ways to connect kids with nature while on family vacation.

How to Connect Kids with Nature on Family Vacation

Why Connect Kids with Nature

Richard Louv, recipient of the Audubon medal and author of the bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods, coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder, which he defines as, “a societal term that refers to the human cost of alienation from nature. It’s the price to our mental and physical health, our ability to learn, our productivity and, particularly for children, our sense of wonder.”

Leaping Lamb Farm guest Lily Bouchard playing with lambs during her farm stay vacation ~ How to Connect Kids with Nature on Family Vacation

Leaping Lamb Farm guest playing with lambs during her farm stay vacation (Photo credit: Scottie)

Farm Stay Vacations

With the help of USDA grants, in 2011 Scottie Jones, owner of the Leaping Lamb Farm in Oregon, launched FarmStayUS.com to connect guests with farmers and ranchers for farm stay vacations. The directory lists working farms and ranches where families can experience firsthand where our food comes from and what it takes to run a farm.

Jones says, “When families first get here, they all have these portable devices. But that’s it. No one turns them back on.” Instead, kids and adults brush donkeys, bottle-feed lambs, play in the hay loft, and throw rocks into the creek. A favorite activity is collecting fresh eggs from her chickens. She says, “It’s like Easter every day, even for the parents.”

A family trail ride in Keystone, Colorado ~ How to Connect Kids with Nature on Family Vacation

My niece and daughter on a family trail ride in Keystone, Colorado (Photo credit: Karen Mullery)

Dude Ranches

A dude ranch vacation gives families a chance to experience wilderness from horseback. DudeRanch.org matches vacationers with ranches. The site promises, “Your appreciation of nature, family and friends will be renewed. You’ll find that good riding, good food and good friends will leave you peaceful and content. You’ll discover the luxuries of silence, the wind on your face and the stars shining brightly.”

Activities vary from those you might expect like canoeing, archery and river rafting to more surprising options like yoga, zip-lining and spa treatments. One activity that remains constant is horseback riding in the great outdoors.

Hiking Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California ~ How to Connect Kids with Nature on Family Vacation

Hiking Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Camping and State/National Parks

Debi Huang, co-creator of Nature Play Trips by GoExploreNature.com, says, “Camping is certainly an inexpensive way for people to travel and it gives you an automatic way to explore nature.” For beginner campers, she suggests trying an overnight backyard campout before embarking on a more extensive adventure away from home. Another option for novice campers is to co-vacation with another family that has more outdoor experience.

From roughing it in a tent to more luxurious cabin rentals, State and National Parks offer a variety of camping options as well as day passes for families who’d rather stay in a standard hotel overnight.

Louv says, “I hear from a lot of parents that they feel like they’re torturing their kids when they take them camping or to National Parks because children are so plugged in (to technology). But when the kids come back from college, it’s those times in nature that they remember. It’s highly unlikely that college kids would sit around the kitchen table reminiscing about that time they scored really well on Nintendo.”

Discovering the world through exploration at a local park ~ How to Connect Kids with Nature on Family Vacation

My son discovering the world through nature exploration at a local park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Simple Nature Fixes

Even if you don’t plan your entire trip around nature, you can still infuse some outdoor play into a typical vacation. Make time for a beach day or visit a botanic garden, zoo, aquarium, or local park.

Taking time out from often over-stimulating museums, shops, sites, and amusement park attractions will help everyone relax and reconnect. And isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be all about?

How do you connect kids with nature on family vacation or at home? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: This story, written by me, originally posted on the TODAY show website in 2012. It has since been removed from their website. Top photo credit: Colleen Lanin.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, “The Travel Mamas’ Guide,” she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the “Today” show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Environmental education is necessary for kids. We should give some time for out-dooring with our children. So that they can play, learn & grow in the nature. Thanks COLLEEN, for sharing this article.

  2. Ellen Lanin says:

    I visited the farm of my friend Helen’s grandma on Rice Lake in northern Minnesota many times when we were kids. Native Americans harvested the wild rice in the lake. I think they camped out on her property. We explored the farm on our own. Happy memories.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      We can’t wait to do our own farm stay in Oregon this summer! I think this will be so good for the kids…and their parents!

  3. Right up my alley! I love these types of vacation, and so do my kids. Some of our favorite trips have been to farms and dude ranches.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I wish my kids loved nature as much as yours do, Amy! I always have to BEG them to go for a hike or do anything outdoorsy with me. Then, of course, they love it but I wish they went more willingly.

  4. We are doing a dude ranch this summer and we can’t wait. Our whole family needs a tech break!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      That’s exactly how I feel! I’m so looking forward to a tech break during my family’s farm stay this summer.

  5. In our world filled with digital obsession, this is more important than ever!

  6. This blog is great!! As a Naturalist Tour Guide in Costa Rica; i like when i have family and mostly CHILDREN interested in nature.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Jose – Thank you so much for your comment. My daughter and I went to Guanacaste, Costa Rica last year and we loved exploring the natural beauty of your lovely country!

  7. Hola Colleen, I know Costa Rica is a great place for families. I have been guiding families for more than 7 years and i love to spend time with kids interested in nature. If you think about coming back to Costa Rica with your family, i could help you and take you around; I work as a driver/guide (I know it might sound expensive but remember there´s no middle person.This is my website : http://www.costarica-family-adventures.com , if you have any question do not hesitate to ask. Pura vida

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Gracias, Jose! Will definitely keep this in mind if we book another trip to Costa Rica!

  8. Great article Colleen! We have had young guests at Scurlock Farms Vacation Rentals that did not realize milk came from a cow or eggs from a chicken! Dan lets the younger kids “drive” a tractor of their choice and those kids are grinning ear-to-ear. Adults have enjoyed watching the hay equipment, never having seen a large round baler pick up raked hay, form a bale, then spit it out all wrapped up. We get as much enjoyment out of showing our guests farm life as they get experiencing it! It reminds me how blessed we are and not to take it for granted.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Thank you, Sheron. How funny (and sad) that some children don’t realize milk comes from cows or eggs come from chicken! If we’re ever out your way in Texas, we’ll need to come check out your farm stay!

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